Ok, I’m old. Well, older than your usual blogger at least. I think anyway. I have been pondering two things lately. Faith and an old song we sang in youth group called Refiner’s Fire. Before I continue, I feel the need to explain youth group…that’s what it used to be called before youth pastors felt the need to be trendy and be called student pastors and come up with some cool hip name for their youth groups like Verge or Edge or Sizzle. But that’s not the point of this post.
Just in case you weren’t born four or more decades ago, the lyrics of Refiner’s Fire below:
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold
Refiner’s fireRefiner’s Fire Vineyard Worship
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
Just look at those words. It seems all fine and happy and the kind of song you’d sing on cry-night at camp, right? Ok, now that you’re not a teenager anymore and your camp-centered-relationship with that cute girl or boy isn’t the center of your emotional distress…NOW read those words as an adult. What were we thinking singing those words? No, they’re not bad. But, did we have any idea what exactly that meant? Did we have a clue what we were singing, praying, declaring? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about now? And, you are probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with faith?
Ok, well, let me start by saying that I don’t think most people really think about the words they sing during worship as being a public and private declaration to God. There was a good segment of the worship genre when I was in my teens and twenties that was very “me” focused and it made worship seem like it was all about what God could do for us. And it’s very true, He can do anything. But it shouldn’t be about worshipping what God can do for us, it should be about worshipping who He is. So we come to a song like Refiner’s Fire that is a bit of a mixed bag in its message. It starts off as a request; purify my heart, let me be as gold, etc. Clearly we aren’t singing to a jeweler or a metal worker. I guess we are singing to a carpenter (ba-dum-cha). Obviously, we are asking God to purify us, to make us pure as pure gold and precious silver.
You know smelting, the process of refining metals, is really hot right? They take the raw ore (a rock) and heat it up to anywhere from 1,000 to 12,000 degrees Celsius. I’m a good old fashioned American. So, let’s put that in Fahrenheit, which is how we measure temperature. At the hottest level of refinement and purification, that’s 21,632 degrees Fahrenheit. Makes a nice balmy 100 degree day in the Midwest seem tolerable now, doesn’t it? They heat the ore up to that cozy 21,000 degree temperature to refine it. It melts away the impurities and imperfections leaving only the valuable material behind. Yeah, common sense process, duh. Ok, so, did we ever think about that when we asked God to purify us like gold and silver? Did the name of the song not ever kick in some logical sense? We we REALLY asking for God to do this to US? Really? I heard it best said that we meant it, but we were really naïve about what that actually meant.
What about the chorus? My heart’s one desire, I choose to be holy, set apart for You, Lord. Yep, that’s another one I think we really didn’t think about. Or at least I didn’t at 17, 20, 22, or even 30. Holy, set apart. Hmmm. That’s a big ask. Especially in today’s world and society that puts information, social media, blogs (eh-hem), and all kinds of stuff in front of us for consumption so readily. How exactly are we supposed to be holy and set apart with all this stuff available to us? And, were we lying when we sang it, or did we just not really consider the meaning. I’m going to go with the latter to be gracious, especially to myself. Not sure how anyone can consider themselves holy and set apart when they’re watching Game of Thrones. 1. I didn’t watch it. 2. Those of you that did can calm down and stop sending me that hate text message. I could have inserted any number of TV shows or movies that I HAVE watched and it would be just as accurate.
What does the Refiner’s Fire have to do with faith? Well, the song, nothing. Not in my context. But the meaning of the lyrics, the requests and declarations played out over a lifetime, or as much of one as I have lived this far, has a lot to do with Faith. We have been studying faith in our LIFE Group at church. (Sunday School for those of you that haven’t changed the name to something hip and cool – refer to my first paragraph about the youth pastor/student pastor thing).
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it men of old gained approval. Hebrews 11:1-2 NASB
Let’s be real for a minute. Assurance of, or being certain in some translations, of things hoped for. What? So, I’m supposed to hope for something and be certain of it? That sounds like name it and claim it. And there are plenty of people that have taken it out of context to spread that message. The conviction of things not seen. Like the wind. I can’t see the wind unless it’s a dust storm. But then I see the dust, not the wind. But, I can feel the wind, I know it exists. I can see what wind does. I certainly know wind is real. But how do I know God is real? Faith? Or is it because I can see Him working?
