The Process of Purity

A little over ten years ago – when everybody began giving out their email addresses instead of phone numbers – I decided it was time for a change. My then-current email address myboyfrienddrivesaporsche@yahoo.com no longer seemed plausible. Every time someone asked for it I inevitably had to repeat myself at least five times, spell P-O-R-S-C-H-E, and then had to follow up with “Yes, for real.”

Funny? Yes.
Practical? No.

I set out on a quest to invent the most amazing email address ever – one that would inspire orphans to cure cancer and melt hearts of stone at its very utterance… Ok, maybe not so much, but I wanted something more impactful than flaunting the fact that I got to ride shotgun in an old red Porsche. (Uh, I mean “beautiful, cherry-red, vintage Porsche”.) My dog-eared, picture-covered Bible seemed the most logical place to start. I was reading through Zechariah at the time and was drawn to chapter thirteen, verses seven through nine:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (NIV)

To my young teenage mind this sounded striking…“refine them like silver and test them like gold.” That was it: refiningsilver@yahoo.com. Little did I realize that I stumbled onto my life’s prophetic theme at that seemingly insignificant moment…

Malachi 3:3 also speaks of refining silver: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” There is a long-told story floating through Bible study circles that gives insight into the process:

In the late 1800’s, a group of women enrolled in a Bible study came across Malachi 3:3. Since no one understood the verse, they commissioned one of their members to explore the process of refining silver and report back to them at their next study. The woman made an appointment with a silversmith to watch him work and ask a few questions. On the appointed day, she saw him hold a piece of silver over the fire, letting it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, a silversmith needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest, so that all impurities would burn away. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse, that he sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled. “Oh, that’s easy. The refining process is complete when I see my image in it.”

While I intellectually understood the passage at that time, it has taken years of painful flames to bring about a complete spiritual understanding. It turns out that my impurities were many and my pain tolerance was low. Through my unfaithfulness and mistakes, God chose to stay with me. No matter how many impurities I held onto, He held onto me and patiently burned them away. I must admit if our roles were reversed – if I was the one sitting at the fire to painstakingly burn away someone else’s impurities – I would have given up and walked away. If I had to hold myself to the fire I would have walked away as soon as the flames brought sweat to my brow.

Over the years, I have often revisited these verses and pondered the ways God is refining my heart. Zechariah 13:7-9 never fails to fill me with hope and remind me of God’s ridiculously generous grace. The passage prophesied Christ’s suffering: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” refers to the night Christ was betrayed and His disciples fled. However, it speaks far beyond that into our current lives. Two-thirds (the corrupt and hypocritical portion of the professed church) will be struck down, but a remnant will be saved. This remnant refers to the one-third who will be brought to the fire. The word “remnant” derives from the French term meaning “to remain”. Those who remain will be purified, and those who are purified will remain. “But one-third will be left in the land. I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (NLT)

Notice the order of the passage. It doesn’t say that those who cry out to God will then be purified. It says that God will take them through the fire, and then they will call on His name. God doesn’t wait for us to realize we messed up and ask for His help – he’s already there with us in the midst of the smoke and flames. God didn’t wait for me to admit what a fool I’d been; he didn’t wait for me to write down an exhaustive list of my mistakes and come up with a twelve-step recovery program; he didn’t wait until I cleaned myself up and made myself presentable…he was already there holding me in the midst of the fire.

Some of those fires I willingly jumped into. At those times he held me as the flames blistered my soul…he cleaned my wounds and wiped my tears…he whispered words of comfort as I screamed and writhed in pain. There were other fires he held me to – ones I never would have willingly neared. Those fires were the hottest. They hurt the most, yet they burned away impurities I never knew existed. It was in those fires that he opened my eyes not only to His pain, but to the pain of others…pain that, otherwise, I would have never known existed. He taught me that hidden injuries cannot heal, so he brought my broken places into light and soothed me with the balm of grace and redemption. He taught me to see the hidden wounds of others and to endure the flames with them. This fire does not consume or destroy; it refines, purifies, and heals.

I now clearly see what I could not before: God did not leave me in the fire too long, nor did He ever avert His gaze.

No matter how hot and blistering the flames may feel, He will never leave you there too long.
No matter how lonely and forsaken you may feel, He will never look away from you.

