The Refiner and His Fire
COME, LET ME TAKE YOU BACK to a Judean village in ancient days. Inside a small, walled courtyard under a blue and blazing sky, there stands a refiner of metals. In his hands, gnarled with age, he is rolling and fingering a lump of ore. He watches the sun play on the streaks and veins of lead and other minerals running through this bit of rock chiseled from the bowels of the earth.
His experienced eye knows that, intermingled within this ore, there is silver.
He lays the ore on his worktable then builds his fire with care and the wisdom of years. Soon the flames are rising in the pit situated against the courtyard’s stone wall.
At the worktable he picks up his hammer and begins crushing the lump into smaller pieces.
He pauses occasionally to stare at the fire, as if in study. From time to time he places more fuel upon the already-blazing coals and works his bellows until the flames are in a frenzy.
When the fire is right, he gathers the hammered bits of ore from the place of their crushing and lays them in a small, sturdy container of tempered pottery—his crucible.
He places the crucible in the fire and sits down beside it. A long day is before him, and this is where he will stay for as long as the metal is subject to the flames. Silver is too precious to be forsaken in the furnace, too valuable to be ruined through inattention.
Carefully he watches the fire. It must be maintained at exactly the right temperature for the right duration of time to accomplish its purpose. Slowly the ore softens. The silver, with its greater density and lower melting point, liquefies first, hissing and bubbling as oxygen is released. The still-solid impurities rise to the top of the molten metal. This is the dross, and the refiner skims it off.
Now he adds bits of charcoal inside the crucible. He knows this will enhance the sheen of the silver. The carbon of the charcoal will keep the refined metal from reabsorbing oxygen from the air, which would only dull its finish.
He tends the fire, adds more fuel, and applies more air from the bellows. Amid the relentless heat surrounding the crucible, more dull impurities, newly revealed, rise to the surface of the mixture.
Again the refiner carefully skims away the murky, smudgy metal floating at the top of the crucible. Gazing down upon the molten surface, the refiner sees at best but a dim reflection of himself.
The refiner works and watches and waits. The heat and its effect continue. More impurities rise to the surface, and again he skims them off.
He never leaves the crucible unattended, never steps away from the fire he has formed to do its work. The finished product he cherishes demands this process. Only his guided and guarded refinement will yield the promised and precious metal.
And he is not yet satisfied.
He lets the fire cool. Eventually he sets the crucible aside.
Then once again he builds up the fire, and the process begins all over. This time the skilled refiner makes the fire hotter. Within the crucible, new impurities are released, brought to the surface, exposed for what they are, then skimmed off.
Finally his leathery face breaks into a smile, for now as he gazes into the liquid silver his reflection is apparent—not yet sharp, but more distinct than before.
More hours pass as he perseveres in his anxious and delicate work. And then . . . once more he bends over the crucible, and this time he catches his breath. There it is! In the silver he sees what he has waited for so patiently: a clear image of himself, distinct and sharp.
Delight banishes his frown. His task is done. The impurities are gone.
The silver is refined.
He has his treasure.
He has “choice” silver, the most lustrous of all metals, beautiful and highly valued. It’s as pale and shining as the wings of a dove, as brilliant and splendid as the moon, worthy to become coin or trumpet or ornament, worthy to grace the king’s table or to reflect sunlight in a crown upon his head. The refiner has taken what was impure and made it pure.
He has taken what was dull and made it beautiful.
Potential value has become actual value.
And the fire—the guarded, guided, relentless fire—made the difference.
The fire allowed ordinary ore from the earth to be transformed into treasure.
All under the refiner’s watchful care, for all the while he never left it unattended.
You and I are more than observers in this picture, beloved. This image of refinement is something God touches on again and again in His Word. He is the true Refiner. We are His silver.
And the fire is the fire of His making, for through His fire our Refiner will perfect an awesome work, a divine work. He will take what is impure and make it pure. He will take what is dull and make it beautiful. He’ll take what is of potential value and reveal its actual value. He will transform us into treasure.
He’ll refine us in the crucible so that He can see Himself in the silver—in you and me. And so the world, as well as the principalities and powers and hosts of Satan, can behold the triumph of the Redeemer.
The fiery flames—the array of disappointing situations in our lives, from minor irritants to major tragedies—will make the difference. Different flames, different fires will come and go. In the pressure of their heat we’ll see the impurities in our lives being released and rising to the top. Then He’ll skim them off, purifying us, refining us.
He’ll make the fire a little hotter, causing new impurities to rise and be released, exposed for what they are. These, too, He’ll lift away. Early in our Christian lives He may see only a very dim image of Himself as He looks into our crucible. But as time goes on, His image becomes clearer, more lustrous, more beautiful.
And all the while, He never leaves or forsakes His treasure.
