Refinement

I was a part of a virtual meeting recently and I asked the group how they each were doing in coping with life in the midst of a pandemic. There were various answers, but all along the same lines. There was an underlying unease. One person’s experience stood out. He is in personnel management and he said he was struggling with many of his employees. He said the pandemic had brought out the worst in some people, and it was discouraging and wearying to him.

I have been listening to a podcast that, over several years, covers all the books of the Bible. I have finished the episodes covering Genesis and am now into Exodus. One thing struck me about the Israelites time in the desert. In several places they were tested by God (Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4; Deuteronomy 8:2). The teacher spoke of how the western mind understands test as along the line of pass/fail, and how easy it is to judge the Israelites as classic failures time and time again. But the Hebrew, or Eastern, mind understood these test far differently. They were designed to reveal what was truly in their hearts, similar to a new teacher seeking to assess through tests what her students know, not to judge them, but to know what they need to learn, and to help them see their need. Thus, through his tests, God was seeking to help the Israelites understand their lack of trust and to teach them repeatedly how trustworthy he is. In so doing, the goal was to grow a people refined, where impurities are exposed and removed.

As with the Israelites in the desert, I believe the Lord is testing his people through this pandemic. He wants us to recognize where we truly are in our relationships with him, and what lies behind the façades we so often build for people to see. And like my friend has experienced, the test of this pandemic is exposing some ugly things in many of us. It is exposing simmering anger toward the government and authority in general. It is exposing worldliness in thought and action. It is exposing fear and lack of trust in the Lord. I could go on, but I think you’ll get the point. 

Many would conclude, particularly outsiders, that the Church has grossly failed the test. But, as with the Israelites, it is not God’s desire to label us as failures, but to show us truthfully where we stand so we can seek his help to change, to trust him far more than we trust ourselves. But many of the Israelites refused to take the numerous opportunities offered to them to re-evaluate their relationships with the Lord. They remained intransigent.

The question is, in the midst of this pandemic, will we do the same? Will we be content with who we are even when the evidence of this exam reveals much need for growth? Will we just try desperately to maintain our status quo when the Lord wants to lead us forward into new realms of faith and being? My sense is that most of us are not taking the time to evaluate where we stand and to pay attention to what the Lord is revealing. Much of my writing since March reflects what the Lord has been revealing to me. It is not easy work, and it is truly humbling. However, what makes it easier is knowing the Lord is not condemning me in this process, but loving me. He wants what is best for me, and what is best for me is to become the man he created me to be. That entails a lot of refining. It is often painful and not easy, but it’s motive is love. As the Hebrew writer says to his readers undergoing persecution,

 “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (12:5-6)

It is my hope that believers will take this opportunity of testing to see where they truly are with the Lord. What lies beneath the façades of faith and spirituality we have erected for the world to see? Getting beneath the veneer is where growth and transformation take place. That’s where the Lord wants to take us, not to punish us, but in order to refine us into his image. He invites us to join him in learning the lessons he has to teach us in order to mold us into the men and women he created us to be.

© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.

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