Editor’s Note: Since my article was published on TheRebelution.com, there has been an increased focus and interest on the subject of trials and God’s sovereignty in them. So when I received an email from a friend paralleling the metal refining process with God’s work in our lives and the biblical use of metal, fire, and purification, I was so encouraged and excited by the concepts and truths brought out that I felt led to share it with you all. So here it is. While the first half may become a bit tedious—especially if you’re not an engineer—keep reading, everything will fall into place and create a power-punch at the end! May the Lord use it to encourage and build you up in your current place—whether it be in the midst of, coming out of, or recovering from a season of difficulty.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Busyness. Trials. Pain. Problems. Difficulties. Strife. These are all things we complain about and avoid like the plague. But without periods of busyness we wouldn't appreciate the blessing of rest, without trials we wouldn't know trust, without pain and problems and difficulties we wouldn't cry out to God for help. The results of trials—patience, perseverance and hope—totally outweigh the temporary headache they bring, at least in God's eyes.
Speaking of trials, I found an interesting analogy while in a metallurgy class last semester…
This metallurgy class primarily dealt with steel and aluminum, the two metals most widely used in industry today. The area of largest interest to an engineer when analyzing a metal is the metal's grain structure, which dictates the physical properties of the metal. There are several different ways to manipulate the grain structure of steel or aluminum to change its properties. Common methods used for manipulating steel's micro-structure are austenitizing, tempering, and annealing. Before proceeding, let me give the definition of each of these processes. And while these definitions may temporarily add some confusion, things will hopefully become clearer in a minute.
Basically, when steel is heated above a certain temperature (the exact temperature depends on the amount of carbon in the steel), the grains in the metal will change to a structure called austenite. This austenitic structure only remains while the metal is at an elevated temperature, when the steel is cooled the resultant grain structure depends on how fast it was cooled. To give you a visual idea of just how drastic the variance in grain structure can be, below are two pictures taken on the microscope at 1000x of a steel sample where each end was cooled at a different rate.
,After austenization the steel can be tempered by heating it up again. When steel is tempered at a high temperature it becomes very hard, when it is tempered at a (relatively) lower temperature it becomes more elastic. However, all this heating and cooling leaves residual stresses in the steel, so to relieve these stresses it is annealed by putting it back into the furnace and allowing it to cool at a very slow rate. Other methods to relieve these stresses involve either pressure or stretching of the steel.
The exact properties of the steel are also determined by the constituent elements comprising the environment the steel is heated in. If these heat processes occur in a carbon-rich environment the resultant steel will be several times harder than steel heat-treated in a low-carbon environment. However, if all these steps are not carefully controlled the steel will not meet specification and will shatter, warp or shear under its intended application.
So here's the analogy.
Just as a metallurgist determines what he wants a metal's properties to be based on, the function he wants the metal to perform, and puts it through a series of processes to achieve this result, God does the same thing with us.
God has a specific purpose for each of us and directs the trials that we go through to give us the exact properties we need to accomplish that purpose. When He puts us into the furnace of difficulties and trials He is austenitizing us, changing who we are on a very elemental level, but always pulls us out before we melt. Sometimes He removes the trial quickly, sometimes He slowly lowers the temperature, but this is also dependent on what properties He wishes to give us. Once we have cooled to just the exact amount, He tempers us in the kiln of pain and problems to give us hardness or toughness depending upon His intended use for us. Then, when we think things are starting to get better and God must have finished giving us the characteristics He wants us to have, He anneals us to relieve the stresses from our previous experiences, sometimes with the fire of adversity, sometimes by putting us through the pressure of a difficult situation, sometimes by stretching us nearly to the breaking point, but all this is necessary for His greater plan. And God carefully controls every detail along the way so we are fit for everyday use.
Also the environment we are in—the places we live, the people He brings into our life—is expressly calculated to impact the final result of these processes on our character. Every difficult thing we go through in life, the loss of a loved one, sickness, betrayal, ridicule of those around us, failure in any area, is part of the Great Metallurgist working us into the person He created us to be.
And we are not alone in this purifying process. God has been in the refining business for a long time. There are multiple mentions in the Bible of how God refines us as silver, which is a powerful picture once you understand how the silver refining process works (more on this topic here). In fact, did you know there are over 1,000 mentions of metals in the Bible? We consistently see metal being put into the fire or furnace for purification and afterwards often described as being genuine and precious. Below are a few examples:
"And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
“This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded Moses:
only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire,
you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean."
"But he knows the way that I take, when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold."
The metaphor of metal being purified, shaped, and worked in the same way God purifies, works and shapes us was intriguing...but then the fullness of the metaphor struck me.
You see, there actually was a time in the Bible when three men were literally thrown into the furnace. And what did this purification by fire reveal about these men? Their strong faith? Perhaps. Their pure and dauntless character? Maybe. But I think their faith was evident BEFORE they were thrown into the furnace.
What was actually revealed by the fire was Jesus! Right there! With them in the furnace!
It's amazing to think about. God puts us through the refiner's fire, but He goes through it with us! And this isn't some figurative "with us" referring to how He somehow remotely sympathizes with our suffering. But if the Holy Spirit is in our heart, then He is literally right there, actually in the furnace with us. When we walk through the fire He is with us. Not watching us. Not waiting for us on the other side. WITH US. What an awesome God!!!
And praise God that He is merciful! Because what we actually deserve is the fire of His wrath.
"Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have poured out my wrath upon you.”
The same force that purifies God's chosen also destroys His enemies. I am so thankful God chose me to be a vessel of mercy and not of destruction. I can only cry out with Paul "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!"
So in closing, my prayer for myself, for all God's people, and for you is that when we experience tribulations we will always remember that God is in control—the Supreme Metallurgist shaping our structure to fit His purposes. And when we go through the fire, may Christ appear to those around us so that they too may glorify our Father in heaven.
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