Be sure to read “Loose Ends (part one) first.
To view the cruelties, the pains, the rejections and the injustices in life as a gift is not an easy perspective to embrace. In fact, I don’t believe we truly can embrace it until we have first passed through such experiences, emerged from their grip, and have come to comprehend their meaning…that the difficult, and even overwhelming obstacles, of life have a purpose. They are trials of our faith, crucibles for our character, and intense fires of refinement for our souls. They carry with them the capacity to teach us endurance, humility, patience, compassion, understanding, and wisdom. Ultimately, the fires of life provide us with a tremendous redemptive opportunity. They can bring us closer to God and help us to walk as the person He created us to be, rather than stumbling about in the darkness of isolation, trying to live up to the image we project to others.
Fire Refines, but Love and Revelation Transform
To purify metals like gold and silver, they are melted by fire in a furnace. In the process, impurities (called dross) are extracted from the surface of the molten metal, and the remaining product, once cooled and reformed, is a stronger and more valuable item. Early on I embraced the idea that God often allows us to be put into a “spiritual furnace of testing” and trial. The process refines us like metals. It exposes impure elements in our lives while separating out and establishing the greater elements. Ideally, the greatest element established in us is God Himself, who is able to live more freely in our hearts and flow more purely through our lives.
In the mid-1990’s, I was in the habit of asking God to bring fires into my life. I do not recommend that! The reason I do not recommend such a prayer is because “trial and fire” will enter our lives whether we request them or not. I will, however, stand by my intentions at the time. In my heart I sensed that though I had a sincere faith in God, it was superficial. I read about and proclaimed high ideals; I expounded deep spiritual principles; I held deep convictions; I had the heart of a radical, sold-out, believer. But deep down, I knew that I was untried. I sensed superficiality to my faith and insecurity in my trust in God.
In the early days, I overcompensated for that insecurity by projecting a false boldness and an arrogant approach to “speaking the truth”. I decided that “the truth” was powerful in-and-of-itself, and that I had a responsibility to deliver it to others without soft-pedaling. But truth can also be a weapon. When placed in the hands of someone who has not learned humility, compassion, and the wisdom of experience, it wounds and then inoculates others from being open and may even hinder them from receiving truth later from someone else. In those days, I thought that if someone became offended at my delivery, it was only because they refused to accept the truth. What arrogance!
I also overcompensated for my insecurity by reinforcing myself with pride. I developed a putrid, self-righteous, self-important, self-referential outlook, and viewed myself as being “more correct” than others in my life. The funny thing is, I never viewed myself in this way until I began walking with Christ and tried to clean up my life. Previously, I had spent a number of years living a self-destructive life. When I committed my life to Christ, I began to experience some freedom and the blessing that came from avoiding sin and embracing righteousness. I wanted to be a “good witness” of who God is, and I wanted to please Him. So, I aggressively tried to do all that the Bible commanded.
But deep down I sensed this pain and darkness that still existed within me and it scared me. I was trying so hard to be good, obedient, and a “vessel of healing for others”. Yet, I was plagued by this question: “How can I heal others when I feel so broken myself?” It was an internal paradox; a Divine dichotomy. So, I deluded myself into believing that I was more put together than I was so that others would see me in the same way. And if they saw me that way, then perhaps I could relax because it had finally come true. But in the process, I lost my humanity, my vulnerability, my love, and my identity.
It was the fires of life that shook me (and continue to shake me) out of such strange mindsets.
Cycles of Fire
I have experienced three important cycles of fire in my life over the past 15 years. The first was between 1997 and 1999; the second between 2003 and 2005; the third between 2010 and 2012. The most recent was, by far, the most difficult and spiritually devastating. The details of these circumstances are far more layered and complex than I could possibly articulate in a blog post. The important point, however, is that on the heels of each of those cycles, I experienced unique personal and spiritual breakthroughs, and also experienced deep personal change in my life. In between the cycles, God worked with me to apply what He had been teaching me while I was still “in the fire”.
What I have just written above is hardly new revelation. The “dark night of the soul” has been explored thoroughly by philosophers and theologians for centuries. It seems high-minded and lofty until you have been there. Through the fire, I discover more about who God really is, what His priorities are in this world, and the sort of person He wants me to be.
The real miracle of the fire is not necessarily in how heroically we perform while in the midst of it, but rather in how God carries us through and uses the experience to change us. The greatest victories we achieve are not always in how well we perform, but rather in how low we bow in the process. And, it is the love and forgiveness of God that preserves us and keeps us from a permanent descent into bitterness.
Loose Ends Tied Up
Around six years ago, I began reading about our government’s concerns over the potential threat of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack by terrorist agencies. In short, an EMP attack is when an enemy detonates a nuclear (or comparably powerful) device in the atmosphere over American territory. The impact would be a massive disruption of the magnetic field, triggering a complete shutdown of every electronic and computerized system from coast-to-coast. As a nation, we would be thrown back to the dark ages.
As to my most recent experience in the fire…it was a bizarre, confusing, and frightening journey that, frankly, took more out of me than I ever thought possible. I have often described this past few years as an EMP attack on my life. A bomb went off, my systems were disrupted, my communications were blocked, and my ability to see clearly was removed. I was thrown back into the spiritual dark-ages. Three years on, I am happy to look in my rearview mirror and see that period fading quickly into the distance.
I don’t have all the answers as to why things went down the way they did, but I can accept that now. Little-by-little, I find myself getting stronger and seeing things clearly again. My primary goal at this stage in my life is more solid than ever: to continue to discover who God is, who He created me to be, and how He wants me to cooperate with Him in this life. In the process, I look forward to experiencing more of His presence and understanding the depth and strength of His love.