Fire Does Not Mean Failure

There are times and seasons in life that feel like the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s day (see Daniel chapter 3). We’re hobbling along, doing our best to live a life that is well-pleasing to God, and then comes a colossal test of our faith. Some trial rises up that requires us to stare some kind of death in the face, and we find ourselves grappling with a choice: do we stand firm, or do we cave to the fear and intimidation aimed at our hearts? Do we abandon our commitment to stand still and wait for the Lord, or do we dig our heels in and face what we hoped we never would, with grace barely visible through the streams of our tears and the avalanche of fears?

Of course I am spiritualizing what was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego a very real encounter with persecution – something not many of us in America have had to face. We really can’t imagine what it might be like to have a blatant test like theirs, with a gold statue raised before us and a governmental order to bow or die. At least not yet. Our temptations to worship idols and abandon the faith are much more subtle and deceptive, and usually arrive with promising lures rather than overt demands with bellowing consequences lighting up the sky around us.

But evil will not always be so subtle, and the furnace of affliction won’t always be hidden in the background. There is coming a day when each of our faith will be severely tested, and we will need to stand even if everyone around us does not.

So we can draw rich wisdom for the practicalities of enduring our own fires from this timeless account of three young men who stood through the intensity of having their faith put through the fiercest flames imaginable.

When I think about their story, their experience, I am challenged to consider, in particular, one piercing question: while we’re rehearsing Scriptures and trusting God to deliver us (our interpretation of protection), what happens when He doesn’t? What happens when God’s version of protection equals a raging fire?

Many of us want to herald an “even if” kind of faith – a confession that remains firm and steadfast even if God doesn’t spare us the fiery furnace moments. But the “even if” kind of faith is only built in real life “even if” kind of moments…which are the situations we spend most of our time trying to resist or claw or pray our way out of (myself included).

When we find ourselves facing devouring flames, however -and it’s likely that at some point, we will – it is important to know a few things going in. First of all, fire is not failure. If it is before us, and if we are permitted to endure it, it is mercy, not punishment. God does not abandon us in those intense moments or seasons. Rather, He moves in closer.

So often, when we stand before a raging fire, things surface that we didn’t know – and would never want to admit – were there. This, in all truth, is a blessing we aren’t usually quick to recognize in the trauma of fire. But God knows our hearts, and He knows what will purge and purify them of whatever keeps us from truly and completely trusting Him.

Sometimes it takes a fire to discover that there are still self-preserving, self-serving ways lurking in the shadows of our souls. Sometimes it takes being “handed over” to expose the slivers of doubt that, in those moments, hurl their accusations at the God we secretly feared would allow this to happen all along.

Sometimes, in His manifold wisdom and great, deep love for us, God allows for us to come face to face with something we have no choice but to surrender to, knowing it will mean a certain death in some capacity. Because in those crucial moments, something supernatural happens that could never happen anywhere else.

When we find ourselves staring our worst nightmare in the eye, and having to decide whether we are going to let it rob us of what may be the only thing we have left, glory breaks through. Not necessarily majestically, the way we like to read about in other people’s stories. But quietly, as we surrender our fate to the God Who has let us come face to face with the death we cannot escape.

We give up, but we don’t give in. We recognize that the only fight we have is the one of faith. There’s no getting out of it. There’s no going around it. There’s not even a shortcut through it. It’s going to hurt and maim and change us forever. So we bow our heads, and steady our feet, and we surrender all we are and all we have to the hands of the God Who has let it be our lot.

And then it happens. Not some miraculous display of God’s delivering power, but something even more miraculous. When we must face a fiery furnace moment in our lives, glory comes breaking through as God steps into the fire with us. The presence of Jesus in the midst of flames meant to devour us turns the furnace into a fortress, because of one factor: His preserving love.

And suddenly, what we thought would be a devastating end becomes a fiery brand of hope that changes the story. And we know, in that moment, that the world and the life we left on the other side of the furnace is not the same world or life that we will emerge back into, because we will never be the same after this encounter with God. And neither will the people who stood and watched and prayed as we went in.

As I reflect back upon the last year of my life and the worst of the worst fire I could have ever imagined enduring, I am overcome by one thought: I have not been alone. While many times I longed for release from the fire, and and had to wrestle through the questions of why I had to go through it in the first place, I know today that His preserving love has triumphed over what was supposed to be my grave. I know that He has purified my heart and strengthened my faith in ways I could have never known, had I been permitted to escape the fire. And I know that He is not finished yet.

As I envision what may be on the other side of this furnace, part of me thrills to think about the ways He will use my story to strengthen the faith of others. But part of me doesn’t want to move. I have found, right in the middle of this furnace with Him, a strength and a peace and a hope that are like sweet honeycomb to my soul.

Others have mourned this furnace with me and for me, and I know their faithful prayers have helped to secure the doors of this furnace – ensuring that I didn’t fight for escape too soon. Their courageous stand – with and for me – helped to create an atmosphere in which a broken heart could be fused together again with gold in the midst of the fire. For this – and for these precious friends, I am so grateful. I know my suffering brought fire into their lives, too, and caused them to face questions and fears in their own hearts. I trust that God has met them just as He has met me, and poured gold into their broken places, as well.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, when love leads you into fire – when God’s plans and promises lead you through the graveyard, let me whisper one thing over your heart for the journey: fire is not failure, but fortress for the one who loves Christ.

You will not understand it, nor be able to interpret it when it comes, but when God allows fire, He appoints encounter. And in His Presence, everything is changed. If you go in – and I pray you do – you will not come out the same. And this will be to His glory.

One of my favorite parts of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego’s story is that, when they were brought out of the fire, nothing about them revealed they had been through that fire. None of their clothes, nor the hair on their heads was burnt. In fact, they didn’t even smell like smoke!

Beloved, when you and I trust God enough to surrender to the furnace moments or seasons in our lives, we won’t come out looking like we’ve been through hell. Instead, we will be radiant with the splendor and glory of the God Who has truly preserved and delivered us, and we will be able to show the world that there is a God Who continues to triumph over every grave.

He is faithful, and His love is strong enough to keep you!

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}


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