9. The Refining Process

31 01 2018

Chapter 8: The Refining Process

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 9 of 13 posts)

When we are going through hard things, there is a purpose to it that is greater than just getting to the other side of it. When we begin to see that God works right in the middle of our trouble and does not let it go to waste, we can pray, “Please let me come out of this closer to You, more mature as Your child, with a skimming off of some of the impurities which are spoiling the reflection of Your face as You look at me” (153). We are not on hold when we are walking through affliction. God says, “I have chosen You in the furnace of affliction” Isaiah 48:10-11.

People tend to shut doors not open them these times. We tend to hide away, drop out, and step back. But could it be that we could actually join in, be connected, and step up instead? Can we still be useful when we are in a time of trial– maybe even more useful — and find a strength in Christ we have never experienced before?  Instead of just thinking of ourselves and what is going wrong, suffering can turn into a time of great opportunity and generosity.

In good times and in hard times, “we are being prepared for something that the Lord is preparing for us. The reality of our growth has meaning in the time ahead. Sanctification is a slow process, but it is meant to be taking palce, no matter how slowly. We are not meant to be born again — and then never grow afterwards” (157).

Our tendency, as I mentioned, is to do the opposite. We tend to build walls of self protection. We tend to focus hard on what is going wrong and are consumed by it. And, our tendency is to begin to question God, walk in confusion, and get tangled in the great big “WHY?” Mark 4:16-17 addresses those who get offended:

These [is the seed] sown on rocky ground: As soon as they hear the word, they receive it with joy. But they have no root in themselves and do not endure. Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately they fall away.

When trouble comes in some people’s lives, “the result is a bitterness towards God, a walking away which shows itself in some form. Rather than running towards the strong tower, the rock they run away and reject what they claimed to believe” (157). God has never lied to us about this life. He has never promised us a walk lined with flower petals but has been perfectly honest that we are navigating a narrow, rocky, winding path; a narrow gate, dark valleys, and fire: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-17).

Christ identified with us in our temptations and suffering, and the Bible also says so much about what comes of identifying with Christ in His suffering. He with us, us with Him. We are in it together!

“We are not simply “holding our own” as we bear difficulties, nor are we even only having victories in the heavenly battle, marvellous and fantastic though the truth may be. We are also in some special way sharing in the rejection which Christ suffered and – marvel of marvels – something is going on with in us, so that we are becoming more prepared for what is ahead, little by little, a tiny speck at a time” (159).

We can admit that we don’t understand things totally, but we should also be careful and recognize that our reactions and responses do matter: “Something is taking place in us right now which is astonishing as the refining of silver, the purifying of gold, the finishing of the final touches on a work of art! We are His workmanship in a very real way, and only He can know what is in store for us and when the final moment will arrive” (158).

When we enter into a time of trial/affliction/suffering we will react in one of two ways: obedience or disobedience. This is where temptation fits in. We will either run to Our Father, or temptation will win and we will move away from Him. Joseph is an excellent example of this, and Schaeffer explores his story showing us that what he experienced, people in our time, all over the world also experience:

“People in our moment of history in various parts of the world know what it is to be torn away from home, family and normal life and plunged into a time of terror (as Joseph was). They have even experienced it in the American Capital, let alone other principal cities of the world. We need not lack understanding of terrorism such as Joseph experienced” (161).

Consider that this was written in 1978 and where we are at with our experience of terrorism today! The story of Joseph and his reaction to terror are so relevant. There were so many times where he could have compromised, walked away from God, fallen hard into self-pity. There were so many times he could have become corrupt, taken revenge, and disobeyed. There were times of pain where he could have. But there was also a time of affluence where he could have. I thought this was an excellent point:

“Jospeh experienced almost too much in the area of temptation in an opposite direction. Although people do not often enough consider affluence or power as an ‘affliction’ there is so much temptation connected with wealth and influence that the prayer to ‘give me neither poverty nor riches’ is a prayer for more than just a balance in ‘things’. It is a cray for a balance of life which makes inward growth come more easily or continue without an abrupt halt” (162).

As always, God takes what could be only “bad” and uses it for good. This is our hope as we suffer. With Joseph, his brothers were partnering with the enemy for evil, but God turned it all around and helped Joseph feed and nourish them: “Egypt had made him neither arrogant and proud nor domineering or cruel” (162). Whether we are tempted in times when we are empty, or times when we have plenty, we have a choice as to who we will be and what we will do. The Bible calls us to look carefully at the examples written within and then choose well.

Edith Schaeffer says, the polishing process that happens when we are walking through painful things is not glamorous but in this refining time we can still care for others and this is a really important thing to think on when it comes to suffering being useful: “It is when we are having ‘the most severe trials’ that suddenly someone in the bed next to us in the hospital needs our attention in some practical way” (157) and it is there that we serve, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Of course there are limitations, but there is always something we can do when we are in the middle of our own severe trial or affliction.

As we walk through our own times of affliction and allow these things to refine us, it gives us a whole new perspective on how to walk alongside of others who are suffering. As we allow the refining work to happen it changes what we say and how we treat those who also suffer. We don’t quickly conclude,  “‘Oh you are being tried,’ as though we could know that God is doing something directly to that person…To those suffering a great loss, a death, who are ‘frantic with grief’ we cannot make judgements like that, conclusions” (159).

When we watch others suffer, we realize a battle is going on and “that we have no right to try to analyze for other people just what has taken place in the whole complicated series of events…we simply do not know what flow or factors brought about the accident, the illness, the fire, the earthquakes…our assurances as children of the Living God is that He is able to bring beauty from ashes…” (160).  We recognize from our own suffering,

“The whole abnormal, fallen world — abnormality of death, the separation from the body because of the Fall, the cause and effect of history, the actions of human beings and the effects of choice, the carelessness and cruelty of human beings, as well as Satan’s sphere of power — all these things are involved…” (160).

What we can confidently know is that Our Father “refines, purifies, proves, and causes to grow in us something very precious and lasting in our attitudes towards Him and in our actions to other human beings…He does not allow our affliction to be wasted” (160). So we can come alongside and pray for one another that Our Father would help us in our suffering, pain, frustration and that this period of time would not be wasted.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says,

For no one can lay any foundation other than what is being laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Schaeffer responds, saying, “Right now we have our own particular piece of affliction, our own impossibility, our own last straw…today is the day, not tomorrow, but always today, to discover what it means to find a practical area in which to ask that the ‘melting heat’ will not be wasted” (166).

In a time when we are being polished, we can make decisions to not be tempted to surround ourselves with complaint. We can actually clean ourselves up and concentrate on what Our Father would ask us to do that day — even extending ourselves to others. It seems impossible that we could be of some use, but this is what God does, He makes us useful even in the most unlikely of times. You can substitute the word “unique” for “unlikely” and it changes the meaning of our suffering entirely, doesn’t it?

“Don’t miss the moments; don’t lets waste the brief time when the Master Silversmith bends over us to skim something off that is hindering us. Do thou for me, Lord, whatever You see needs doing in me, right now, before this moment becomes past history” (168).

— Teresa Klassen