Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. — Isaiah 48:10
One night after preaching in a “revival” meeting, a young man asked me, “How do I become an evangelist like you?” He was obviously enamored with the prospect of being in front of a crowd and commanding people’s attention.
I responded that he had to be called and equipped by God for that duty. He wanted me to give him a step-by-step process but I had nothing more to offer. Miffed that I didn’t share my “secrets of success” with him, he walked away.
In this article, I will share the reasons anyone is successful serving God, but there are no secrets. But before I do that, I need to state that I am not writing this post for everyone. First, some people will not understand what I am presenting. Second, other ones will believe that it is a strange and unnecessary doctrine. I am writing it for people that believe God bought them, that they belong to Him, they are His property to do with as He pleases, and that they are only entitled to the liberties that He gives them.
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” — 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Clearly, we owe God every second of life. Our problem is that we sing, “I Surrender All,” but we think, “I will do that when I have the time.” You will have the time when you’re about to run out of time. Yesterday I was thinking about the ministry projects that were not progressing rapidly enough. I realized that I would have to give up something to free more time.
All that was left was the late evenings I spend playing guitar. I thought, surely God would not take that away from me. I still felt compelled to give it up, so I thought, maybe I can play it at least until the end of the year. Then I heard in my spirit, “What if the time you are living now is God’s gracious extension on your life?” That put me in deep thought. My Mom died at 65 years, my oldest brother died at 74 years, and I’m 72 years old. If God gave you a two-year extension on your life, what would you do with it?
To begin with, we cannot just choose what we are going to do for God, how much we will do, and in what manner we will do it. That effort will be not be honored by God. The fact is, we need to know God’s perfect will. Since that comes by praying, then prayer is essential to knowing one’s calling. How can we know what God wants of us if we do not communicate with Him? Our will must be surrendered to God’s will. A non-surrendered person is an unwilling vessel. That said, the calling of God comes with many trials that are devoted to removing our hindrances to surrender. But that is not all that trials are for.
Whom God calls He also equips (Hebrews 13:20-21). Essential to being equipped is allowing us to be tested, not once, but many times. Someone not fully surrendered, or that is in a position they were not called to, will never pass those tests. He or she may not even believe testings are necessary and will find earthly ways attempting to escape the furnace. Other ones will quickly crumble under the stress.
Testings and trials are not for Omniscient God to know how strong, faithful, committed, et cetera, that you are. Trials are to reveal to you how much you have progressed in those areas.
The trial may be so powerful and piercing that it exposes a root of rebellion—a root that you did not know you had. God exposes it because before He can use you in a greater way, He has to protect you from defeat. Satan knows and exploits your weaknesses.
To explain clearer, trials are also a matter of God exposing what Satan will exploit to cause you serious problems and possible failure. Oftentimes the matter is quickly dealt with and we come through the trial a bit weary but much better than before we entered it. However, there are times when the issue is more difficult to deal with. God may require us to give up a favorite hobby, or an obsession with sports, shopping, or something else we get pleasure from.
The Fiery Furnace
What essential to maturing as God’s vessel is the furnace trial. It is the one that goes the furthest to the depth of your being, puts its flames on the thing you most covet, and demands that it be surrendered to God. That fiery trial burns away nesting—our attempt to hide from God something that we love to the extent we don’t want to surrender it. We buried that love and convince ourselves that idolatry has been overcome. Nothing is ever truly buried where God cannot see. Buried is the position for the thing to sprout at any moment and become a lability.
No one can understand that paragraph as it needs to be understood unless they’ve been in such a trial or are now in it. It is a period when one may feel rejected, out of touch with God, and begin to doubt if God will ever use him or her again. No matter how much we believe that we have surrendered to God, we will fight a great inner struggle to surrender the root in that trial. The root exposed cannot be ignored. But to do something about will be very difficult because it is often something that no one would call a sin. It may even be something that other Believers would encourage you to pursue. The only thing wrong with it is that it is woven around your heart, and you do not want to yield to the fire. The struggle will become so intense that resentment may rise toward God like bile in your spirit that He would make such an “unfair” demand.
You may be surprised that such resentment and bitterness manifested and rebuke it. You may the resentment and bitterness by confessing that God has the right to do with you as He will. After all, He bought you an immeasurable price, redeemed you, and owns you. But the flesh will not give up until it is mortified by the Holy Spirit. Your spirit continues to cling to the thing that offends Him. You tell yourself that God is not truly commanding you to yield it to the fire. You rationalize that it is your imagination or a legalistic notion that you are not supposed to be happy. You believe that your life will be empty if you allow Him to destroy what you love. You realize that what you surrender you may never get back. You try to bargain with God, but your suggestions are met with silence.
