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Refiner’s Fire

I have no idea what decade that song came out (Refiner’s Fire), but I picture myself singing with eyes closed, earnestly begging for God’s fire to purify my heart, let me be as gold, and purest silver…I want to be holy! (As the song’s lyrics go, anyway.) But the minute agitation comes, whether from life’s attack on me or my attack on others, its interesting how quickly I seem to forget that deeply felt plea.

This weekend, I listened again to a podcast of David Powlinson’s counseling class through the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. This particular lecture was on prayer and is one I should be reminded of it regularly. He described the typical prayer requests that people receive and give (health/sickness, salvation of loved ones, job responsibilities, employment and finances, relationship struggles, etc.) and noted that they are almost exclusively for the situations people are in and for those situations to be fixed or have a certain outcome. Its not that these types of prayers do not have Biblical precedent, but they are not enough in themselves nor the foucs of God’s redemptive emphasis throughout history.

What we ask for most in prayer is that God would in some way effect change in our circumstances. Rarely do we request prayer for God to change us through our circumstances. Rarely do you hear someone say, “I am going in to have surgery next week and it has made realize that I am really fearful. Would you please pray for the surgeon’s hands, of course, but would you pray even more that God would increase my belief in His control over all things, no matter the outcome?” Or how about, “I’m just feeling really depressed. My job is sucking the life out of me, I don’t feel like I have any truly deep friendships and all I do is eat to escape these heavy feelings. I’m realizing that I am looking to all these things for peace and satisfaction and even validation of my existence and they just can’t provide it. Would you please pray that in the context of this down place where I am, I would begin to know the satisfaction of God’s love, presence and purpose in a way I never really have believed it before?”

At some point in our Christian experience, we genuinely ask God to make us more into His image, more like Him, less of us and more of Him. So, He brings the refining fire either by life’s mundane and menial tasks which threaten to suck the life out of us or by the monsoon events which threaten to drown us. In either case, the goal is the very desire we most want: (James 1) to be complete, perfect, not lacking anything…Jesus.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:25-28

But I much prefer to ask you to pray for my circumstances because that is safer, less invasive, and less threatening. We can all keep our eyes a nice distance away from the real elephant in the room, which is my faith. My faith which is full of doubt, full of demands and almost exclusively full of me. Just like the Pharisee, my greatest concern is for the external rather than my own heart. The ironic thing, as Powlinson pointed out, is that when we start praying for heart changes, we actually see God at work more visibly, effecting change that no program or resolve of the will ever could. Rather than a community of despair which is created by a faith placed in external change, a community of faith is grown as God’s power at work inside of us is seen and praised!

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

Its not that Jesus can’t calm the storm threatening to capsize my boat. But thankfully, He is so much more interesting in “stilling” the waters of my heart, so that like Him, I too can rest peacefully in the boat regardless of the weather. Can I begin to see my circumstances, from the monotonous daily grind to the more visible situational churnings, as the context for God’s redeeming work in my heart? Can my prayer requests begin to express just enough belief about God’s sovereignty and commitment to my heart that they would begin to focus more on the improvements needed there rather than simply desired in my circumstances?

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Sam. 16:7

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

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