He sees every tear, hears every cry, and holds you through it all. The third chapter of Lamentations reminds me of His faithful truth. Even though I have seen affliction, wandered in darkness, and lost the path, I have not lost hope. I have been driven away, surrounded by bitterness, weighed down with chains, mangled and left without help, pierced with arrows, broken and trampled, yet I have not been without hope. “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail…Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.”

(Originally written February 2010…always a good reminder of where I’ve been & where I’m going.)

The Gift of the Thorn

A Love Letter from My Abba…this should be mandatory reading every day for the rest of my life.

Robin,

Apart from Me you can do nothing so put no confidence in your flesh. Wrap yourself in Me; know My truth and be set free. Let Me be your adequacy, your portion, your delight. Let Me control your emotions, your reactions, your words. Let Me dissipate doubt, banish fear, and hold you steady.

Deeply root yourself in Me and you will accomplish everything I’ve called you to do. My dear girl, please don’t try to do it on your own, just lift up your hands and let Me carry you through. I am your guide; I am your only direction. Do not run around senselessly, but seek My purpose and do things on purpose. Live by My leading. I long for you to bear fruit that will remain and not uselessly exert your energy planting weeds.

Robin, My daughter, My grace is enough, it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Like Paul, I chose not to remove the thorn in your flesh; I kept it there for a purpose – trust My reasons. Rejoice in My gift! Do not view it as a handicap. I longed to move in your weakness, but you wouldn’t allow yourself to be weak. You relied on your own false strength while I desired to lovingly take over. My beloved, I broke your legs so I could carry you for a while. I prolong healing to teach you to lean on Me and to stop running ahead of Me.

When you remember to hold My hand your gait is unlabored and peaceful. When you try to run on your own – with weak, still-broken legs – you experience pain and setbacks in your healing. The weaker you get and the more you cling to Me, the stronger you become. Stop trying and just let Me do it!

Wait for Me, My stubborn child. Let Me lead you out of harm’s way. Fall into My arms and let Me rescue you from yourself. Seek Me and live. My presence is your healing. Focus on Me, redirect your thoughts to My ways. Daughter, your faith has healed you. You have been healed longer than you realize! When you look at the thorn and see it as punishment or a handicap you take your focus away from Me and My beautiful gift. Focusing on the thorn allows the enemy to whisper lies that you are not healed. Go in My peace; I have freed you from your suffering. Your suffering comes only when you try to run on fractured legs. Lean on Me. Rest in Me. Trust in Me.

-Your Relentlessly Loving Father

Mud Puddles & Butterflies

Perhaps it’s the lack of intellectual stimulation, but I have a burning desire to read G.K. Chesterton. The depth & complexity of high school freshmen leaves my mind parched. It’s easy to be a deep thinker when I have nothing more than my thoughts to keep me company; those two hour train-rides from Cambridge to London, London to Shenfield and back again afforded ample time to ponder life, love, & other mysteries.

Looking back, twenty hours a week of pure reflection was my saving grace. I learned to view an inconvenient commute as a precious commodity. One cold morning around 6:00am, the train broke down, leaving a handful of sleepy passengers stranded (and bitter) – we had to get off the train & stand in the chilly drizzle. This was one of those small-town stations that had little more than benches & a cover to keep out of the rain. There was absolutely no way I could get to work – only two options remained: Sit and wait, or head to the other side of the tracks to take the next train back to Cambridge. Technically, I chose neither. I ended up riding trains back & forth for the entire day – never being able to make it into London. Oddly enough, a train car of strangers was more welcoming than “home”.

I literally sat and did nothing but think. Forest Gump had the right idea – I thought about where I was going, where I’d been; places I’d walked in the company of others, and places I walked alone. This particular February day in England serves as a lasting reminder that not having enough time can never be a valid excuse. Make the time.

The day I’m too busy to sit on the couch and watch Pixar with Mark will be the day I stop serving my purpose. When I’m too busy devouring a piece of literature to chew on one verse of scripture, I reject True Love (even if it is Chesterton or Manning…). I pray I never become so busy shuttling kids between little league & ballet that I can’t find time to splash in puddles and catch butterflies.