Servant Scratchings
October 2001

The Lord Our Refiner

Welcome to the October 2001 issue of Servant Scratchings.
The text I am beginning with this month is Psalm 66:10-15.

  Psalm 66:10-15 [NASB]  For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.  (11) You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins.  (12) You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.  (13) I shall come into Your house with burnt offerings; I shall pay You my vows,  (14) Which my lips uttered And my mouth spoke when I was in distress.  (15) I shall offer to You burnt offerings of fat beasts, With the smoke of rams; I shall make an offering of bulls with male goats. Selah.  

As I ponder how this passage relates to myself and my relationship with the Lord, I am reminded of a saying I heard many years ago, the source of which I am unsure:   "You may be saved, but you're not safe!"  One application of this is that by grace we have been saved from ourselves, from our sin, but this does not mean we are therefore safe in our lives from trouble and strife. On the contrary, it is through grace that our God puts us through trials and tribulations in this life so as to "refine us as silver".  There is a tendancy amongst some Christians to blame all things 'bad' on Satan. I believe that this thinking comes from a misunderstanding of the very nature of God. God is Father, not Sugar-Daddy. The desire we have for God to only want and give us 'good things' is very real, but very much ill founded and I believe to be an expression of our carnal flesh rather than a clean heart and a pure spirit.  The main problem I see with this is that we have a self interested tendancy to define 'good' as that which feels nice or makes us happy, and 'bad' is that which is uncomfortable, painful or unwanted in some way.   As difficult as it can sometimes be for us to accept, I believe that this is not a true representation of God and His truth.  

The Lord wishes to not only give us salvation by justification through faith with the promise of eternity with Him, but He also wishes to perfect us unto the fullness of Christlikeness right here and now.  Certainly, it is not to be denied that there are times when our struggles and difficulties in life are indeed an attack of Satan, or a result of our own actions and decisions, but it is clear that many are also from the hand of God as he actions or allows certain events and situations to impact us and push us further towards Him as we turn our eyes from what we want, and look to Him for what He desires of us and in us.  Our emotions are not to be the defining factor as to what is or isn't of God.

There will be those who will contend that what I am putting forward, and the scripture quoted, is of the old covenant, the Old Testament.  Is there any scripture to support this thinking in the New Testament?  The answer I believe is 'yes'!  Let us look now at a few texts in this light.

  Hebrews 12:4-11 [NASB]  You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; (5) and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; (6) For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives."  (7) It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?   (8) But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  (9) Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  (10) For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.   (11) All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  

From this we can see that it is God's desire to chastise us and discipline us. It is worth noting that the text here expressly talks of scourging. In the days of this letter being written the scourge was a crude whipping device made of leather strips with glass, bone, stones and even pieces of metal embedded into the strands. When this was flailed across the victims back it was excrutiatingly painful, tearing skin from bone. Why would God want to put us through pain and suffering? The answer is in the text itself; v10: "He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness." and v11: "it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

We can see from this that God's discipline, which the scripture tells us is painful, is in fact for our good. Furthermore, it is for the good of those with whom we have contact and relationship that we are disciplined, so that we can be better reflections of His holiness and righteousness. Do we have any examples of this? Indeed we do, in none other that the Apostle Paul.

  Acts 9:16-18 [NIV]  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (17) Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (18) Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,

  2 Corinthians 6:4-5 [NIV]  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; (5) in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;

  2 Corinthians 11:23-28 [NIV]  Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  

This is the testimony of the man through whom God authored the greater part of our New Testament. Indeed, God's disciplining of Paul has become a blessing to millions upon millions of people through 2,000 years.

The goal is God's holiness and righteousness. A necessary ingredient on that path is discipline, hardship, trials and tribulations. The question we face is this - are we able to rejoice in God's discipline? Do we want to be refined by the Lord? I pray we are! Let us pray for discernment, to be able to know when our hardships are of God or of the enemy, or simply an outcome of our lifes decisions and actions. Let us desire holiness in all it's fullness, whatever it takes, for His glory, because in this we will find true joy and peace.

May we be holy as He is holy.