It’s 4:30 in the morning and I haven’t been able to sleep since 3:00 because the pain in my sides and back makes it too uncomfortable to sleep, whatever position I try. The Vicodin isn’t kicking in this time, even though I upped the dose a bit. The pain isn’t intolerable by any stretch of the imagination, and generally subsides when I sit upright or stand, and I am very, very thankful(!!) for that ☺. But I decided to get up after a 90 minute struggle — alternately praying, trying over and over to get comfortable, and meditating on my Abba Father and my Savior Jesus Christ.
The avenue for my meditating began where it has begun countless times over the past month, with a teaching from about a month ago that profoundly impacted me. It was a morning devotional teaching at a Christian Communicators of America speech and debate tournament in Michigan. I actually arrived at the tournament later in the day and missed the teaching, but as the tournament ended my friend Duane, knowing that I had been having some ongoing medical issues, caught up with me to talk. During our conversation he shared a snapshot of the teaching, and even the 2-minute version brought tears streaming down my face.
The teaching involved, in part, Malachi 3:3, where God tells us this about who He is:
“He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the Lord
An offering in righteousness.”
As I understand it, the teacher, Dave, explained that he had wondered what it meant for a refiner of silver to “sit”. After all, God is telling us that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver; so what, exactly, is He telling us about Himself? Dave’s answer came during a visit to Colonial Williamsburg — a re-enactment theme park — where he found himself chatting with a “colonial” silversmith. Dave asked the silversmith what it meant to “sit” as a refiner/purifier of silver.
The silversmith explained that when he refines silver, he must sit at the opening of the furnace and focus intently upon the silver, for if the silver is removed from the furnace a moment too soon, it will not be fully purified, and if it is in the furnace a moment too long, it will be damaged. Dave asked the silversmith how he could tell if the silver was ready, fully refined and purified, and the silversmith, in effect, said this: Oh, that’s easy . . . if I can see my image in the silver, I know it’s ready.
Whew! In a few short words in Malachi 3:3, God is telling us that this is who He is. That this is a very real part of His character! “He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.” How utterly reassuring! As I find myself in the furnace of affliction, this is the heart of my Abba Father, my Saviour Jesus, who is wholly invested in these moments, in me. Intently focused, never wavering. Patiently, lovingly, watching . . . watching . . . watching. Every moment. Watching to make absolutely certain that I will not be in the furnace either a moment too short, or a moment too long. Knowing all the while that when the refining — the purifying(!) — is done, He will be able to see His reflection in me more clearly than ever before.
And not only me, but Diane and Megan and Mallory and Cara. At the moment, each of us is in our own furnace. Yet we know our heavenly Refiner will not allow us– will not allow us — to be in there a moment to short, or a moment too long.
And not only us, but all of you who have trusted Jesus as your Savior! As I’ve heard preached on more than one occasion, you can be relatively certain that you are in one of two groups: either you are in the midst of affliction, or someday you will be in the midst of affliction. And if you are (or when you are), you can be assured of the Lord’s heart and focused care and concern toward you – His treasure — throughout those very moments. As Charles Spurgeon preached in 1881: “Our Lord sits as the Refiner at the furnace mouth because He is all attention. He has, as it were, given up all other cares just to sit there and watch His treasure. He is determined that His servants shall be purified — that the sons of Levi shall be purged — and so there He is, everything else laid aside, giving His whole heart and soul to those whom He is refining. “Oh” you say “but you exaggerate if you talk about the Lord’s giving all His heart and soul to one of His people.” No, I do not. The Lord Jesus watches each one of His people as intensely as if He had no other. Finite minds must have a center, somewhere, and as that center changes, so our circumference of thought and action shifts. But God’s center is everywhere and His circumference is nowhere! Each one of us may be in the center of the Divine mind and yet none of the redeemed may be any the less near because of it. Jesus watches each one — you, me, 50,000 others — all of them His chosen ones that are undergoing the purifying process. He watches each one as if there were never another for His blessed eyes to rest upon. He is all attention, watching . . . as practical refiners watch their precious metal! Poor, bowed Heart, Jesus is all attention! His sitting down is not because He forgets, but because He remembers! . . . Always observing, always watching. Jesus shall sit—“He shall sit as a refiner.””
Oh the wonder of our God and King! Again I ask, is He not too wonderful!? This is the God whose hand I am holding, in whose arms I am resting, as this season of my life unfolds. This is the God who is with me when the sun is warming my face as I walk along the way, and this is the God who is with me when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. because the pain is too much. This is the God who saw my affliction on the horizon, and, in His perfect timing, graciously and lovingly opened my eyes to Malachi 3:3 — focused my eyes in a new way, to help anchor me to Him as my doctors more and more began talking in terms of “inoperable cancer”.
The wistful irony is that as Duane shared Dave’s teaching with me last month, I had thought that the worst of my furnace of affliction was behind me. But my Abba Father in heaven knew differently, and as He had done in so many other different and poignant ways, He further prepared my heart for what was to come, that I might rest more assuredly — knowing He is right here with us, in control, and that we will be in this season not a moment too short, nor a moment too long. . . .