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Comfort for Troubled Christians
By J. C. Brumfield
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1961 Moody Bible Institute
All rights reserved.
COMFORT for TROUBLED CHRISTIANS
From the beginning of time, fire and water have been two of man's most essential needs. He cannot live without them, but they can be turned into his worst enemies.
In southern California recently a raging forest fire destroyed dozens of beautiful and expensive homes. As the people began to clear their property and make preparation for rebuilding, they became aware of a new danger—water. The priceless watershed had been destroyed, and with the coming of the winter rains a worse damage threatened than had caused the fire.
Is anything more dangerous than fire and water? In describing the trials of the saints, God uses these terms: "We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (Psalm 66:12). The word wealthy means abundant, a wide place, recovery, or refreshment. God describes the trials, troubles, and afflictions of His children as "fire and water" indicating that they are very severe. At first this would seem to be discouraging, but the joy, the victory, and the comfort are wrapped up in that word "through."
A Christian is never submerged in the flood and he is not consumed by the fire; he always passes "through." Even at the end of life the psalmist declared, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." These metaphors do not necessarily refer to different types of affliction, but teach the same truth regarding God's hand upon us. So we will consider the trial by fire.
God's Presence in Our Trial by Fire
Job compared his affliction to being cast into a "furnace." "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). Note the triumphant words "I shall come forth" ("through the fire"). It is one thing to testify after you have passed through the fire, but Job is still in the furnace. The heat is on, his boils shoot flashes of hot pain through his body, fever parches his lips, he scrapes his oozing boils with broken pieces of pottery. His head throbs with pain and his friends falsely accuse him, but he looks beyond his present fiery trial and shouts in vibrant, reassuring faith, "I shall come through."
Job saw himself "as gold" in the furnace. David saw the children of God "as silver" in the refiner's fire. "Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried" (Psalm 66:10). Malachi links both metals together in explaining divine chastening. "And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver ... and purge them as gold and silver" (Malachi 3:3). Why? Here is his answer, "that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."
The divine method—"fire"
The divine motive—to "purge" and "purify"
The divine objective—our "righteousness"
There are five lessons we should and may learn from this refining and purging process.
"He shall ... purge them as gold and silver" (Malachi 3:3). Never let Satan inject a doubt into your mind regarding God's love for you. Satan would take advantage of your present trial and grief to whisper in your ear that "God doesn't care." But He does—you are so precious in His sight that nothing but the terms "gold and silver" can describe His concern. If "gold" and "silver" are precious to the refiner, how much more precious we must be to God. He paid a price far more than "silver and gold" for our redemption. It cost Him the blood of His only begotten Son. By comparison He refers to "silver and gold" as "corruptible." God gave all He had, the atoning blood of His precious Son to purchase our redemption.
What a comfort this should be! We are His most prized possessions, and He will allow nothing to harm us. That thing that happened to you is His means of increasing the value of His precious property. This is accomplished by increasing its beauty and purity. If we were worthless objects, we would never know the heat of the refiner's fire or the touch of His skillful hand. Beloved, the next time you feel the heat of a fiery trial, thank God. It is proof of your preciousness to Him. You are His blood-bought child, you belong to Him, you may be sure that He cares for His own.
"He shall sit ... and purge them" (Malachi 3:3). Every Christian who has ever been drawn near to the Lord knows something of the sinfulness of his heart and the impurity of his life. The closer we are to Him, the more conscious we become of our sinfulness and of our unworthiness.
Paul calls it the "flesh" (Romans 7) and "the body of this death." It is the self in our lives, the carnality, the unholiness, and it dogs our footsteps all along the Christian pathway. Chastening is a divine means of answering our prayer for cleansing. Did you not pray for God to cleanse you? He answered by putting you in the fire. He is cleansing as "a refiner and purifier of silver." The "dross" in your life is being burned in the fire of affliction.
Spend a moment in solemn reflection. What is the "dross" in your life that needs to be purged? It may be arrogance, pride, love of praise, love of attention, self-will, stubbornness, an unteachable spirit, peevishness, immaturity, jealousy, anger, impatience, love of money, selfishness, or an unforgiving spirit. All such "dross" grieves the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, and so we must be "refined" and "purged." This means we must pass "through the fire," but there's some comfort for you here. The refiner has a purpose—it is not to destroy his precious gold and silver, but to consume the "dross" and bring out the beauty and purity of the gold. Fire cannot destroy the gold; it only melts it. Oh, how we need to be melted before God! When the gold is melted, the dross floats on the top and it is easy for the refiner to skim it off. How long since you have been melted?
