There burns a fire with sacred heat, white hot with holy flameAnd all who dare pass through its blaze will not emerge the same.Some as bronze, and some as silver, some as gold, then with great skillAll are hammered by their sufferings on the anvil of His will.
Years ago Christian singer Steve Green sang this song and it stirred me deeply. It was called “The Refiner’s Fire.” I remember being gripped by those opening lines. “Passing through its blaze” and being “hammered by their sufferings” were not the things I longed for in the Christian life. The fierceness of that idea – coming through a fiery trial and being refined as precious metals are – prompted me to look into the subject of refining ore and to read about it to see just what spiritual implications this word picture carried.
The Process. In ancient times, refining with fire was essential to working precious metals such as gold, silver, or bronze. It’s purpose was to take raw ore out of the ground and separate the impurities (called dross) from the precious metal within the ore in order to make usable, valuable metals.
After being mined, the raw ore was first crushed to a small pea size, then ground into a powder between grind stones of granite. Dirt and rock particles were washed away leaving bits of gold nuggets which were then gathered into a crucible.
The crucible was heated to extreme temperatures to bring the metal nuggets to a fluid state. The metalworker (refiner) sat next to the molten metal stirring and skimming it to remove the dross that rose to the top or blowing the dross away with a bellows. Sometimes it took up to five days of this process with fire temperatures topping 1,000 Celsius for the refiner to get the pure metal of great value that He desired.*
And what was his goal in refining? When did he know the job was complete? When he could clearly see his reflection in the molten metal.
The Metaphor of Refining in Scripture. Scripture clearly demonstrates that God will put us through the fire. Isaiah states that “I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (48:10) and “I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.” (1:25)
Fire and smelting? Removing something from me? A furnace of affliction? Doesn’t sound like something we would want to go through.
But these afflictions – fiery trials – that God allows into our life are to test us and refine us. In Zechariah 13:9 the Lord declares, “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.” And Psalm 66:10 says, “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.”
We come to a relationship with the Lord as if we are that raw ore from the ground, the precious metal within us bound up in the dirt and rock (sin). We are broken down and crushed by the trials of life. Then comes the “washing with the water of His Word” to flush out the sin. (Ephesians 5:26) At this point we are raw nuggets of unrefined precious metal that need another step to perfect us. We are then put into the crucible, and the fire is applied.
Malachi 3 tells us that “he [God] will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” We see another purpose of the fiery trials of life – to purify us. Our strength melts. Our resolve melts. Our faith melts. We suddenly find that the trials have turned us into something we are not comfortable with. This is the unknown. We are vulnerable. Will we survive this fire? What will be left of us when it is over? Not the dross. Not the impurities that keep us from being a pure, clear reflection of our Father God. They will be released and skimmed away in the melting.
I can just see our Heavenly Father leaning over us in love (maybe even singing over us, rejoicing at what He is making of us! – Zephaniah 3:17) as the fires increase in temperature and we began to melt. He gently skims off the dross. Purer. He adds more heat. More impurities are released and skimmed off by His skillful, tender hand. And the process continues. Until at last the silver ore has become so clear that He sees a perfect image of Himself and knows that the fiery trial has worked, and we are ready to be removed from the fire and to be made into a precious object that reflects His image clearly to a hurting, dying world. And that is the ultimate purpose of our refining.
First Peter 1:6-7 says it this way, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Our fiery trials bring praise to Jesus, glory to Jesus, honor to Jesus. They reveal Jesus to the world and change us into a purer image of Him.
Instead of walking around in fear of the next trial that may come, we are told to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13) Our pastor often says that people are either in the middle of a fire, just coming out of a fire, or about to go into a fire. Does that strike fear in you? The second verse of Steve Green’s song speaks to this and offers us a glimpse of a mature attitude towards facing those fiery trials.
I’m learning now to trust His touch, to crave the fire’s embraceFor though my past with sin was etched His mercies did eraseEach time His purging cleanses deeper I’m not sure that I’ll surviveYet the strength in growing weaker keeps my hungry soul alive.
Are we? Learning to trust His touch? Learning to crave or at least accept the embrace of the fire? Learning that we will survive and will come out purified and of greater value? Learning that in our weakness He is strong? Learning that the little tree only grows stronger as it faces the winds of adversity? (But that’s another subject.)
James 1:3 tells us that “…the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Are we willing to grow and change to become steadfast and pure? Can we join in the chorus of “The Refiner’s Fire” and wholeheartedly sing these words?
The Refiner’s fire has now become my soul’s desirePurged and cleansed and purified, that the Lord be glorified.He is consuming my soul refining me, making me whole.No matter what I may lose I choose the Refiner’s fire.
Do I, do you, see the fire as something we desire or something we avoid? Do I, do you, long to be purified in order for God to be glorified? Can I, can you, wholeheartedly say, “No matter what I may lose, I choose to go through the fire”?
We’ve all heard “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” In faith, we must learn that on the other side of that fire, God has prepared green pastures and calm waters for us up ahead. He has gone before us through the fire. Psalm 66 gives us a testimony, an “after” picture of one who has come through the fire when it says, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; You laid a crushing burden on our backs; You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet You have brought us out to a place of abundance.” We can rest in that fact – God will bring us through to a place of abundance. God is good. God loves us. God has a purpose in what He allows in our lives. He assures us that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)
Do we believe that? Do we have the faith to say with the Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that we know our God is able to deliver us, that He WILL deliver us, but even if He does not we will not abandon Him to serve other gods or idolize anything else? As you and I face turmoil in life today: abandonment, a shocking health diagnosis, getting the call you never wanted to receive, financial devastation, the fires of addiction, or rebellion, or pain brought on by ones we love… whatever. We have a choice. We can choose to walk through the fire with the Father, in faith believing God that He is able and He will deliver us. Or we can choose to self medicate and avoid our fears by turning to the idols of this world that cannot deliver. Either way we are still going to walk through the fire. The choice seems obvious.
The Refiner’s Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
*Information on refining was compiled and summarized from the following sources: