When the fire has no power

Daniel 3:27 And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.

There was nothing shocking about these three men being thrown into the fire. It was just another means of execution. But even the king couldn’t help but notice how they walked in that fire and who walked with them.

The fact that the fire had no effect upon them drew the attention of those around them. And while these three men were inspected and their condition considered, God received the glory.

Daniel 3:28 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!

When we go through life’s trials the same way the world does, it draws no attention and brings God no glory.

Some people bear the marks of the fire through the rest of their lives. They spend much time describing its heat and displaying their scars. And it is the fire that gets the glory.

Followers of Jesus are called to a different way. Even in our trials and suffering we are to set our mind on things above (Colossians 3:2)

The fire may be able to touch our outer man at times, but it can only touch our inner man to the extent we yield ourselves to it.

Consider how these three men conducted themselves and how this might apply to us and the fires we walk through:

Daniel 3:25 “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

They were not bound up and hindered and stifled in life because of the fire. They were not paralyzed or immobilized because of the fire. They weren’t damaged by the fire. They didn’t come out so traumatized that they were unable to even toast marshmallows again. And it was perceptible to all who looked on that they were not alone. The presence of Jesus in the fire with them was unmistakable.

It is never easy to go through a fiery trial, but if your life finds you in a particular furnace at the moment, don’t let it be wasted. Walk through that fire in such a way that when you come out on the other side, people will marvel at the gracious God who brought you through.

Barrenness – Hannah

Hannah was a woman who seemed to suffer greatly from her barrenness.  Unlike Elizabeth, we meet Hannah when she was a young woman still in her childbearing years.  Not only did she endure the sorrow of her barrenness, but also the provocation of her husband’s other, fertile wife, Peninnah.  Not content to merely enjoy the blessing of motherhood, Peninnah entertained herself by provoking Hannah to an intense emotional state over her barrenness.  1 Samuel 1:6 says that her adversary (Peninnah), “provoked her severely to make her fret”.  Interestingly, that word fret is also translated thunder.   Peninnah didn’t just make Hannah cry, she made her angry!

Regardless of what her exact emotional state was, because of what she lacked and the continual harassment of her adversary, Hannah couldn’t enjoy what was set before her.   And in the house of the Lord the shame of it all must have pressed upon her even more.  Her husband, Elkanah, was a Levite, which meant his sons would also serve the Lord as Levites.  Peninnah had many sons to offer to the service of the Lord, but Hannah had none.  Nothing to give to God.  And so we come to her prayer, as she pours out her heart before God.  Could I just summarize it like this – “Oh God, would you please give me something that I can offer to You?”

The soul that realizes it has nothing to offer the Lord but that which He Himself gives, is the soul that is only a hairs breadth away from great blessing.

You know the story…..she has a son whom she gives into the service of the Lord.  He is Samuel, a mighty prophet used greatly by the Lord.    And on that day when she brings Samuel to the house of the Lord her heart cannot contain her joy.  Her prayer of triumph is recorded for us in chapter 2.  One verse in particular caught my attention:

“The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; from heaven He will thunder against them.  The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.”  1 Samuel 2:10

No longer does Hannah speak of her adversary for the Lord has vindicated her.  No longer does Hannah thunder from vexation because the Lord has thundered in judgment.  She smiles at her enemies because she rejoices in the salvation of the Lord, for He has rendered the weapons of her enemy powerless against her.

Barrenness – Elizabeth

Elizabeth – Her name means “oath of God”, yet she lived her life with a promise unkept.  She was barren and now old.  Where were the promised children for the righteous?   Luke 1:36 tells us that Elizabeth was called barren.  It was a label that had been pinned onto her for years.   I can almost hear the whispered remarks of those in her town – “that’s Elizabeth…..she’s barren.”

I wonder if she ever reflected back on the fathers (and mothers) of their people.  In each of those beginning generations there was barrenness, and each time God intervened to bring a child.  He did it for Abraham and Sarah, for Isaac and Rebekah and for Jacob and Rachel.  But Elizabeth remained barren.

Her barrenness was a reproach.  Deuteronomy 7:14 says “You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock.”  Her barrenness declared her life as one that was not obedient and therefore not blessed.  What a horrible stigma to bear.

Yet Luke 1:6 tells us that both Elizabeth and her husband were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”.  And in that moment when the Lord did wonderfully open her womb, Elizabeth said that God has “looked on me to take away my reproach among people.”  Elizabeth knew that even though people may have little regard for her, that she served a God who carefully watched all the details of her life and knew the great love she had for Him that compelled her to live a life of pleasing obedience to Him even when her greatest desire was denied.  She knew that she had no reproach before God even though the blessing was withheld.

Since Elizabeth was an older woman, she may not have known she was pregnant as soon as a younger woman may have known.  So there could have been months that Elizabeth thought of herself as still barren, when actually there was life stirring inside her.  There was a span of time when her barrenness was over yet she did not know it.  But then there came a day when it could be a secret thing no longer.

And when God sent this blessing, it came in a big way.  For it was only after years of bearing an unjustified reproach that she was prepared to bear the forerunner to the One who would bear the ultimate unjust reproach.  Who better to teach John how to remain faithful to God and disregard the opinions of men?

Were all those years of barrenness a waste?  No, they were a training ground to prepare her for her greatest assignment.

No Tears

Ezekiel 24 is a very difficult passage for me to understand.  The prophet’s wife died and the Lord did not allow him to grieve for her.  What must it have been like for Ezekiel to obey that command?  How is such a thing even possible?  But Scripture records “and at evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I was commanded.”  Ezekiel 24:18

Even in his time of sorrow, the prophet was expected to represent the Lord and be faithful to his calling.  There are no vacations for those who have separated themselves to God. All of life becomes focused on presenting Him to and representing Him before lost humanity.

Lord, I am too easily moved by my emotions rather than your commands.  You would have me put your desires above my own, yet so often I do not.  I feel the need, and even the entitlement, to indulge my feelings.  Even when I know they run contrary to Your word.  This is not the life You have called me to.

For you have called me to obey, in love, without reservation.  You have called me to live for the One who gave all to purchase me.  You have called me to forget myself and count all things loss – for You.  This is the life You have called me to.

This isn’t a life for sissies.

Counting the cost

This week there was a shooting in my city.  It wasn’t a drug deal gone bad.  It wasn’t domestic violence.  A man was sharing his faith in Christ and was rewarded with a bullet to the face.  This man was a faithful servant in the house of the Lord and a regular at Saturday morning prayer.  He mentored young, fatherless boys.  And he shared his faith.  This week it cost him a great deal to be a Christian.

He lived through the shooting and had reconstructive surgery to his face.  While he will almost certainly be scarred, he will survive.

In America there has not been much risk involved with being a Christian.  But the world is not as friendly towards the followers of Christ as it used to be.  Seems that it might be a good time to begin counting the cost.  Looks like it may soon begin to really cost us something.


We do not lose heart

“Therefore we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at things which are seen but at things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”   2 Corinthians 4:16-18

In this chapter Paul is talking about the suffering he has endured in spreading the gospel.  He has faced many hardships, even death.  But for Paul, the perspective of suffering was:

• In the scope of eternity and the plan of God, our suffering is a light and momentary thing.  Although it seems horrible while we are going through it, when seen through the eyes of God and endured with the grace of God it becomes a light, not a heavy burden.

• Our suffering is working for us.  So many times our hardships can seem like they are our master, controlling our lives.  But they are our servants, meant to work for us.  And as believers in Christ, the work they are to do for us is to transform us into His image, a work we cannot do ourselves.

• The work that our suffering accomplishes produces eternal results than far exceed the difficulty of the suffering.

The condition: we must stay focused on the eternal.  Life and suffering are temporary things, but the glory of Christ in us is our hope and it is eternal.  When we learn to see our afflictions through the eyes of God, even in the midst of them we are renewed day by day.

If you are suffering today, do not lose heart.  Rather, let us rejoice that God is doing a beautiful work in us through our difficulties.

Sweetly comforted

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart.  I was glad it was Sunday, happy to be able to go to church.  I cried through most of the early morning prayer service, and a few times in Sunday school.  I knew that I desperately needed to hear from God, and He did not disappoint.

When my pastor got up to speak, his text was 2 Corinthians 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”  I was able to receive a more God honoring perspective of my suffering and was greatly encouraged.  During the altar time after the message, we sang a song with a simple yet powerful message.  I’m sure you know it:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

God is faithful and I have been sweetly comforted.

Helpless, but not hopeless

There are times when life becomes painful, seemingly beyond what you can bear.  Circumstances beyond your control insinuate themselves into your life and as your mind is reeling over your inability to fix things and your heart is churning with emotions that threaten to overwhelm, you wonder how you will make it through this.

This is a description of my life today.

I don’t think I have ever felt myself to be in such a helpless position as I am right now.   At times I have felt like all I can do it sit and stare at the wall.  Incapable of acting, incapable of thinking and often incapable of praying.  Sometimes there just aren’t words.

The tendency of my personality is to get lost in my own thoughts, a futile replaying of events, which always leads to despair.   I have felt myself drifting that way and I know I cannot go there.  I must be able to pray.  I must be able to get the ear of God.  But how?  How can I reach so high when I am so low?  So weak?  So helpless?

“Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly”  Psalm 138:6
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart” Psalm 34:18
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.”  Psalm 33:18

What a comfort this is to me!  What a source of hope!  I may be helpless, but I am not hopeless.  My God has not promised to make everything in my life the way I would like it to be, but He has promised that throughout the duration of it, He will be with Me.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

Right now I am utterly and completely weak.  But He is always infinitely and eternally strong.  This is truth that brings rest to a weary soul.

“But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble.  And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked and save them, because they trust in Him.”  Psalm 37:39-40

The pain remains great, but His word brings hope that it will not always be like this.

Consider Him

Oh soul, be hushed before the Lord
Though tempests rage and winds assail
Is your hope in Him alone?
Then rest and know that all is well

Though howling winds blow unabated
Yet even now hope is not lost
Only rest in His vast peace
A haven for the tempest tossed

Look up, my soul, and find your strength
Though tears flow freely, be assured
There is One who watches You
Cling tightly, thus you shall endure

No storm too great, no trial too strong
To snatch you from His mighty hand
He Who once did save your soul
Will keep you safe, will make you stand

And stand you shall, in His great strength
Approach the throne, receive His grace
Look unto Him as all sufficient
Consider Him and run this race

With all your heart, soul, mind and strength
Take courage now and swiftly run
Run until you reach the end
Then find your rest with God’s own Son

The pain passes, but the beauty remains

Several years ago during a very difficult time in my life a friend shared this story with me:

When French impressionist painter Auguste Renoir was confined to his home during the last decade of his life, Henri Matisse was nearly 28 years younger than him. The two great artists were dear friends and frequent companions. Matisse visited him daily. Renoir, almost paralyzed by arthritis, continued to paint in spite of his infirmities. One day as Matisse watched the elder painter work in his studio, fighting torturous pain with each brush stroke, he blurted out: “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”

Renoir said: “The pain passes but the beauty remains.”

Those words touched my heart in a profound way as I realized that my pain, in the hands of my God, was producing a beautiful brokenness.  I have never viewed suffering in the same light since then.

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”  Psalm 34:18

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these O God, you will not despise.”  Psalm 51:17

If brokenness brings the nearness of God, why do we fight against it so much?  This pain is not a master sent to rule over us, but our servant, sent to work in us that wonderful work of conforming us to Christ. 

How insignificant our pain will be when we see it as the hand of the Potter, gently sculpting, meticulously crafting a vessel of honor fit for the Master’s use. Those scarred and broken places in my soul, they are covered with His fingerprints. 

The pain passes, but the beauty remains.