Sustained in the Fiery Furnace

sustained-fire+

 

I have often wondered what it would have been like to watch Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they were thrown into the fiery furnace. They were engulfed in flames but not touched. Not a hair on their heads was singed and they didn’t even smell of smoke. The witnesses observed that “the fire had not any power over the bodies of those men.” (Daniel 3:27) It would have been a shocking, breathtaking, life-altering sight.

 

But this experience is not limited to Babylonian times. We can witness that same phenomenon ourselves when we see Christians who suffer in their own fiery furnaces yet are not destroyed. The fire has no power over them either. They emerge from the flames more resilient, with greater joy and a stronger faith. Without a hint of bitterness. They love God more, not less, when their health, their livelihoods, and even their very lives are taken.

 

Why does God allow those flames? We will never fully know why, but in this life we can see a small piece of what God is doing.

 

Suffering grounds our faith in experience

 

When I first became a Christian, I was passionate about God. I told everyone I knew about the Lord and his grace. But after several years, my excitement waned. I began pursuing achievement and success harder than I pursued God. Faith still had an important place in my life, but Jesus was not my first love.

 

I sometimes wondered whether the Christian life was more than duty. Often I was just going through the motions of faith, wondering if I had experienced all there was. It was smooth sailing in spiritually shallow waters.

 

Then calamity came. In wave after endless wave. After losing my son, losing my health and losing my marriage, my view of a comfortable God and a comfortable life radically changed. I realized there was much more to knowing God than I had ever understood. I went from a largely academic understanding of God to an intimate walk with him that could withstand rough storms.

 

Reading that God is a comforter is not the same as knowing the comfort of God. Understanding that God is a deliverer is vastly different from experiencing his deliverance. And knowing that Jesus can save cannot be compared with worshiping him as my Savior.

 

For me, suffering made God real. Because in suffering, pat answers were not enough. It was not enough to read Scripture and learn about God. Checking off the box for my quiet time didn’t help me. I wanted to taste God’s goodness. To experience his comfort. To sense his presence.

 

So I cried out to God. I begged him for help. I leaned on him in ways that I never had before. And when I did, I experienced a life-giving relationship that I had only read about before.

 

Watching other believers suffer well encourages the saints

 

When I was struggling, it was encouraging to see and hear from people who had suffered. Who loved God and drew close to him in their pain. I desperately needed to see that it was possible to be thrown into the fire and not be destroyed.

 

Their examples gave me courage to press on. When my world fell apart, I wanted to see that joy could exist even in great suffering. I needed to see that others had walked difficult paths and emerged whole.

 

Those were the people I wanted to talk to. And those were the stories I wanted to read about. That’s why Christian biographies are so powerful. They put flesh on our theology. We can see what it means to serve God in the trials of life.

 

AW Tozer said, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” I completely agree. When I read biographies, I see faith lived out. I see both the triumphs and the failures of people who trusted God. And when I see what God can accomplish through frail and often faltering saints, I dare to believe that he can use me too.

 

For unbelievers, watching Christians suffer brings theology to life.

 

Seeing faith lived out in the midst of suffering can be astonishing to unbelievers. Rather than being told, they are being shown the beauty of faith. One of the first principles of writing is, “Show me, don’t tell me,” which is important in sharing the gospel as well.

 

The world is full of people talking about God. But talk alone is not enough. The Pharisees were excellent at telling people about God and how to live a righteous life. But as Jesus pointed out, they preached but did not practice. So their words had little impact.

 

When suffering Christians speak of hope and trust in a sovereign God, their words are credible and convincing. Their faith is not theoretical anymore. It becomes intensely practical.

 

No one is shielded from suffering. Not in this life. In the world we will have tribulation. The same sun beats down upon the righteous and the unrighteous. All of us face the same struggles. Death, disease, disability. Shattered relationships and shattered dreams. All of the byproducts of our sin-ravaged world. But in Christ we can have peace because he has overcome the world. He alone can give us joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of despair.

 

Suffering makes faith three-dimensional

 

Trials make the faith of Christians three-dimensional. For sufferers, it makes their relationship with God more real and deep and life-giving. For Christians watching other believers suffer, it gives them hope to press on in their own struggles. And for the watching world, it gives them a front row seat to the power of God at work.

 

Our skeptical world needs to be shown the sustaining grace of God. Merely telling them isn’t enough. For when others see true faith lived out, they cannot help but be amazed. Just like those watching Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who worshipped God because “no other god is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:29).

 

When believers walk through the fiery furnace and it has no power over them, their faith is strengthened, onlookers are startled and doubters are converted. And all the glory goes to God. For he alone sustains us in the fire.

 

 

  • October 6, 2016 - 7:23 pm

    Michelle - Thank you for sharing your walk through suffering. Your words encourage me as I walk this road of suffering.ReplyCancel

  • October 7, 2016 - 4:04 pm

    Dana - Vaneetha, Thank you for posting this today. God bless.ReplyCancel

  • October 7, 2016 - 10:27 pm

    Scott - I agree with Michelle. Thank you Vaneetha for your encouragement towards suffering saints. Thanks for sharing your life through your writing.