The three unyielding Hebrews were cast into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. It was seven times hotter than usual. Please note that they went into the furnace fully clothed and securely bound, but when they came out, three things were apparent. Not a hair of their heads was singed. More than that—the fire burned off their bands; and more wonderful still—the Lord had walked with them in the fire.
The same three things happen to the Christian in the fiery trial.
1. First, he is never harmed by the fire. Can you tell me that you were ever harmed by God's chastening? Oh, this doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt, but always the hurt is for our good. 2. Second, the fire sets him free from the shackles of carnality that hindered. The most radiant Christians are the ones who have suffered the most. 3. Third, God's presence is very real and precious in the fire.
The next time you feel the heat from the fire of affliction thank God that He is consuming not you, but the "dross" out of your life, and that you shall come "through the fire" purified and cleansed.
"And he shall sit as a refiner" (Malachi 3:3). This is a beautiful and comforting picture. The refiner never leaves his precious metal, but he sits by the fire and watches closely. He watches for that moment when the heat is sufficient to burn the dross and to leave the metal perfect. He knows just the right amount of heat to apply, and he applies it just the right length of time.
Have you ever felt like crying "I can't stand it" or "It's more than I can bear"? No, my friend, it's not more than you can bear. Remember, "He sits by the fire"—He knows. So you can stand it. At a time like that, recall His promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "But God is faithful, [He sits by the fire] who will not suffer you to be tempted [tested] above that ye are able; but will with the temptation [trial] also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." So you can bear it. Never forget His promise "my grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I have gained help and inspiration in the preparation of this Bible study from David Kirk's book, The Mystery of Divine Chastening. He tells the story of two Christian martyrs during the Reformation. One was a veteran saint, Latimer, and the other was a young believer, Riley. They were condemned to be burned at the stake. The night before the execution young Riley was highly nervous and very agitated. He looked through the iron bars of their dungeon prison and saw the people preparing the stakes. In his panic he tried to light a candle and in the process burned his finger. His burn impressed upon him the greater agony of the fate that awaited him and he cried out, "I can't stand it, I can't stand it." His seasoned companion gently laid his hand upon his shoulder and said, "My friend, God didn't ask you to burn your finger, so He doesn't give grace to stand it tonight, but tomorrow, when the time comes, God will give sufficient grace." The next morning the two men were led to the stakes, each with a triumphant smile and perfect peace in his heart. As the flames surrounded their bodies, out of the midst came their vibrant voices united in a victorious song of praise. Yes, my friend, God gives grace for everything He calls upon you to bear.
I read some time ago about a train that was traveling through the night in a violent storm. The lightning flashed, the rain splattered in windy gusts against the windows. The water was rising along the tracks and the passengers were seized with terror. In the midst of the confusion one little girl seemed to be in perfect peace. Her unusual calm at such a time of excitement amazed the passengers. Finally one man asked, "How is it that you can be so calm when all the rest of us are so worried?" She smiled sweetly and said, "My father is the engineer."
Why not bow your head right now and thank God that your heavenly Father has His hand upon the throttle? The fire is controlled. He will not send more than you can bear, but with every temptation will provide a way of escape.
"And He shall sit ... and purge them as gold and silver" (Malachi 3:3).
In our former picture of the refiner sitting by the fire, we focused our attention on the fact that he is controlling the fire. Now I would emphasize the fact that he sits by the fire to guard, protect, and care for his precious metal. Fix your eyes upon the One who controls the fire. He's there. "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee" (Isaiah 43:2). No beloved, God never throws His precious ones into the flames and forgets that they are there—He "sits by the fire"—"I will be with thee."
The aged apostle Paul was in the dungeon. He knew that his life was soon to end. Many friends had deserted him. The loyalty of others was questionable, but there was a note of victory in his last letter to young Timothy. "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me" (2 Timothy 4:17).
Are you experiencing the test of fire and affliction? Thank God that He is there. He sits by the fire. He is there to comfort, to strengthen, and to encourage. Reach out by faith and take His hand. Look up into His face and let His presence reassure you.
"And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver" (Malachi 3:3).
You see, He knows when the work is done. Here we have the key to the entire finishing process. Sometimes we might think the fire too long, that instead of purifying it will destroy. You say, "How does the refiner know when the fire has done its perfect work?"
