Sunday, July 12, 2009

Joy in the Furnace - Part 1

Joy in the Furnace – Part 1

By Debbie Guinn© 2007

James 1:2-4 -- Consider it ALL joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be PERFECT and COMPLETE, lacking in NOTHING.”1

I don’t know about you, but finding joy in any trial – even the “little” ones –was never an easy task for me. I knew that as a Christian, I “should” look at things that way, but it just seemed to be one of those things that I would never accomplish during my life here on earth.

That all began to change last winter, when I found myself dealing with a debilitating illness. For four months, I was unable to do much of anything from a physical standpoint. However, God used that time to do a work in my spiritual life…mainly teaching me how to find joy in my trials. It was more than simply choosing to be happy IN SPITE OF my trials. It was a time of truly learning to thank God FOR the trials. It was a process of discovering that it IS possible to rejoice in – yes, get excited about – even the toughest, most painful trials.

One day, I was telling God how tired I was of being sick. I was completely overwhelmed with my circumstances. I had so many things that needed done; I couldn’t do anything because of my health; I had nobody to help me with things; I was afraid; I was lonely; I wanted it all to end…. Honestly, I was just having a good pity party that day. I had put on a CD to listen to, hoping to lift my spirits.

A song started playing and two lines from that song really got my attention. It says, “If you lead us to the fire, you will not withdraw your hand; We’ll gaze into the flames and look for you.” God just stopped me in my tracks right there and said, “Debbie, I am IN the flames but you never look for me there.”

He was so right – but then again, He always is. I tend to do one of two things when I am going through trials in my life. Either I look at the “stuff” (situations, circumstances, people) going on in my life – or I decide to ignore all that “stuff” and focus instead on all the good things that God has done/is doing in my life. There is nothing wrong with looking at the good. In fact, God’s Word tells us that we ARE to think on good things. It says in Phil. 4:8, ”Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”(KJV)

It IS good to think on the good – we need to have our thoughts on those things. However, I believe God was telling me that I needed to look to HIM wherever HE is. He doesn’t want me to forget or ignore the good things He has done, but He wants me to follow Him and see Him IN the trials too. If I am looking at the “stuff” – even the good “stuff” -- I can’t focus on HIM and see what He longs to do in and through the trial.

I began to think of trials as being in the fire, comparing the “stuff” to the flames. I was drawn to the story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – the three men who were thrown into the fiery furnace. I began an in-depth study of that story and God showed me SO much about what He does during the trials of our lives. I discovered six key principles in this story that have totally changed my outlook on trials. These principles have given me reason to rejoice in the trials and suffering that God brings or allows in my life.

For sake of time and space, I am not going to cite the entire story, but I highly encourage you to read the first three chapters of Daniel. The first two chapters give a little background as to who these three men were, where they came from, and their roles in Babylon. They were of the royal family of Judah – worthy of high honor; they were “perfect” from a physical standpoint, handsome, highly intelligent, and “qualified to serve in the king’s palace”. (Daniel 1:3-4). They were highly respected by the king, so much that he appointed them administrators over the province of Babylon. (Daniel 1:19-20; 2:49)

More importantly, though, is the fact that they were men who loved and served God – and ONLY God. When commanded to bow down and worship the king’s golden image, they refused. Even when threatened with death, they stood firm in their convictions, certain that one way or another God would deliver them. (Daniel 3:17-18)

The first principle from this story is that I WILL have trials in my life. It is easy to think that trials only affect certain people – those from a certain social or economic class, race, etc. Many times, we think that trials only come to people who “deserve” them due to sin or “poor choices” in life. Therefore, if I am going through a trial, I must have done something wrong to deserve it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had everything going for them – or so we tend to think. They were high class, smart, had found favor with the king, AND lived their lives committed to God. Yet, they were still thrown into the furnace.

The truth of the matter is that EVERYBODY has trials. NOBODY is exempt from them. It does not matter how wealthy we are; how high up on the socio-economic ladder we are; how good or bad we are. It doesn’t even matter how little or great our faith in God is. Jesus says, “In this world you WILL have trouble.” (John 16:33)2 He is talking to His disciples here – those who have given up everything to follow Him. This tells me that even if I am totally, 100% sold out to Jesus, I will still have trials in my life. They are simply part of life for EVERYONE.

The second thing we can learn here is that God is with me in the furnace (trials). Daniel 3:25 says, “He (Nebuchadnezzar) said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire…and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."2 God was with those three men -- and He is with us as well. It is so easy to feel God has deserted us when we are in the fire but the truth is that He hasn’t and He won’t. HE is ALWAYS with us, no matter where we go or what we do. Psalm 139:7-12 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” 2

The Bible contains MANY passages where God promises that He will ALWAYS be with us and that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us. One of my favorites is Isaiah 43:2-3 When you pass through the waters, I WILL be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”(ESV) Here are some other passages where this promise is evident: Genesis 21:22; 26:24: 28:15; 31:3; Deuteronomy 4:29-31; 20:4; 31:6-8,23; Joshua 1:5,9; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 20:17; Psalm 9:10; 16:8-10; 23:4; 37:25,28; Isaiah 41:17; 42:16; Zephaniah 3:17; Romans 15:33; 2 Corinthians 4:9; 13:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Hebrews 13:5.

I think there are two parts to God being with me in the furnace. The first is the more obvious factor, simply that I am NEVER alone. He is ALWAYS with me through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The second part – the part I often forget – is that there is NOTHING I go through that Christ hasn’t already gone through. In other words, part of God being WITH me is the fact that He can relate to and empathize with whatever trial I am enduring because He has already endured it. Hebrews 2:18 says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”2 Hebrews 4:15 goes on to say, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” 2 (Note: The Greek for “tempted” in both of these verses is “peirazō” which means “to try, make trial of, test; to inflict evils upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith.”)

Next time we will look at what God does during the trials in our lives. Until then, “do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (I Peter 4:12). Remember, you will have trials BUT you are never alone. Your Father who loves you is with you, wanting to do a mighty work in and through that very trial.


Debbie Guinn was born in Phoenix, AZ, graduated from Southwest Baptist University and has lived in Texas since 1994. She is the single mother of three daughters and lives in Ft. Worth Texas. Debbie resigned from her job as an Administrative Assistant in 2001 when the effects of Multiple Sclerosis began to take her sight. She is a speaker, an editor, as well as an author who regularly contributes to Heartbeat the Magazine and is currently working on two books. Debbie's transparency and firm grasp of God's truth challenges women of every age and stage to trust in the life-giving power of God's Word for every aspect of their lives.

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