Our Refiner never leaves the crucible, never steps away from the fire. He is always there to make sure every flame that reaches us is exactly the right temperature—not too hot!—to accomplish its work in our lives. He knows the precise temperature to maintain so we don’t face more than we can bear. He tests and proves our faith, not to discredit us, but to show us how far we’ve come. He perfects our perseverance.
Years ago I filed away a copy of a poem called “The Refiner’s Fire.” Now is the time to share it with you. Instead of silver, the metal here is gold, as in 1 Peter 1:7—“that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” But the process—and the Refiner’s attitude—is just as we have seen, as the last two stanzas of this poem testify:
Can we think it pleases His loving heart
To cause us a moment’s pain?
Ah, no, but He sees through the present cross
The bliss of eternal gain.
So He waited there with a watchful eye
With a love that is strong and sure,
And His gold did not suffer a bit more heat
Than was needed to make it pure.
The Refiner’s fire is a picture of great worth and importance to God, one He refers to often in His Word. Let me share a few of these verses with you as we begin our study of how to handle the disappointments and difficulties God uses to refine us.
“The refining pot is for silver . . . ,” He says, “but the LORD tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3).
“The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and a man is tested by the praise accorded him” (Proverbs 27:21). Even the praise we receive can be a refining and testing fire.
“The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver” (Proverbs 10:20). He even uses this image as a picture of His own Word: The words of the LORD are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). Seven is the number of completion, perfection—God’s Word is perfect and complete. And you will be too as you learn to respond to the fires in a way pleasing to God.
The Lord promises to bring His people “through the fire,” and to “refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, “The LORD is my God’ ” (Zechariah 13:9).
We can all tell the Lord what the psalmist acknowledged, “For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined” (Psalm 66:10).
Yet unfortunately, there are times when God’s refinement fires are of no avail.
Why? Because you and I can resist and ruin God’s refining process. Jeremiah 6:29-30 describes this very situation as God speaks of His people Israel:
The bellows blow fiercely,
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
but the wicked are not separated.
They call them rejected silver,
because the LORD has rejected them.
The fire burns and burns. But the dross—the wickedness, the impurities—is not allowed to be released and removed. Instead it’s held on to, stubbornly clung to, no matter how hot the Refiner’s fire. So the silver becomes rejected silver or, as the King James Version puts it, “reprobate silver.”
Therefore the Refiner must reject it. It is impure and unusable and unattractive. God will send the fire several times and with increasing heat to get rid of those impurities, those un-Christlike things in your life and mine, beloved.
But if we insist on hanging on to them, then God must set us aside. He’ll call us reprobate silver—rejected for His use.
Could there be any more tragic and fearful condition for a Christian than to hear God say, “I cannot use you”?
Paul abhorred the possibility of becoming God’s castaway. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he spoke of his fear that “after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” This word for disqualified is adokimos, meaning “without approval”—unfit for the Master’s use. Adokimos is the negative form of the Greek word used in James 1:3 for the “proving” or “testing” (dokimos) of our faith, the proving that happens as we “consider it all joy” (James 1:2) when we encounter various trials.
If we respond correctly to the Refiner’s fire, we find our proven faith producing endurance in our lives. We will exercise the self-control in “all things” that Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:25—the self-control that brings our flesh under subjection to the Holy Spirit, delivering a blow, a technical knockout to “self.”
It means running in such a way as to win the prize, as Paul also said in that passage.
But if we respond wrongly to the Refiner’s fire, we will find ourselves unproven and disqualified. This is the consequence—the awful, wasteful consequence—of failing to let God complete His purifying work in our lives.
I can’t use you.
Oh, my friend, there is nothing greater in all this world than being used by God . . .
Nothing greater than knowing you’ve been obedient to what God has called you to be . . .
Nothing greater than hearing from the lips of the Father, “Well done, My good and faithful servant” . . .
Nothing greater than knowing you have pleased the One who gave His all so that we who were nothing might know the greatness of being reformed into His image . . .
Nothing greater than being used by God to do the work of God, to reach out and introduce others to Him, to His family, to His life. There’s nothing greater.
How my heart aches for those so self-centered, so wrapped up in themselves and their own world, in their own happiness and fulfillment and success, that they won’t bend their knees and bow their heads and find out from God why He put them on this earth.
Beloved, we have much to explore about all of this.
We’ll look at what it means to respond to the Refiner’s fire so that refinement truly happens.
And we’ll look at the dangerous alternative, which triggers a process of downward degeneration in a deadly, depressing spiral.
We want to understand all this well—because the good fire of our loving Refiner is burning. It burns for your good and His glory. You need not fear, for He never leaves the fire unattended or attended by someone else. He is always there . . . the perfect Refiner watching over you—His redeemed silver.
Excerpted from As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur Copyright © 2011 by Kay Arthur. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.