Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Since the fall of man, we are all broken. Label us “damaged goods,” much like the lonely, dented can of green beans on the grocery store shelf or the scratched coffee table marked down to “clearance.” We’ve arrived at somehow being “less than.” We are broken in our affliction, and grace is what we desperately need. There’s one small problem, our pride prevents us from seeing ourselves as the truly sinful and corrupt creatures we are. Take a survey on a busy street corner and the average passerby will tell you that they’ve tried to be a good person and, therefore, are doing okay by the world’s standard.
God, however, doesn’t operate by the world’s standard. He is just and holy, and in order to stand before Him (even when we’re suffering) we need to be just and holy as well. Yes, we can have complete forgiveness and salvation through accepting Jesus as our Savior, but are we then free to continue in our prideful, self-sufficient ways, or does life with Jesus require change?
Thanks to my husband, I’ve become a fan of old war movies. One of our favorites is “Heartbreak Ridge” which stars Clint Eastwood as the hard-nosed, hard-living, burned-every-bridge Marine Gunnery Sergeant, Tom Highway. He takes command of a spoiled, undisciplined recon platoon and is charged with whipping them into shape with a sort of “bootcamp on steroids.”
My husband’s father was a Marine, and so I’ve asked him if the commanding officers of bootcamp platoons are really as mean, nasty, ill-tempered, and downright ugly as they are portrayed in the movies — His answer? “They’re worse!” In one scene in Heartbreak Ridge, “Gunny,” as his men called him, tells his platoon they’d better turn in early because they’ll be getting up at 0600 for a long run with full gear. The next morning, at 0500, Gunny storms through the barracks, kicking bunks, yelling and cussing up a storm. With spittle flying from his mouth, he bellows, “FALL OUT,” as the bleary-eyed troops come to attention.
“Hey Sarge,” one platoon member interrupts, “I thought you said we’d be getting up at 0600…it’s only 0500!” To which Gunny barks, “So I lied. So, I can’t tell time. So, you think some commie ba$@!#rd is going to make an appointment to blow a hole through your head?”
I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this story! Before Gunny’s bunch of misfits could be trusted in carrying out crucial recon missions, they had to be broken down completely and rebuilt with the grit, discipline, honor, and character that it takes to be a Marine. Before their transformation, these guys may have passed the world’s standard, but they certainly wouldn’t have passed muster with our country’s elite fighting unit.
God is known throughout Scripture as the Lord of Armies. He is the high commander of “good” in this ongoing spiritual battle between good and evil. As believers, we are recruits in the Lord’s army. For us to be trusted and reliable soldiers of the cross, we too, must go through a sort of “bootcamp.” Thankfully, God is nothing like “Gunny,” but we are no good to God if we persist in our fallen ways. God needs to subdue our flesh-life to bring forth resurrection-life in us. This might require taking a turn or two in God’s refining fire.
Scripture, in fact, refers to God as our Refiner. He will allow us to be held close to the red-hot flame in the crucible to cleanse and perfect us. The refining process is meant to burn away all the impurities so that what is left is metal (character) of the finest, highest, and purest quality. It’s painful, but necessary. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. He can be grieved by our sin, but never — for a moment — stops loving His children. He does, however, care for us enough to want to teach us important life lessons and grow us into Christ’s image.
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Affliction has been the crucible in which I have taken many turns. Are you in the crucible of affliction right now? If so, name your affliction. Write its name on an index card. Above your affliction’s name, now, in larger letters, write the name, “Jesus.” Remember Jesus is always above — and greater than— our affliction. God, however, will engage us in a process that:
- Disorients us
- Strips us of our comforts
- Crushes us
God does this because He is disciplining us and transforming us into the sainted soldiers that He wants us to be, but He will never let the fire consume us because He has engraved us on the palms of His hands.
“But Zion said, “’The Lord has
the Lord has forgotten me.’”
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:14-16 NIV)
Though you are being refined by the fire, the Lord will NEVER let the fire consume you. His power and love are always over and above your affliction. I think of the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from my Sunday School felt board days. Though they were thrown into the fiery furnace, the dancing tongues of fire never so much as singed their eyebrows. The Lord protected them from being consumed. He is protecting you!
In 2 Corinthians, Paul asked God to remove an affliction in his life that he called a “thorn.” Theologians love to debate what that thorn was, exactly, but that’s beside the point. God answered Paul by saying, “no.” Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
If God were to remove the source of our pain and suffering every time things got a little uncomfortable, we would never come to experience His all-sufficient grace. The greater the pain, the greater the degree of grace. God’s grace grows in direct proportion to the severity of our suffering. He gives sufficient grace to cover our weakness. I had to learn through my “thorn” experience that when everything I normally relied upon was either exhausted or taken away (my self-sufficiency, my lucidity, my strength), that was the exact moment I came to know that Christ truly was sufficient for my every need. Why does our prideful soul have to dangle, exhausted, over the crevasse of catastrophe before it will accept God’s grace? Are you dangling and in need of God’s grace?
Corrie Ten Boom summed it up this way, “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” I may have forsaken some of my childish ways, but I have learned that as I get older, I need to depend on my Heavenly Father more and more. He is my sufficiency, and apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).
If you would like to receive Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, pray this prayer with me:
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to come into my heart and to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.