Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Flame Can't Destroy You

Trials have a way of taking everything out of you. Whether it is the stress of tight or non-existent finances, the burden of a wayward child, or the pain of the monthly reminder of infertility, there is no denying that trials are exhausting. In the heat of the moment it can feel like we are going to die. When everything around us is falling apart, it's hard for us to see that there could be any light at the end of the tunnel. And in the darkest days, it feels like we just won't make it.

One of my favorite hymns is "How Firm a Foundation". I often repeat the lyrics of this song in good and bad times. The line that usually stays on repeat in my head goes like this:

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie. My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt you, I only design, the dross to consume and the gold to refine."

The words of this song are taken from Isaiah 41 and 43. This line in particular comes from Isaiah 43:2b-3:

"When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, and the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

So while I might feel like any given trial will lead to the end of me, God's word promises that the trial is not intended for my demise, but my refinement. The writer of this hymn uses the imagery of gold being refined by fire. Gold only becomes more precious the more it is put through the fire. And our faith in God grows the same way. Rarely do we see intense periods of growth when life is moving along with relative ease. But when the flames of life are rising up around us, whether it be suffering, normal daily trials, or simply the mundane realities of living in a fallen world, it is then that we are seeing our old character slowly burned away to reveal a new, Christ-like character that is precious in God's eyes.

God uses every seemingly insurmountable trial (and even the ones that seem relatively easy) to make us more into the image of his son, Jesus. He wants us purified because he knows that is what is best for us.

And even when our faith is shaken by the circumstances of our life, we can trust that the God who designed the process of our refinement will not leave us to ourselves. He will uphold us. He will restore us. And he will continue to make us new until that final day (Phil. 1:6). The flame can't destroy us because it can never take away what makes us God's child--faith in him. Faith can't be destroyed by even the most dire circumstances because God is the one who gave us the faith and he is the one who will keep it to the end.

The flame will not destroy us ultimately. It might burn us badly, but it won't take away our faith because we are upheld by the one who is the author of our faith.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Freedom, Such a Helpful Word

Our church is doing a women's bible study on Galatians. So far, we are two weeks in and every week I have been so helped in my daily desire to know more of Christ. Last week we looked at Galatians 1:10-24 and how Paul was living to please God rather than man. As long as I have been a Christian, fear of man has been a struggle for me. And I don't think I am alone. With each season of my life I find new areas where it is a daily battle to live for God rather than my peers. When I was single, I wanted to look like I was perfectly content in my singleness so those around me would praise me for my trust in God. When I first got married, I wanted to be the next Martha Stewart, always poised and ready to bake, clean, and craft at the drop of a hat. When I was pregnant, I wanted to be the glowing, happy pregnant woman who handles pregnancy and labor like a champ. And now that I am a mom of two busy 7 month olds, I want people to look at my skills and praise me for my ability to handle the daily grind of motherhood.

Let's snap back to reality. I often didn't model contentment in my single days. I struggled to maintain a clean and organized home in my early days of wedded bliss (among other things). My pregnancy was hardly a breeze. And about motherhood? Well, let's just say God is in the business of humbling people.

In the midst of my endless quest to look like I have it all together, I often forget that it's not about what others think of me anyway. Paul reminds us in Galatians 1:10 that as blood-bought followers of Christ, we no longer live for the approval of men. Rather, we are servants of Christ. And everyone knows that no one can serve two masters, at least not for long (Matt. 6:24).

As I worked on my bible study lesson last week the word that kept ringing through my mind was "freedom." Of course we know that Christ has set us free from the most important chain that binds us, our sin. But he also has freed us from having to live for other people's praise (or even their criticism). When my mood lives and dies by the approval or disapproval of those around me I am essentially saying that they are more important than God. But even more important, and freeing, is the reality that there is nothing anyone can say about us that will make us anymore sinful in God's eyes, because he sees it all--even things nobody else sees. On the flip side of that, there is nothing we can do that will make us any more righteous in God's eyes either, because Christ righteousness is all we need.

And while I am so far from having this truth down in my heart, I am thankful for the reminder from Galatians that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). We no longer need to live under the bondage of our own quest for self-glorification, because we have been given something far better--the Glorious One.