I don’t know about you, but I knock on God’s door multiple times a day asking for His show of favor. Patience, provision, peace, understanding, wisdom, endurance, empathy, compassion, strength— I need it all, and I approach the throne of God unabashedly, requesting this and more for myself and for my loved ones.
You know what I never ask for? Refinement.
I’m betting you don’t, either.
the process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance.synonyms:
purification, refining, processing, treatment, treating
Being refined is— at the minimum— an uncomfortable process. It involves sacrifice, and a redefining of the vision we have of ourselves, or the outcomes we see in our walk. I look back on some of the hardships we faced as a foster family, and I group them here. There was inconvenience, and worry, and a careful navigation of the messy bits of the world that sometimes left me exhausted and often had me wringing my hands over the loss of the good, even as I knew we were being drawn towards the best.
At the end of that season, which looked nothing like what I had imagined when I happily filed away our first foster license, let alone the day I sat down for my first required class so sure that God was going to do great things through us, I was stripped down. Oh, God had done great things through our obedience. Amazing things. But there had been a cost. We— every member of our family— had lost something in those years. It was well worth what we had gained, and more. But we had walked through something that had changed us. It wasn’t just the visible sacrifices: surrendering my leadership spot in a ministry to ensure that the little ones we fostered weren’t placed in the childcare class each week, forgoing a co-op to make those multiple visitation appointments each week, explaining the world of drug treatment to a 9 year-old. It was, even more, the invisible work of letting go, willingly, of even very good things to laser focus on one calling. We were simplified in that time. We were, in a word, refined.
“For You have tried us, O God;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins.
You made men ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” —Psalm 66:10-11
There are more painful acts of refining, of course. I remember the moment our plane banked upon departure from Kathmandu three years ago. The turn gave us a glorious view of the snow-topped Himalayas glowing orange in the new evening sun. Behind us lay our daughter Babita, our beloved dog, and five years—five years— of intensive work and painful labor, seemingly in ashes. In front of us was homelessness, unemployment, and no purpose that had yet been named. I knew the refining process had begun the moment we realized we must leave Nepal, and I also knew as I looked at those mountains that so much more stripping away and refocusing on the Lord and His goodness was going to take place before He was done with us.
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” —Isaiah 48:10
And then there are, of course, other, more heart wrenching forms of refinement. There are times when the Lord is not gentle, is not buffing away the rough edges and replacing them with a smoothness that is reflective of His face, His glory. There are times when He burns away what feels like our very heart, and asks us to still look to Him, like Job, and know that He is enough.
“I will also turn My hand against you,
And will smelt away your dross as with lye
And will remove all your alloy.” —Isaiah 1:25
Those are humbling times, places where we are ripped from our comforts and left with nothing to cling to. We call these times trials, and not without reason. The overall sensation of this kind of refinement is that we are teetering on the edge of not just having everything but Christ burned from our lives, but that we may be completely consumed by the flames. The catalog of these kinds of refinement is painful even to ponder; who asks for this? The death of a child. Divorce. Infertility. Abuse. Chronic illness.
We never ask for refinement because we never look at pain and loss and the peeling back of the layers of our faith and invite it in. We never want to ache or face darkness or look our darkest fears in the face and admit that there are places of surrender God just might ask us to travel to… and that even in the asking, He will still be good.
But refinement bears fruit. Refinement results in a clarity no other discipline gives us. Refinement gives us vision for the bigger picture of this life, which is that it is not ours, and it never was.
We never ask to have our comforts burned away, our safe places yanked from us. We never ask to walk through the fire so that we might see Jesus more clearly.
But maybe we should.
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.” — Malachi 3:2-3