Psalm 66:10-12 (NKJV)
For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.
Psalm 66:10-12 (the message)
He trained us first, passed us like silver through refining fires, brought us into hardscrabble country, pushed us to our very limit, road-tested us inside and out, took us to hell and back; finally he brought us to this well-watered place.
Have you ever been at a place in life where you just couldn’t see straight? Maybe pain is crushing you. Maybe confusion is mocking your beliefs. Perhaps resentment and bitterness have taken root and every day drink up what peace you have left. The air you breathe becomes thick with regret or your lungs fill with the polluted waters of despair. Perhaps the circumstances are of your own making. You know which fork in the road led you to this place. And in your thrashing about you find you are most angry with yourself. But, perhaps this pushing you to your very limit is not self-inflicted and the heat of all you can’t control about life is scorching your heart. The only water for your dry and weary soul seems to be the very tears you shed.
And so the verses above, at first-read, do not appear comforting. Maybe you read them and feel put-out with a God who has allowed such hardship into your life. Maybe you read them and your first instinct is to dismiss the very idea that a loving God would knowingly let you walk through the fire…that part of His good plan for your life involves testing, sifting, training and refining. Why, God, why must we tour such “hardscrabble country?” And perhaps we refuse and turn away…unable or unwilling to let Him do His work…we quit Him. We tell Jesus no more. No more of Your hypocritical, hand-shaking, back-stabbing church people…no more of Your “wait on Me” answers to prayer…no more of Your “I can do all things through Christ” scriptures when I don’t see why You ask me to do these things anyway…no more of Your lay-your-life-down kind of love for a wife I don’t want anymore…no more of Your honor and respecting a husband I don’t even like…no more of Your “seventy times seven” brand of forgiveness when nothing seems to change…no more of this dying to self…no more…no more…Jesus, no more. And as we wave our fist at our unseen God, as our hearts turn the final corner and grow completely numb to discouragement, indeed “no more” reigns. No more joy. No more peace. No more hope. No more healing.
But what if our time in the net does something in us that can never be accomplished in the tropics of easy living? What if our time in the fire leads us to a soul-thirst for God that changes us forever? What if our parched, desert-heart crawls to the cross and finds the cool relief of his nail-scarred hand wiping our brow? We must consider that our prideful and Godless self-reliance may only give way as we bow low with the weight of our need. The scripture above says, we went through fire and through water; but you brought us out to rich fulfillment. I truly believe God wants to give us something better than what we dream we deserve. We think we deserve happiness. But happiness is unpredictable and mostly unattainable…it grows strong with the “right” circumstances but will atrophy as the variables of life change. We think we deserve victory. And God has given us victory. But we have our own ideas about what that looks like…what is good and bad in our lives…and our view is most often a reflection, again, of what will make us happy. The coasting Christian life we think God should give us does not grow us. It becomes a badge we wear…a label…an affiliation…a church membership…and at best a twenty dropped into a bucket.
I’m no theologian. I don’t have it all figured out. But scripture like the ones above don’t rattle my cage quite as much as they used to when I thought my spiritual depth was in direct correlation with my ease-of-living quotient. The fires I have, and do, walk through certainly don’t burn as hot as another’s but they have burned my feet enough to get me off of them and onto my knees. The smoke of my own sin and regret, the way breathing in the loss and blows of life have singed my lungs teaches me to get down low, on my face, before a Mighty and Holy God. The only One who could possibly deliver me. Change and free me.
What I find in the fire is the sweet relief of His presence in a way I would never have searched for so thoroughly had I set the thermostat. What I find in the raging waters is the Rock on which I can truly learn to stand. What I find in the net, tangled in my own offense or hopelessness, is that being truly free only comes His way. What I find, lost in “hardscrabble country,” is that I never knew where I was going in the first place…I am aimless in my search for happiness and so I learn to truly listen and follow the GPS of His Spirit within me. I learn that indeed knowing Jesus means being sifted, trained and tested. It means, like silver, He will absolutely refine me…take me through the fire and the water and allow the impurities to surface…He will teach me and show me, not just in a sermon or a sunday-school lesson, what it’s like to be near Him. How strong His arms are and how easily I can rest in them, regardless of the heat, the waters or the net.
And when I find this truth…when I learn of Him so personally…I indeed find that rich fulfillment. I can live, in spite of the burden, in a well-watered place.