In fairness, while I understand the wind reference to things unseen, I really don’t like it the older I get. It’s almost too easy of an argument. Wind is right now, here, instant gratification on a hot day. I’d more like to think of a good faith analogy as the river. You know about the Grand Canyon, right? You know how it was created? A river, working diligently, slowly, consistently carving away at the rock creating such a majestic sight to behold. Did that happen in a week? No. You already knew that. But, how long did it take?
Think about oh… 6-70 million years ago. There’s a trickle of water rolling over a big rock. From the looks of it, it was a VERY big rock. Over millions of years, it slowly carved away at this rock until the Grand Canyon was formed. Now, I’m old but I’m not that old. So, I don’t really know how long it took. The national parks association used to say 6 million years. In 2012 they came out with a study that likens it more to 70 million years. Either way, that wasn’t a trip through the drive through, or reading a few chapters of a self help book. It was a long process to create this magnificent work of God’s artistry. Oh, also, I’m pretty sure He thinks you’re more magnificent and worth more of His delicate craftsmanship than a rock.
Now, let’s go back to Refiner’s Fire and pair that with faith. What if we stopped looking at things in such a short-sided way? Maybe you already do. If so, you’re better than most and I congratulate you. In fact, I’d like you to send me your thoughts on how to teach this magnificent achievement to others. But, most of us, in the midst of a trial, or a temptation, or a struggle, or a challenge immediately toss the long-game, big picture view out the window just to see what’s right now. Our version of the song should say “Purify my heart, in the next 15 minutes, let me be as gold, immediately with no suffering, real refinement, or pain that might come from being cooked to the point that my imperfections go away…” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Not very lyrically pleasing.
I can remember singing those words. Many times in fact. The real words to the song, not my satirical version. I can also tell you that that declaration so many years ago didn’t go unheard. It wasn’t forgotten. Maybe by me for a brief period of time, or a couple decades. But, I sang it. And I probably thought I meant it at the time. And God took me on my word. He held me to it. And what has had to be active to get me to where I am now as He purified me, refined me, and continues to do so? Faith. I don’t have the spiritual gift of faith. In fact, I haven’t prayed a mountain to move aside in the literal sense. But, I have faced a ton of trials. I have faced more than my share of very difficult situations. Some because of me, some I was just the unwilling target victim of other’s sin being taken out on me. But, I held on to the tiniest bit of faith that God would get me to the other side. That God would keep His promises to me that He would protect me and declare victory over those trials and tribulations that I faced. And I held on to the promise that all things are for my good, not to harm me.
Here I am, many many years later, writing about a song I sang in youth group and how it relates to a topic that most probably wouldn’t connect. As you think about the struggles you’re facing, as yourself a few questions to gain some perspective.
- Be honest with yourself and reveal if you’re really the problem? Did you cause this struggle you’re facing?
- Do you have any real control over the situation or is it in someone else’s hands, or even God’s alone to resolve?
- Is God refining you through this situation? (this one is hard to answer until your perspective changes and sometimes, God allows the situations to CAUSE your perspective to change)
- What do you need to do to be better as a result of what’s happening?
- What does God want you to learn?
- How does scripture say you’re supposed to respond? (and don’t play the “this isn’t in the Bible” game, it is, you’re just not looking)
Try to set emotion aside. I know how difficult that is. Trust me. I am a very emotional guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m a relational leader. But you have to figure out how to do it and look at the list above. Assess what’s happening. Think through where this moment you’re facing now is compared to the expanse of your lifetime and eternity. I can tell you from my experiences good and bad, that I am so much better now because of all the times God took me up on my declaration that I chose to be holy, set apart, ready to do His will. And my request for Him to purify my heart. It wasn’t quick. It wasn’t painless. And it’s not over. But, it’s so worth it. I promise. When God is done, you’ll be as incredible a witness for Him as the Grand Canyon is for the river. You’ll shine brighter and be worth more than the purest gold.