Recently I went through a low time and found myself struggling in several areas of my life. As pressures mounted, I did what I am prone to do. I began to focus on how to change my circumstances. My brain began to be filled with ideas, plans and schemes designed to get me to a more comfortable place. And, as usually happens when I try to manipulate my circumstances, I just got more frustrated and less content.
It seems to me most of us respond to the issues we face in very similar ways -- our focus becomes all about changing the circumstances that are troubling us. Even our prayer life can be all about asking God to fix something to make our lives more pleasant. But while we think our efforts to change our circumstances will make our lives better, the truth is we just end up exhausted and no more at peace than when we started. Instead of working so hard to achieve a change in our circumstances, maybe what we need more is a change in our perspective.
Recently my pastor defined wisdom, which God promises us if we ask for it (James 1:5), as a change from a human perspective to God's perspective. To have God's perspective on the difficult things in our lives would be to see those things through the lens of God's design, purpose and way. God never promises life will be easy, but his word says he works everything to good for those who love him. If we saw every negative situation in our lives as a means for God to work good in us, maybe we wouldn't focus so much on manipulating our circumstances to feel better. Maybe, instead, we would begin to see our issues, trials and struggles as opportunities for God to do something transformational in our lives. And maybe the prospect of God at work in our lives would change us at a level deeper than the surface issues that so often derail us, even when our circumstances never change.
The Bible often uses the imagery of gold being refined as a picture of what God does in our lives. Gold, when extracted from the earth, does not look like gold we find in a jewelry store. In fact, it is not always recognizable due to the impurities that mar its appearance. Yet, for the person searching for it, the ugliest lump of gold is of great value, and the potential for beauty is evident. We, as men and women, are similar to those lumps of unrefined gold. The sacrifice of God's son to reconcile us back to relationship with God shows just how much he values us -- even while we are lost and separated from him. God sees us not full of impurity, but full of potential. He, in the refining imagery, is the refiner and we are the lump of unrefined gold, full of impurity and full of potential beauty.
Sometimes we expect God simply zaps the junk out of our lives when we enter into relationship with him. But that is not the refining process -- not for gold, and not for us. God loves us too much to leave us as we are because our impure selves cannot reflect clearly all of who he is, and our fullest joy is realized in the growing brilliance of our reflection of him in our lives. The refining process is hot. To refine gold, heat must be applied to force the impurities to the surface. As the impurities rise, they are removed and more heat is applied. This process continues and continues, heat is applied and re-applied, until the gold is pure. The refiner knows the gold is pure when he looks into the gold and sees his clear reflection.
God works a similar process in us. Our lives are a process of God applying heat and exposing our weaknesses, our faults, our struggles and our impurities. Heat is hot and uncomfortable, but if we submit to the heat, we are day by day transformed into his likeness. The process ends when we meet Jesus face to face, and he looks into our faces and sees his clear reflection.
So often we seek to place blame on someone or something for the difficult issues in our lives. But things we attribute to evil may well be heat applied by the refiner of our souls -- heat full of purpose and heat that ultimately will result in purity and joy. Illness may be designed to bring fear to the surface so God can build trust. Financial difficulty may raise materialism to the surface. Loneliness may raise idolatry to the surface. Relational struggles may raise bitterness or unforgiveness to the surface. Disappointment at work may raise pride to the surface. The heat and trials of our lives are not evidence God is cruel or has left you, but ultimately are evidence of how much God values you and his desire for you to be all he designed you to be. He values us as he finds us but he loves us too much to leave us as he finds us.
When life gets hot and difficult, human tendency is to run from the heat. When a molten substance is removed from the heat, it hardens. When we run from the heat, our lives and hearts harden, our impurities set and we simply stagnate. As my counselor said years ago, the heat that softens the hardness of our hearts hurts, but that pain is a sign of life. It is God's way of making us holy so we can share in the peaceful fruit of righteousness. God tells us in Hebrews 12 it will seem difficult for the moment, but it always yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. If most of us were honest, we would trade much in our life for a sense of true peace. Peace does not primarily mean we have peaceful circumstances. Peace is realizing God is in control of all of the pieces of our lives, and even the difficult pieces have an important place in the bigger picture of God's plan for us. It is in peace we find rest. There is joy -- and peace -- and rest -- in the refining process.
As God changes your perspective, you will begin to see less of what is wrong and more of what evidences God's refining work in your life -- God bringing weaknesses to the surface so you ultimately will be stronger, more like him and more reflective of him. God's plan is not to make you more independent or more self-sufficient. His plan is to make you holy and dependent servants of the refiner who desires to give us lives far beyond what we ever could imagine. In the heat, we see his power displayed and we become vessels for his glory and reflectors of his image to the world -- and that is a life worth living, no matter your circumstances!