Have you ever considered that your greatest discomfort might be for your greatest benefit? I hate being uncomfortable, most of us do. We go to great lengths for comfort; furniture, food, clothing, relationships, it seems we want to be comfortable more than we want to be comforted. The difference is this: being comfortable is creating an environment that is without difficulty, trial or lack of control; being comforted is being willing to endure hardship, uncertainty and the leadership of another while fully confident that when the trial is done comfort will be provided. Comfortable places will always be tested, they will always be tried and truthfully, they will usually be removed. I am learning this, I grow the most when I am the least comfortable.
If my point about growth and comfort is true then God is going to cause discomfort in my life so that it can become growth. I find that I often desire to have situations change around me, but the concept of me being the one that needs to change often puts me off. I am fearful of difficulty, of trial, of testing, of anything that seems like it might destroy me. The problem that most of us have is that we tend to think that we can be easily destroyed. Last week we looked at I Corinthians 10 and the promise that we will never be tempted with more than we can bear. If we trust this as a promise, then we must realize that nothing can destroy us. I am serious, if we are trusting God and living lives of obedience then there is nothing and no one that can bring us harm, in fact, even what seems to be harmful will ultimately prove to be a blessing.
In Daniel chapter three, three Hebrew men refused to obey the edict of Babylon’s king to worship a golden statue. The punishment was to be thrown into a burning furnace. The king gave them a second chance before sentencing them to the furnace but they responded that they had no reason to even answer his questions, they would not be bowing down to any image. They announced, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” In his fury the king orders the men to be tied up and thrown into the fiery furnace. The servants complied and the men were bound and thrown to their apparent death. A few minutes later the king looked into the furnace from a safe distance. After looking he shouted, “Look! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” The only thing that had burned was the ropes that bound them.
You and I probably haven’t faced any actual fires, but we face spiritual flames often. We are put in positions where we have to choose difficulty, choose testing, choose discomfort for the sake of obedience. We all have our faith tested by illness, by financial hardship, by the loss of relationships or the wounding of words. We face furnaces of faith often and in each occurrence we must choose to give in to being comfortable and do the easy thing or to stand firm, allow whatever difficulty that may come and believe in the goodness and comfort of God. The three Hebrew men could have easily bowed down in their bodies but not worshipped in their hearts. They could have justified that they were much more useful to God alive then dead. They could have decided to compromise for the sake of culture so that they could somehow be an influence later. They could have walked in fear but they didn’t. They understood that a moment of faith overcomes a lifetime of fear. It is the same for you and me.
There are two awesome things that happen in furnaces of the soul. The first is that the only things that burn are the things that were binding us. Look back at Daniel chapter three, the only things that burned in that fire were the ropes that held the men. We are so fearful of what we might lose, but the truth is that the only things that God ever takes from our lives are the things that are holding us back. In a furnace, the impurities are separated from the items of true value. Dross is removed from silver and gold and distraction, bondage, and flesh are removed from our souls. Not only are these the things that are removed by fire, it seems that they can only be removed by fire. The truth is, that many of us will not let go until the fire loosens our grip.
The second and most amazing thing that happens in the furnace of the soul is that we experience the presence and comfort of God. The ropes burned, the men stood and walked around in the fire and as the king looked in he saw a fourth man and cried out that it looked like “the Son of God.” Jesus is faithful to His promise to never leave us or forsake us, He is always near, but for some reason, we recognize Him more fully when we are in the midst of trial and difficulty. The young men were already sure of God, they already loved Him, worshipped Him and obeyed Him, they didn’t need Him to come so they could believe, and yet He chose to come. He chose to reward them, bless them and use them to shine His light. God wants to do the same thing through us. He wants to show us how near He has always been, to show us how dear we are to His heart and to show the world around us that He is real. This happens in the furnace of fire, He becomes more evident in the trials of our faith and the tests of life.
While I won’t tell anyone to go look for furnaces I will tell you not to hide from them. Peter and John rejoiced after being beaten for preaching the name of Jesus. Paul found purpose and power in being shipwrecked, beaten, stoned and accused. Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before Him”. Hudson Taylor embraced a foreign land so that salvation could come to China. George Muller chose a life of poverty so that thousands of orphans could be housed, fed and taught the love of Jesus. There are countless others that have seen a furnace and not considered it a loss but a gift. I am trying to let go of being comfortable. I am trying to release the thoughts of what I might lose and truly desire what it is that I am promised to gain. Whatever the fire is that might surround you today, I am sure of this: the only things you will lose were never yours to hold onto and you will see Jesus more clearly than you have ever seen Him before. You will not be comfortable but you will always be comforted.