But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. Mal 3:2
Malachi prophesied that the coming of the Messiah would not be the wonderful feel good experience the Jews were expecting to have.
It would be tough and scary — a time of refining.
This past week I went out sharing with a sister who had never invited strangers to church before. “It comes so naturally to you,” she said as she watched me. I had to laugh. I told her how hard it was for me when we moved to Atlanta to join a new church. The church was running this “Just Do It” campaign where everyone was challenged to invite two people a day to church.
Whoa. I thought I wanted to be a part of this fellowship. It sounded great to be around people who were joyfully sold out for Christ. But then we got down to the brass tacks. It meant that I would have to give up my complacency and do things that were very uncomfortable for me. I remember looking around at the church service, and thinking, “What have I done?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to join after all.
We think following Christ is going to be all warm and fuzzy. But when we actually have to do more of the things that Jesus did, it tests our hearts.
And this is what God intended, that with the coming of John the Baptist and Christ hearts would be tested. The status quo would be challenged.
You see, the Jews kept going along, thinking everything was hunky dory between them and God. When Jesus came, he made it very plain that they needed to be purified from the inside out: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
And Jesus especially attacked the religious leaders: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matt23:15
Jesus came to refine hard hearts. He came to challenge all of those who thought they were clean with the truth that they were dirty on the inside. As Malachi 3:2 said, they needed strong soap.
A few days ago, my friend Markeya and I had lunch with a friend who’s studying the Bible. We sat at a table in the bright spring sun, and ate crepes and stuffed squash, and bonded. We opened up about the hurts we’d gone through in the past. We talked about how we’d all hardened our hearts as a result of these pains and shut ourselves off so we couldn’t be hurt again.
We read Luke 7:36-50 about the sinful woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, wet them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. We discussed how amazing it was that this woman could have a soft heart. Sin and pain hadn’t hardened her, as it had us. And we prayed that we would all be more like this woman, able to let down the walls, able to come to Jesus in tears, admitting our sin and our need for his forgiveness.
This is what God is looking for. This is the goal of refining: a tender heart that reaches out in humility.
A heart that can see and admit sin.
I read a great passage in The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace by David Laing about what our attitude should be towards sin. Laing writes that in Ps 51 David was essentially saying, “God, I have sinned. But I want to see it like you do. I want more than head knowledge. I want heart knowledge. I want you to remove all my rationalizations and excuses and show me my sin and myself in all their ugliness.”
The Jews didn’t have heart knowledge.
I’ve been praying lately that I would see my sin as God sees it, that the grime which clouds my vision — guilt, people pleasing and perfection seeking — would be removed.
Create in me a pure heart, O God! (Ps 51:10)
Jesus came to create pure hearts. And the process of creating them is intense, it’s a fiery furnace that exposes the truth in our inmost parts and brings to light those weaknesses we’d rather keep hidden. It shows us the things we need to change.
And we want to run away. We rationalize and fling out excuses. We hold tightly to our complacency.
Until finally, we fall to our knees, and understand. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
We need God like the air we breathe. We can’t do it on our own.
Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. II Chron 7:14
We need to be God sufficient, not self sufficient.
That is what Jesus came to teach us, that it’s not the religiously accomplished who are the heroes, or the wealthy or successful, but the widow who gives her last penny, the tax collector who prays for mercy, the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair.
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. James 4:10
The end of the story of me seeking to join the church in Atlanta is that I pushed through. I found out I could do it, I could share with strangers. And when I did, I was energized! That pattern has continued over the years. Things get hard. I don’t know how I’m going to continue. But I persevere, I rely on the Source, and I end up overflowing with joy.
God tests us, but we can put our hand in his and get through to the place on the other side. And in the process our hearts are strengthened.
This past Sunday we had an AWESOME service. Our little church of 50 people had 200 in attendance. We commemorated all God has done for us over the years. We’ve been through so much, but God brought us through! We celebrated and praised him with all our hearts!
Yes, Jesus came to refine us. Yes, it will be tough and scary. But it is so worth it.