“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts…” – Proverbs 17:3
Everybody at one time or another must go through experiences of trial and testing. This is one of the facts of life that we had better accept if we intend to make circumstances our servant and not our master.
We picture these difficult times in different ways. “I’m really going through a battle!” we might say to a trusted friend. Or we could say, “Our family is in the middle of a storm.”
But one of the most vivid images of testing is that of a furnace. “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.” Wealthy Solomon knew something about gold and silver, but he also knew something about life. He knew that God sometimes puts people into the furnace in order to prove them and to purify them.
There are several different furnaces that God uses to refine us. Consider with me the furnace of pain. “But [God] knows the way that I take,” said Job from the ash heap. “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Next to our Lord Jesus Christ, perhaps no man mentioned in the Bible suffered more than Job. First he lost his wealth, then his children, then his health and then the encouragement of his wife and friends. He sat alone on the ash heap, listening to his friends falsely diagnose his case and try to prove that he was a secret sinner who was being punished by God.
Their theory, of course, was that God always blesses the righteous with health and wealth but punishes the wicked by making them suffer.
Now, God does sometimes use physical suffering to discipline his children. But this does not mean that every case of suffering in the family of God is necessarily a punishment from God. It may be that God has other purposes in mind when he permits us to go into the furnace of pain.
Joseph suffered in various ways for thirteen years, yet he was certainly not in the furnace because of disobedience to God. The prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul both suffered greatly, yet their suffering came because they obeyed God, not because they disobeyed Him.
Job understood the furnace of pain. God was purging away the dross so that Job might come out of the furnace as pure gold. Pure gold always brings into clearer focus the face of the one doing the purifying.
None of us enjoys pain. The furnace of pain is not something that we pray for or eagerly anticipate, but sometimes we need it. Like Job, we must enter the furnace by faith and trust the Father to accomplish his purposes in our life. It is better to go through the furnace and come out as pure as gold than to be too cheap to be useful in the hands of the Father!