Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "The Birdcage"

The memory text, 1 Peter 1:6 plus verse 7, says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire ... .” According to Revelation 3:18, this gold tried in the fire is faith and the church of Laodicea is counseled to buy it. It is a must. This week’s lesson explores our unavoidable experience with trials and how we should relate to them. God often leads His children into trials and the lesson gives us a number of examples. We will draw four practical points from these examples.

1. God’s people will face trials meant to teach spiritual realities and truths about God, who is Immanuel, “God with us.”

The children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land but it wasn’t a straight shot. There would be trials along the way. Their first trial was the Red Sea with the Egyptians in hot pursuit; next came the dry, hot wilderness of Shur, three days without drinkable water only “Marah” water. Then according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed and camped at Rephidim, and again no water. This time they accused Moses of trying to kill them and their livestock.

Trials! But God was leading them so He parted the Red Sea for them, then He showed them a “tree” (interesting) which when it was cast into the waters made them sweet. Then at Rephidim, Exodus17:6 tells us that God instructed Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall smite the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst.” Isaiah declares, “... yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted, but he was wounded for our transgressions, ... the chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isa. 53:4, 5).

Paul says, “For they all drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). God did not cause the trials but He led them into the trials and taught them powerful truths about Himself and about their salvation. There are other examples in Scripture of God leading His people to important positions, often by way of trial. God had a grand purpose for Daniel, but it came by way of Babylonian captivity and the lions’ den. Daniel learned that God is love and that He will never leave us or forsake us.

He had a faith that would endure to the end and it was a witness, a testimony to King Darius. So much so that King Darius proclaimed, “For He is the living God, and steadfast forever” (Dan. 6:26). Joseph rose to fame and was able to provide for his family in Egypt during a terrible time of famine, but it came by way of a pit dug for him by his brothers in which he was left to die. Add Potiphar’s wife and we have compounded trials. Joseph discovered what David learned. Sin is against God and it profanes His Holy name (character) “among the nations” wherever we go. Trial endured in God’s strength leads to a testimony!

2. Make sure God has led. How do we know that God has led us? Ask a simple question. Was God leading me yesterday?

The greatest Person who ever lived endured the greatest of trials. He overcame His temptation to question God’s leading by knowing the answer to that simple question, was God leading me yesterday? Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.” He was not acting; He had a total melt down.

But assurance came in knowing that God had led Him “yesterday.” Psalm 22:9-11: “But you are He who took Me out of the womb: You made Me trust when I was on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From my mother’s womb You have been My God. Be not far from Me for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” Even His beloved disciples left Him, but His faith which was tested in the fire grabbed hold, and in verse 21 He exclaims, “You have answered Me.”

Reviewing His history gave Him necessary saving faith that embraced all mankind. If we know for certain that God has led us we can endure and even embrace our trials. It gives us a guarantee of hope.

3. Know the voice of God.

We are human—how can we know the voice of God? The same way Jesus did. We learn to hear His voice in our closet with Him, in the daily quiet times in His Word. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah ran for his life when Jezebel threatened to kill him. He ran into a cave and prayed for the Lord to take his life. He had gone from the Mount of joy (Carmel) to the valley of despair (the cave). How does he get back to the mount of joy? God starts to provide for him in the cave and then talks to him, and Elijah recognizes it is Yahweh.

The faithful, covenant-keeping God instructs him to “Go out, and stand before the Lord.” First there was a strong wind that ripped the mountain in pieces but, God wasn’t in that display, powerful as it was. Next there was an earthquake, then a fire, but God was in neither. Finally there was a delicate whispering voice and God was there. Elijah recognized the voice for he had spent much time with Him.

4. Learn to praise God in the midst of the storm.

After the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 15 Moses and the children of Israel sang the song of Moses, expressing praises to God for how He had led them. The praises were offered after the trial was over—they were safe on dry land and the Egyptians were cast into the sea.

This was a marvelous deliverance God performed, but in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we have a wonderful story in the history of Israel. The Moabites, the Ammonites, and others came to battle against King Jehoshaphat, who “set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” He recounted to God the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple that should any calamity befall Israel they would cry out to Him from the temple and He would hear and save.

God told him not to be afraid “the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not need to fight in this battle, just position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” The next day Jehoshaphat went out early with the people and he addressed them saying, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established” (vs. 20). He then appointed those who would sing and praise the Lord and they went out ahead of the army praising God for a victory that had not yet happened!

The trial was still ahead of them. What takes more faith, singing the song of deliverance for past triumphs or singing the songs of praise for victory that has not yet come? Habakuk 3:17-19 says, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” In Psalm 22 Jesus teaches us that we sing the song of faith, knowing the God who holds us in the palm of His hands.

1 Peter 1:6-9: “In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious that gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ ... receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” May God bless us as we study this week.

—Lyndi Schwartz

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 3 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast go to Wolf's Oath Audio To listen as a stream go to