An old refiner was asked that question by a visitor. He answered, "See how I sit by the fire?" The stranger answered, "Yes." Then he said, "See how I bend over the pot?" Again the stranger said, "Yes, but how do you know when there has been just the right amount of heat?" The old refiner looked up and said, "When I see my own reflection."
God's purpose in creation is revealed in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image." But the image was terribly defaced and marred by sin, so God redeemed us by the precious blood of Christ. It is only in one in whom the Spirit of God dwells that the image and likeness of God may be reflected. This is God's great and eternal purpose for His children, "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). "And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Corinthians 15:49). God's will is that every Christian might be "conformed to the image of his Son." This is a process in the life of every believer. "But we all ... beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Chastening is God's means to this end. The Christlike life cannot be produced apart from suffering. If you want to bear His image, never shrink from the refiner's fire. I fear that we often want the results without paying the price. Paul knew the price. He said, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Philippians 3:10).
Are you sick and discouraged, weak and weary, facing trials and troubles that seem more than you can bear? Then remember these five glorious facts.
HE CARES—You are precious to Him "as silver and gold."
HE CLEANSES—The fire purifies "and purge[s] them."
HE CONTROLS—Yes, the fire is under control. "He shall sit as a refiner."
HE COMFORTS—He's with you in the fire. "And he shall sit" by the fire.
HE KNOWS—Be assured He know when the work is done. He looks for His image. Climb upon the pinnacle of faith with Job and cry, "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).
The Cure for Worry
"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6–7).
I never knew my father to worry. He had a serenity of faith, a completeness of surrender, a submission to God's will, and a freedom from selfish ambition that I have not witnessed in any other Christian.
I saw him betrayed by friends he trusted, falsely accused by enemies of the Gospel, disappointed in the wrecking of plans that were conceived through months of prayer, and crushed by circumstances he did not create, but I never knew my father to fret and worry.
I saw his heart broken, his ministry hindered, and his family suffer, but I never saw him lose his deep, abiding inner calmness and sweetness of spirit. Most Christians know so little of such complete victory in Christ that they are inclined to misinterpret it for weakness or unconcern.
But this freedom from anxious care is the promise of God's Word, and I believe it is possible for every Christian to attain.
"Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which pas-seth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6–7).
It is easy to say no Christian should worry, but it is hard to put into actual practice. To scold and condemn does not help. The one who worries is the one who is most anxious not to worry and is the most hurt by it and unhappy about it. I want to help—not rebuke.
"But how," you say, "can a Christian avoid worry and possess a calm and confident spirit that bears testimony to the sufficiency of God's grace?"
I do not possess any magic formula and I do not profess to have attained the ultimate in this regard myself, but whatever degree of success I may have reached I owe to the simple formula outlined in God's Word.
Let us have a look at worry—the disease—the cure—and the consequences.
WORRY IS A DISEASE
Worry is now recognized by physicians as a disease (sometimes even a contagious disease). Dr. James W. Barton said recently, "It is known that about one half of the patients consulting a physician have no organic disease. In about one-fourth of the cases, the cause of the symptoms is tenseness or worry, strain, and fatigue ... prolonged shock or fear [which is really worry] can affect the workings of all the organs of the body."
Dr. Alverez (formerly of Mayo Clinic) said, "Worry is the cause of most stomach trouble."
Dr. Han Selye, writing about the stress theory of disease, said, "Stress is the trigger which causes disease."
Dr. Emerson, an outstanding Christian psychologist, stated there are five underlying causes of mental illness and frustration (often caused by worry, and often the cause of physical illness): fear, hate, guilt, inferiority, and insecurity.
These may be analyzed as follows:
1. A supersensitivity to criticism
2. An excessive awareness of our weaknesses
3. An abnormal pride of our achievements
4. An unobtainable ambition beyond our abilities
5. An absorbing jealousy over the success of others
6. A sinful covetousness of things beyond our reach (or financial means).
WORRY IS A SIN
God says, "Be [anxious] for nothing" (Philippians 4:6). This is a clear command and to break God's commandment is sin. A healthy person may be transformed into an invalid in a few months by worry. Clinical case histories in the offices of physicians and institutions all over the world bear ample proof of this.
How about our spiritual lives? Worry chokes the Word of God and keeps our lives from being fruitful.
"And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.... He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world ... choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful" (Matthew 13:7, 22).
Excerpted from Comfort for Troubled Christians by J. C. Brumfield. Copyright © 1961 Moody Bible Institute. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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