In my early days of ministry, I was the pastor at a church in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Today, Scranton is famous for NBC’s hit show, The Office, but long before Jim, Pam, and Dwight, Scranton was a big mining city.
Maybe it's because of Scranton’s mining history and my experience pastoring the hurting people of this city, or maybe it's just coincidence, but one of my favorite metaphors in the Bible has to do with mining and metallurgy:
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV)
When a mine worker extracts a mineral from the earth, that mineral is extracted in a crude state, or an "ore-iffic" state. Ore is not very attractive, and it can't be used for very much because it still has significant imperfections in it. So, a skilled metallurgist will take that ore and add a catalytic agent and white-hot heat and, in essence, boil the imperfections out of the ore so it can reach its highest state of beauty and strength.
In Peter's metaphor, you and I are "ore-iffic" Christians, and God is the skilled metallurgist. When the Father mines us from the mass of humanity and saves us for eternity, we come into the family of God with major imperfections. These imperfections rob us of the full potential of beauty and strength that we can have in Christ.
In the mind of God, love is not defined as simply mining us from the earth and dumping us into a barrel where we wait until eternity. No, by God's definition, love means mining AND refining as we wait for eternity.
Why do we experience painful suffering and burdensome trials? Why do we face unexpected complications and uninvited delays? Because God is in the process of refining His children that He has mined from the mass of humanity.
You see, God's "boiling process" or "refining fire" (Malachi 3:2) is always for our benefit. It will often be painful, but think again about the metallurgy example: a refining process is always meant to produce the highest level of beauty and strength. If you want your best life now, it will be achieved through the process of refinement.
John Piper says it this way: "He is a refiner's fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner's fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner's fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner's fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact."
THE GOSPEL OF REFINEMENT
During these moments of refinement, you will be tempted to believe two anti-gospels:
- These moments of refinement are signs of God's unfaithfulness and inattention. Incorrect! The gospel tells you that refinement is the sure sign of God's presence and love in your life!
- God's love is shown to me by giving me whatever I want, whenever I want it. False! If you were wise, you wouldn't want all the things your sinful heart desires, and, God's love will actually remove those things for your benefit.
So, friends, when these trials and grievances come your way, preach the gospel to yourself and to others. God could not love you and be satisfied with leaving you as a piece of ore. You have so much potential in Christ, and the Lord will refine you so you can reach your highest level of strength and beauty!