One of my favorite art forms is blown glass. When we lived in New England for a few years, one of my favorite things to do was to go to one of the many glass blowing studios in Vermont or New Hampshire and watch the glass blowers work. I was fascinated by the process. The glass is melted multiple times in different types of furnaces to about 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, once the glass is completely melted, the work of molding the glass begins. Before the glass can be turned into beautiful art it has to get incredibly hot to the point of being molten. Without the fire of the furnace, the artist would not be able to do their work.
At the time I never thought about the spiritual parallels between the process of glass blowing and the sanctification process we all go through as Christians. I was in my 20s at the time and honestly I’d been through some small fires in my life but the “furnace” hadn’t really been turned up yet. The past couple of years God has shown me through some really hard times that in order to do His beautiful work in me; He was going to have to allow the heat to be turned up a little in the furnace of my life.
The Refiner’s fire is a common theme in scripture.
You have wearied the LORD with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?” “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Malachi 2:17-3:16 (NIV, emphasis mine)
It’s interesting that the fire is described as a refiner’s fire, not an incinerator’s fire or a forest fire for example. A forest fire destroys everything in its path. The incinerator’s fire completely destroys an object. A refiner’s fire does not destroy or consume; it purifies. Just like the goal of the glass blower’s furnace isn’t to destroy the glass, but to melt it; the fires God allows us to enter into don’t consume us but instead refine and purify us.
This theme is also discussed in the New Testament.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:7 (ESV)
Life is hard. We are “grieved by various trials” and Peter says the goal of these trials is to test the authenticity of our faith. We say we believe in God. We say we trust Him. We say that we give Him all control. But, do we really? When the fire starts to burn how authenticate is our faith? How real is it? Do we just believe in God or do we BELIEVE He is who He says He is? Peter also says something that brings me so much hope- our faith that has been tested and found genuine is precious. The glass blower’s furnace turns melted glass into beautiful art and our Refiner’s fire purifies us and makes us more precious than silver or gold.
“For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12 (ESV)
Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire, Brian Doerksen)