    Concerning biographies, I just finished a biography on George MacDonald. Although somewhat unorthodox, he had encouraging things to say concerning being in the fire, and he remained in the fire throughout his life and walk with God.ReplyCancel

    • October 8, 2016 - 3:10 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Scott, both for your encouragement and your biography suggestion. I love biographies of the saints who often lived in the fire their entire lives.ReplyCancel

  • October 8, 2016 - 6:26 am

    Elaine - I really enjoy reading your blogs. Your honesty always encourages and inspires. I just read the following in Streams in the Desert by a former Christian: Scale the heights of a life abandoned to God, then you will look down on the clouds beneath your feet. How true, we need to see faith lived out by others, so that all of us who know suffering can continue our walk, our journey of faith.ReplyCancel

    • October 8, 2016 - 3:11 pm

      Vaneetha - Streams in the Desert is such a great devotional, Elaine. Thank you for that great reminder!ReplyCancel

  • October 8, 2016 - 10:59 am

    Effie Darlene Barba - So Beautifully written.

    After a lifetime that included my own failures as I worked at pleasing God (never resting in the truth of Grace), searching for love (many times like Jeremiah wrote of in 2:33-all the wrong places), abuse, widowhood, cancer, ulcerative colitis, surgery after surgery, and financial disaster–I have found that God’s love, Grace, and sustaining steadfast joy in the midst of raging storms was all I had ever searched for. He never left my side, He loved me through it all, and He taught me that He is my love, my joy and my greatest treasure. I wrote this poem once many years ago. I hope you enjoy it.
    TO GOD-MY LOVE, MY HOPE, MY JOY

    My life-so filled with hopes and dreams
    Lay shattered at Your feet
    So many tears, so many pains
    I laid before Your seat

    Can I look upon Your face of love
    And question what You’ve done?
    For You have been my only hope
    My only morning sun

    You’ve seen my heart when crushed with pain
    Your hands have held it tight
    When I have been so weak, so frail
    You’ve shown Your strength, Your might

    You’ve held me close within Your arms
    When darkness filled my night
    And when I could not see my way
    Your eyes, they gave me sight

    I lay my life within Your hands
    That You may heal my soul
    And keep my eyes upon You Lord
    That I may reach Your goal

    Shine forth Your grace, Your mercy Lord
    And let me be Your light
    That all may see Your eyes of love
    The blind, they might have sight

    Let not the sorrows, nor the pains
    Bring bitterness within
    And give me strength to walk this path
    Protect my heart from sin

    I lay my heart, my soul, my dreams
    Before Your throne of love
    I lift my eyes to You, My God
    And seek Your will above

    You are the only one I need
    To fill my heart with glee
    It is Your face, my one true love
    Tis all I need to see

    So lift me up and hold me close
    Reveal Your love divine
    That through the holes within my heart
    A world might see You shine

    And if the sorrows of my past
    Can touch a wayward one
    I thank you Lord for each dark path
    That lead them to Your son

    I praise You now from mountains high
    For each dark path I’ve trod
    Twas there I found Your heart, Your love
    Twas there I found You God

    What great and wondrous joy I know
    Because You are my king
    And though the path I cannot see
    My heart will trust and sing

    A song of praise unto You Lord
    Who knows what’s best for me
    You’ll hold my hand and lead me on
    In darkness, I can see

    Your love, Your help, Your guiding hand
    Is all I’ll ever need
    So hold me close unto Your path
    For this is all I plead

    I’ll skip with joy along this path
    Though darkness may surround
    Because I know You hold my hand
    My feet will e’er touch ground

    I cannot fall outside Your love
    I cannot lose my way
    I’ll hold my broken dreams once more
    And see them real, one day

    A song of praise unto You Lord
    Who knows what’s best for me
    You’ll hold my hand and lead me on
    In darkness, I can see

    Your love, Your help, Your guiding hand
    Is all I’ll ever need
    So hold me close unto Your path
    For this is all I pleadReplyCancel

  • October 10, 2016 - 4:14 pm

    Eileen - I really liked this post. You’re a good writer who I can tell writes from her heart. Awesome post.ReplyCancel

  • October 19, 2016 - 5:07 am

    Usha - Such an encouraging post. Could relate to it. Really God is with those during the period of trial’s n difficulties.ReplyCancel

    • October 19, 2016 - 11:18 am

      Vaneetha - So thankful it was encouraging, Usha. God’s presence in trials really is remarkable.ReplyCancel

  • November 7, 2016 - 11:57 am

    Chavvah - Thanks for this. I am going through a time of ongoing suffering. I’m single, 35, and my 4th surgery is next week. I’ve been wondering how to walk through this with the peace, acceptance and without the anxiety of my previous surgeries. Any resources you would recommend?ReplyCancel

    • November 7, 2016 - 9:57 pm

      Vaneetha - I’m praying as i write this that God would fill you with peace as you go through this. I’m not sure what kind of resources you are interested in- Joni Eareckson Tada’s books are great. She has a new devotional and her book Beside Bethesda is awesome. You can look on my blog for all the suffering posts and of course the Bible can be your primary source of comfort.ReplyCancel

  • November 8, 2016 - 7:43 pm

    Lance - Vaneetha,
    I agree about Christian biographies. They encourage my soul more than theology and practice books. Like you wrote, to see faith lived out, to see the humanization of it, the successes and failures….it’s healing. It’s the Lord revealing to me that I am not alone in my circumstances. I share with the community of saints in the hope and peace found in Christ. To read and see that lived out is one of the countless mercies our savior douses upon us. Thank you for your writings, thoughts, and insights.ReplyCancel

    • November 14, 2016 - 9:24 pm

      Vaneetha - thanks for writing, Lance. Biographies are so encouraging!ReplyCancel

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