The Great Refiner!January 31, 2019
But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak: not as pleasing men, but God, which tried our hearts.
— 1 Thessalonians 2:4
Have you ever felt like God was putting you through a test in order to prepare you for the next step in your life? These experiences can be trying, but they are necessary for your spiritual growth. Even the apostle Paul wrote that God tested him, and the language he chose clearly conveys that sometimes those tests felt like fiery experiences indeed. In First Thessalonians 2:4, he wrote, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak: not as pleasing men, but God, which tried our hearts.” Today I want to examine this word “tried” and its application in our lives. If you’ve been through a trial or are currently in the middle of one right now, I believe you will be encouraged by what you are about to read!
The word “trieth” is translated from the Greek word dokimadzo. This word was used to describe any kind of intense test that was intended to prove the quality and trustworthiness of a product. For instance, it was often used to denote an intense examination of individuals who were running for public office to determine if their character was fit for the job.
The Greek word dokimadzo also described the process of purifying and refining metal. In the ancient world, metal was put through multiple degrees of fire and heat to expose any impurities. Such flaws could significantly weaken a piece of metal; therefore, testing it to prove its purity and trustworthiness was very important. This refining process is referenced in Malachi 3:2 and 3, which states, “…For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like a fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” This passage clearly states that God — our Great Refiner — used fire to purify His people so they might offer up a righteous offering to Him.
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Another application of the Greek word dokimadzo that is particularly relevant in the context of this verse is its use to describe the process of firing ceramic pottery in a kiln. This process is an essential step in the creation of pottery because it exposes defects within a piece that can then be corrected. My sister, Ronda Roush, an expert ceramic and porcelain maker, whose pottery and fine china grace the shelves of numerous statesmen and movie stars, provided the following insight concerning the inescapable need for fire when crafting a superior product:
The beautiful, artistic design that is enjoyed on a piece of porcelain or pottery is not a permanent part of the piece until the piece has been fired at the highest temperatures in the oven. Before fire is applied to the piece, the design is merely superficial and easily erasable. It is not an actual part of the piece until the piece has been placed into the oven at a very high temperature. The heat of the fire is what permanently fuses the design into the piece, causing the design to become a part of the permanent glaze.
The most desirable colors, such as deep, rich jewel tones, contain gold in their chemical makeup. However, the gold in the porcelain paint powder that makes these rich jewel tones so beautiful isn’t visible at first. It takes intense fire to cause the gold in those colors to really shine and make those tones deep and rich. Gold must be fired at a hotter temperature. At a normal firing temperature, these colors will turn out dull and lifeless, but hotter firing brings out the richness, which can’t be seen any other way. When working with pure gold, it is black and ugly when it is first applied to a piece. It is not until it comes out of the oven that it turns to rich patina, which is the crowning glory to most beautiful porcelain pieces.
Invisible flaws in the porcelain only become visible in the firing process. As a piece is being fired, one can look into the oven and see all kinds of things during the firing process that were formerly invisible to the naked eye. This process purifies in ways that we don’t even know are needed. But at the end of the firing, the flaws are gone, and a perfect, mirror-like finish shines back at us from the bottom of the kiln.
The firing process is necessary, and it has to be done a certain way. There are no shortcuts. It has to go all the way through the cycle. Trying to circumvent is risky business. Removing a piece from the oven before it has gone the full circle can cause the piece to crack, or even break apart. This process is so important that when the piece is finished being fired, it has to completely cool down before it is removed from the oven. Rushing the process can ruin the piece.
What looks like a mistake may end up being the greatest part of the design. Early in my career, a porcelain painter explained to me, “Once when I was working on an exquisite piece, a hairline crack developed. I painted vines and flowers over that crack and added another dimension to the piece, which totally changed it, and made it so much more beautiful. Some of the most beautiful elements to a design are discovered due to flaws that show up in the firing process.
One firing is not enough with the most exquisite and intricate pieces. Designs are layered, one upon the other, and they must be fired again and again, sometimes up to 20 times for a very valuable piece. When I take a finished piece out of the kiln that I am pleased with, I know it will find a special place in someone’s home, where it will be enjoyed or used to serve some kind of purpose. Firing kilns every day serves as a constant illustrative reminder to me that refinement is vital if I want God to use me, to take me off the shelf and do something with me. God isn’t finished with me yet, nor will He ever be! To understand that truth is both humbling and thrilling at the same time. What a relief to know that if the needed changes are not quite there yet, God can take us back into the kiln to refire us and fix the flaws.
It is important to note that when the apostle Paul wrote, “God…tried (dokimadzo) our hearts,” the verb tense used here indicates the testing was ongoing. Even after Paul’s many years in the ministry, God still regularly put him through the fires in order to test his heart.
Tests are a necessary part of life that allow you to move onward and upward in your spiritual walk. The finest porcelain product must be fired to bring out its richest colors and prove its trustworthiness before it is put on display or sent out to serve. If this is how a human artist tenderly works to create a high-quality product, think of how wonderful Jesus, your Great Refiner, is! He doesn’t test you to hurt you; rather, He wants to glaze truth onto your heart and bring out a richness of color that you otherwise would not know.
Our God is indeed a consuming fire (see Hebrews 12:29)! The refining fires of testing actually clear away debris within us so the fire of the Holy Spirit can perform a deep and lasting work of transformation from the inside out. Then He sets us ablaze with His glory so we can obey what He asks us to do and reveal His nature and power to others through our lives!
So as you move forward in your spiritual walk, realize that Jesus’ fires will continue to test you. But I want to encourage you to decide today that you’re going to be receptive to His purifying process. Let Him expose and remove your defects. Allow Him to teach you what aspects of your life need to change. As you do, those refining fires will make you spiritually richer, stronger, and more qualified to be used by the Lord for His glory!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, instead of resisting the changes You are trying to make in my life, I choose to willfully surrender to Your holy fire that exposes my flaws and brings correction. It is clear that Your refining fire is for my good. I know that You would never send a test that is abusive or hurtful. Your work in me produces strength, even as You guide me through situations designed to reveal and remove the flaws that need to be purged from my life. Therefore, Holy Spirit, I ask You to help me understand what You are teaching me. I choose to cooperate with the process so I can get out of the kiln and be placed in Your service!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that the Lord is the Potter, and I am the clay. Jesus is molding me into the vessel that He wants me to be. He has every right to expose and remold what needs to be corrected and then put me in the kiln and turn up the heat. And when He brings me out, I know I will be freer than I’ve ever been before because the flaws that once hindered my walk with Him will be removed!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Is God currently putting you through a test to see if you are ready to move forward in your life?
- Are you cooperating with Him or prolonging the process by resisting?
- Why don’t you take a few minutes and write down several things you learned about yourself during the times God has tested you that you needed to change so you could expedite that testing process?