God does not have to explain His decisions. He has already spoken and He does not make mistakes. He is waiting for you to obey. No further information is necessary.
Please consider that the Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, were not going into the fiery furnace to hear the cheering crowd. They were not entering it to become wiser, more fulfilled, happier, safer, live longer, more comfortable, or even become famous. They were no doubt going in believing that except a miracle occurred, they were going to die.
Wearing a cross as jewelry and denying it as Christ defined it (Luke 9:23) will keep us friends with the flesh and world system while pretending to be servants of God. Our will is what got us into so much trouble before we surrendered to God. Why do we think that surrender is merely symbolic?
The Allure of Casual Christianity
At some point in the heat of the battle, you understand the choices. Choosing to keep what God demands that you surrender has alluring consequences. They appear like something out of the liberal professing Christian playbook. To begin with, you will be relegated to remain as you are, will never advance to a greater purpose, but will become satisfied and content to have reached and settled on the last plateau. There will be less passion, no further harsh trials, and you can coast (in theory) to the finish line. You will enjoy life with no convictions, no more demands by God, and no further bother about apostasy in Christianity and a world that has gone full throttle after Satan. You will not be so serious, so sacrificial, intent on praying and begin to play loose with the World System like so many of your professing Christian friends.
All that is yours if you chose to retain what God tells you to put on an altar where His fire reduces it to ashes. Is not the lying and deceptive Satan on the pinnacle of the temple offering us what he offered Christ?
None of those above characteristics were your goals when you started serving God. But until the present trial, He never exposed and demanded what He has presently brought to light and asked you to surrender. It feels like someone asking you to surrender your arm, or a leg. You believe that your life will be empty, that there will be less happiness, less fulfillment, and missing many other important elements of life. However, you know that there is no stopping in the race, building a dwelling place on the sideline and hoping you did enough in the past to hear God say, “Well done” in the future. “Well done” is a finish-line statement, It is not what one would expect to hear who didn’t run to win.
Not many people come out of such a trial victorious. I believe that, especially in this period, the number of individuals that realize victory in that trial is very few. Many individuals have to endure that trial several times before emerging and feeling the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)
Call it the dark night of the soul, the Elijah experience, the Damascus road, or whatever, but the one that is brought into such a trial has earned that privilege by his or her faithfulness. I call it a privilege—because while it may appear as punishment, it is a reward for faithfulness, progressing to a higher level of maturity, and reaching the state that God will begin the highest level of pruning.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” — John 15:12
The carnal mind that functions by earthly reasoning and logic cannot understand the trying of one’s faith that burns out the dross and makes one pure. They would debate against the apostle Peter’s insertion of “if need be” into his explanation of the fiery trial (1 Peter 1:8). They would deny that anyone should strive at all and for any reason, but just relax because Jesus did it all for us. Thus, they blot out His statement in Luke 13.
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” — Luke 13:24
Strive: Greek—agōnízomai; to struggle, literally (to compete for a prize), figuratively (to contend with an adversary), or genitive case (to endeavor to accomplish something):—fight, labor fervently, strive.
Paul wrote as one who made it through the “fiery furnace” trial victorious.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” — Romans 8:18
When we completely surrender our lives to be used for God’s purpose, with no promise of reward in this world, we will have reached that place where our cross has become our most cherished possession. We will be despised by henchmen of the World System, and hated by the religiose “Pharisees”—whose spiritual fathers accused Christ of what they were guilty of. The religious but carnal ones hate the light because their deeds are evil. They fashion heresies, especially false soteriology, and other doctrines that pleases their carnal minds.
They make the qualification for eternal life and the requirement to obey God separate issues. The first is secured by lip service and the second is non-essential. That permits them to live in the shadows and even darkness while claiming their destination is the city where the Lamb is the light. Never mind their petulant and condescending howls of “works-based salvation” and accusations of “legalism”—remain in the furnace until God brings you out!
It is important to realize that although we have been made partakers of the Divine Nature by the knowledge of Christ, that does not mean we can now relax and coast to heaven. We must add—which means to accept and assimilate—the following gifts or lose them.
“virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.” (2 Peter 1:3-8)
Everything in the World System and our old nature is opposed to those qualities as God gives them. Becoming a vessel of God does not exempt us from allowing God to burn out and replace the genetic attributes of the old nature. It does not exempt us from allowing the indwelling Holy Spirit to be in control. He did not come inside to be as art on the wall.
As citizens of heaven, we must surrender to the fire, offer the flesh for mortification, put on Christ (Romans 13:14), and make our calling and election sure. Do that and you will not stumble.
“For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” — 2 Peter 1:9-11
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” — Romans 12:1-2