There is a show on the Discovery Channel called Gold Rush, when they find gold, it’s just not all that impressive. it looks like a dirty rock. Everybody is freaking out. “We’re rich!” It just looks like something that I could get outside in the yard. What’s happening in the show is they see some things that are there but are going to need to be drawn out. They’re going to need to be refined. They’re going to need to be cleaned up. They see the beauty of what’s there where I just see a dirty rock. They see the real value of the gold that is embedded in the rest of those impurities.
At least 12 times in the Bible, God is referred to as the refining fire. God and His relationship with us is one of refinement. God is not just interested in saving, but transforming us and pulling out of us those beauties that oftentimes we have a hard time even seeing in ourselves. The Bible is clear that God sees us as incredibly valuable, so don’t treat yourselves cheaply. God does not see you as cheap. The very blood of his Son is shed for you. This is about God initiating not only our ransom and rescue but purifying our lives and making us more like Christ for our joy and for his glory.
Here’s my point. God is at work in the mess. That’s it. That’s my point. God is at work in the mess. “Our God is a refining fire. He will burn away impurities. He will wash away uncleanliness.” This is really a beautiful idea, although I will admit it’s a hard one. J. I. Packer says, “Still he seeks the fellowship of his people and will send them as gifts both joy and sorrow to detach their hands from the things of this world and to attach those things to himself.” Packer’s argument is that God so loves you, so longs to be with you, so longs to have a right relationship with you where you are wholeheartedly his in pursuit. We’re going to stumble until the day we die,
He sends us joy and sorrow. In God’s deep and abiding love for me, he’s like, “No, no, no. I’ll send you joy, but from time to time, I’m going to walk you out into the desert. From time to time, I’m going to remind you of how desperate you are for me and that what you really need is me. From time to time, in my great and abiding love for you, I want to show you how little control you actually have. From time to time, I’m going to show you, because I love you, how powerless you actually are and how powerful I actually am. From time to time, I will show you that I am enough regardless. to pull you away from your idols, to pull you away from those things you like and are prone to worship, to remind you that you are not in control, and that’s a good thing. I am in control, and I can be trusted.
James 1, starting in verse 2.”Count it all joy” He’s saying, “Consider it all joy when you face trials of various kinds.” Would that be sickness? That’s various. Would that be financial? That would be various. Would that be relational? It’s going to fit in the various drawer. You name it. It fits in the various. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” Why? “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
God knows where our faith is, so the testing of our faith is not so God might know where we stand but so that we might know where we stand. God isn’t going, “Man, I hope Scott makes it.” That’s not what’s happening here. God is strengthening us. He is deepening our roots that we might stand all the more boldly and all the more brightly for our joy and His glory.
We consider it all joy when we face trials of various kinds because we know that God is at work in these various trials. We know we have not been abandoned but Then we begin to doubt, “Oh, am I really saved? Is this real? Christ isn’t working for me.” There is still mess to be worked out. There are still impurities to be burned off. There are still things that need to be cleaned off of us, and that will be true until the day we die.
Honesty before God and being in community is essential for the refining fire of God’s love to burn off the impurities from us so that what would be left is that beautiful gold. He goes further in Romans 5:3-5. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” That’s a whole other level. “Consider it all joy when you face trials of various kinds.” No, he’s going farther, and he’s saying, “Rejoice in your sufferings.” That one is hard for me. I can consider it all joy. I know God is at work in the mess, but this is like, “Rejoice. Be glad in your sufferings.” I need the Holy Spirit on that one.
Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. you want hope to grow. You feel hopeless. You feel weighted down. You feel in the desert. You feel dry. You feel sick. You feel abandoned. God is at work in the mess. He’s saying here that God is developing your endurance, and in your endurance, hope will be more established.
