How am I going to survive this?, I found myself thinking one recent afternoon.
It wasn’t just the exceptional heat from the morning sun making its way down my face and soaking uncomfortably through my black shirt. The heat was on in other areas of my life and it was yet another day of facing issues with no conclusions in sight.
I knew I was exhausted from the inner turmoil that had been boiling steadily over the past few months. Angry, even, that God had not turned down the flames and brought the much desired restitution to my long-drawn trials.
But I also understood that this is the Christian life and what I call the crucible of Christlikeness.
The journey towards Christlikeness – holiness – involves a lifetime in the crucible, where our entire being is purified from the inside out.
A crucible is a container that can withstand incredibly high temperatures; it’s used to purify metals such as gold. Gold, in its natural state, is a mixture of impurities, so goldsmiths heat liquid gold in the crucible, which causes impurities – also known as the dross – to rise to the surface. That’s where the dross is scooped up and tossed away.
As Christians, the journey towards Christlikeness – holiness – involves a lifetime in the crucible, where our entire being is purified from the inside out (Isaiah 1:25).This journey is the not always palatable but crucial growth mechanism also known as discipline (Hebrews 12:6).
Like natural gold, we too are a mixture – of the flesh, or what we know as carnality, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the crucible is figuratively defined as “a situation of severe trial leading to the creation of something new”.
TURNING ON THE HEAT
Instead of expecting godliness to magically appear and ungodliness to magically disappear in our lives, we as God’s precious metals are heated in His crucible and put through all sorts of severe trials that cause the impurities in our character to rise to the surface where we can see them for ourselves.
It’s natural to get upset at unfavourable, possibly even unfair, situations we find ourselves in, but we need to learn to start taking a step back and asking: How am I responding? What is rising to the surface of my character? Are these reactions and thoughts Christlike? Or should they be disposed of?
Character refinement, the work of the Holy Spirit, is only possible if we allow the heat – the trial – to do its job. Yes, we feel the heat, sometimes so unbearable we want to tap out of the journey altogether. How can being a Christian be this miserable? You might ask.
We forget that the prayer to “make me more like Jesus” is our consent to having the switch of the crucible turned on. And in this crucible of God’s love and grace, trials of every kind no longer have to be marked by defeat or despair – rather, by victory and hope for our souls in Christ Jesus.
SCOOPING AWAY THE DROSS
I’ve seen many diverse reactions to dross from the crucible of Christlikeness.
Dross itself comes in many forms. It could be an ungodly belief or way of thinking made obvious by a response to a particular setback. A bad habit or harmful tendency that keeps us locked in recurring problems. In essence, dross is composed of the things of the flesh. Dross is sin.
When God puts His finger on the dross emerging from our inner selves during the fiery trial, it’s easy to recoil in shame or deny it altogether. Maybe we’re so used to reacting a certain way that we no longer think it’s particularly wrong. Or we’re so overcome by feelings of guilt and condemnation that we’d rather bury the issue (and our face) in the sand.
But instead of a ruthless disciplinarian who simply wants to make us feel bad about our failures, God’s discipline comes from a heart of love – a love that always protects and perseveres. He invites us to work with Him to remove completely the dross from our hearts, the things He knows hurt us, or which will hurt us severely one day.
Even if we take time to face up to the ugliness revealed in us through the crucible, He never gives up on us. And even if the dross keeps arising as the heat continues to burn, as long as the posture of our hearts is “Lord, I now clearly see my sin and no longer want it to be a part of me”, He lovingly scoops it away again and again, leaving us that much purer and in His likeness.
SURVIVING THE HEAT
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the race. The Christian journey is long and we need to have the mindset of endurance to stay in it (James 1:2-4). There will be pain in a world filled with broken people (John 16:33). We will always be tempted to tap out.
But the good news is God can and will use the inevitable pain for our good, if we let Him (Romans 8:28). So stay in the race even if you feel the burn, dear Christian.
God’s discipline is marathon training borne out of the messiness of life on earth, the messiness of our decisions and the decisions of others that may hurt us. But in the hands of an all-knowing, all-powerful Coach, nothing we go through is ever wasted.
In the crucible He tests and purifies our faith, that our spiritual core will be strengthened to go the distance. Because only in the crucible can we lose the baggage of dross, the things He sees are hindering us. The athlete must trust the coach to know exactly what training he needs to go faster and further. The crucible burns differently for each of us.
Whatever heat you’re facing today, be it 31ºC or boiling temperature, take a moment to rejoice – for the likeness of Christ, the purest of gold, is being revealed in you bit by glorious bit.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)