It’s almost 2016 when people hit the gym for the first time in forever and they will end up with delayed onset muscle soreness. It’s what happens to you not the day after you work out but two days after you have worked out. What you’ll see happening in January is people going, “Oh, Don’t touch me.” They get back into the gym, and they have this, “I’m going to get in shape. I’m going to say goodbye to how I’ve been. I’m going to get back to what I once was.” They put a picture of themselves up in their mirror like Rocky did in Rocky 4. “I’m going to get back.” Then they really fade. It’s the breaking down of muscle. It is the running until your lungs burn that creates endurance. The apostle Paul says, “Rejoice when your lungs burn. Rejoice when your muscles are sore. Rejoice when you need water so badly you can barely stand it, for God is at work in the mess.” Because refining is taking place.
So many of us want lives where dependence upon Christ is not necessary. The reason you want that is because you think you or the things you want are going to be a better God to you than He will. You don’t necessarily want a life of ease as badly as you want a life of ease. It is a good gift to be desperate and hungry and needy. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is what Jesus teaches. The first sermon out of the gate, “They’re the ones who will see God. Blessed are the brokenhearted. Blessed are those who mourn.” Have you read the Beatitudes? That’s the life we’re after.
God is at work in the mess. He’s refining. He’s moving. That didn’t stop the apostle Paul from crying out and asking release from that thorn in the flesh. In fact, three times, he pled with the Lord until the Lord said, “I love you. This is staying. My grace will be sufficient for you in this weakness.” At times we feel like we’ve been abandoned by God. There are trials, and there are tribulations. We’re in the desert. God feels far from us. Our senses are off. We feel discombobulated. Then we feel abandoned. “Where are you, God?” “I can’t believe this, God. I’ve been so good to you. I can’t believe you would do this to me. You would just abandon me in this moment of need, in this moment of trial. I can’t believe you would do this.” One of the things again that we see in the Scripture is oftentimes, the desert is used by God to increase our intimacy with him, to grow our faith in him.
Let’s be straight. The Lord disciplines all he loves, but the discipline of the Lord is never meant to consume or destroy his children, but rather to woo them, reconcile them. Because the Lord does not change, it means he does not change his mind concerning you. The Bible is very clear that you were saved at your worst. It was not you at your best that God saved. It was, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It wasn’t like you cleaned yourself all up, and then God said, “All right, now that you’re clean, I can kind of see there is some gold in there. I kind of like what you’ve done with the place, so I’ll take you. You’re in now.”
He has not grown weary. He has not lost patience. He is not wanting a mulligan because you cannot figure it out. Do you not know that the infinite, all-knowing, always-has-been, always-will-be God is intimately acquainted with all of your days before you’ve lived them? The God who is outside of time is well aware of how you’re going to blow it. And how you will succeed.
Some of what you’re experiencing might be the discipline of God, but please do not mistake that discipline as being heavy-handed or harsh. Just because something has been taken out of your hands, just because there has been some loss of something you perceived to be yours does not make God, in his discipline, cruel. You don’t control the discipline of God by checking all of the boxes. A lot of what is going on is running underneath. It’s a script that is running that we’re completely unaware of, and those who have suffered have seen that script running underneath the rhythms of their lives, and they were unaware. The struggle, the life not of ease, but the life of trial and tribulation.
Since he is a refining fire, We’re all being refined, but some of us are hyper-aware of that refining work right now because it’s hurting, because we find ourselves in the desert, because we’re sick, or somebody we love is sick, or we’ve been wrestling with something for a long time, or we feel like God is far from us, or we’re struggling with anxiety and fear. I keep finding that when I wait on the Lord, that God does so much of his work. God accomplishes more in our waiting than in all of our doing. We wait on the Lord. We’re earnest for God to do this good work in us.
Difficulty is not uncommon. Don’t feel ashamed that you’re walking in some sort of difficulty. Be honest about it. That’s what the people of God are meant to do, to flank you, support you, uphold you. We walk honestly in community.
Charles Spurgeon said “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace his hand, I can always trust his heart.” Don’t lose heart. God is at work in the mess. If you are weary, my hope is that after reading this you will be encouraged. You don’t think God is dialed in to your difficulty? Then what are you doing reading this today? in the middle of difficulty, in the middle of doubt, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of suffering, in the middle of sickness. You don’t think God is trying to give you some sort of divine hug today, trying to minister to your heart? Today is evidence that God is for you and not against you, that God loves you, forgives you, and delights in you.