March 2008 - Vol. 17

Illustration by Pablo Muttini

In the Furnace of God’s Love

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, 
but the Lord tests the heart. Proverbs 17:3

By Janice Firn

The Lord tests our love for him
I know from my study of scripture and church history that God will test our hearts – both individually and as a people – to see if we are willing and ready to trust and obey him even when we can’t see or fully understand where he might be leading us. Abraham, of course, is a great model of faith. God really put him to the test when he called him to leave his home for an unknown country, and tested him again when he told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The people of Israel were tested in the desert for 40 years. And Jesus was tested for 40 days when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. Jesus made the word of God his food and strength for resisting Satan and obeying his Father.

God initiates his action, provides the test, and forms the covenant. And with the test comes grace – to say yes with faith and obedience, to persevere, and even rejoice through testing and trial. 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything….Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. The Letter of James (1: 2-4,12)
God promises again and again in scripture that those who obey him will inherit the promised land (Leviticus 25:18, Psalm 37) – a land not just of milk and honey, but a place of abundant life, joy, and happiness with God himself (Deuteronomy 6:3). 

Will I obey and trust?
There are several things I feel the Lord has called me to. One is to live in Christian community. Another is to be married. Over the past year the Lord has used these two areas in particular to test my love for him. He continually asks me, on deeper and deeper levels, if I will obey him and trust him. I know that God alone can satisfy the deepest longing and desire of my heart. But the process of surrendering myself to him, and letting go of my will and my preferences can be a painful process at times. The presence of the Lord is a scary place to be. He molds me in his image and his holiness, and like a potter does to a jar, he keeps refining his work.

The words of Moses to God’s people ring in my ear: 

The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 13: 3-4)
I was talking to a good friend a few months ago who posed the question, “What if by staying in community you never got married?” It is a question I wrestle with at times. Does the one call supersede the other? I don’t know the answer. Some of my friends have discerned that they would be best following God’s call in their lives by being married and not in community rather than unmarried and in community. Right now, God clearly wants me to stay in community. It is not a comfortable or an easy call. 

Like Noah, I keep building my ark
From my travels and my friendships with single women from a number of communities, I know I am not alone in wrestling with this issue. A number of women find themselves in this situation, called to community and to marriage and unsure of how or even if these calls are compatible.  It is challenging (and painful at times) to sense a call to marriage and not to see the fulfillment of it. I have been challenged by people older and wiser than I to consider the cost of my call. By those I love I have been questioned to reconsider my vocation, questioned about whether or not I discerned properly, because there is no apparent fulfillment in sight. But like Noah, I keep building my ark with conviction that rain will come, even if I can't see it in the present. If God has promised, it is up to him to fulfill the promise. If God does not, then it is up to God to provide the grace. 

Moreover, the spiritual life is not supposed to be productive (in the worldly sense of the word); it is supposed to be fruitful. I think God is using this time to accomplish something spiritually in me and through me. It is good for me to stand and to be faithful. My “yes” to doing things God’s way is very powerful in a world full of unfaithfulness. 

The culture, the world we live in, dictates that women rely on their own strength and abilities to get things done and make things happen: to control. Culture also gives us very muddled messages about women’s roles and God’s order. Satan whispers to us that God cannot provide, is not enough, and cannot sustain us. My knee-jerk response to God’s apparent lack of action and Satan’s lies is one of fear, anxiety, and impatience; which makes me do foolish, ungenerous, and disordered things. 

God is not in a hurry - he acts in his good time
But it helps to remind myself that God’s time is not my time, and his apparent lack of  action does not mean he is not at work. God is not in a hurry. As Elizabeth Newman points out in Untamed Hospitality, quoting Gerhard Lohfink, a German New Testament scholar and biblical theologian: 

Abraham, for example, moves from one encampment to another. God takes time; but it is not empty time. God is doing a new thing through Abraham. And while in the light of the world’s problems the movement of a wandering Aramean and his concern for tent and flock seem positively laughable, nonetheless, in one place in the world faith is being practiced. So too with me and my counter-cultural response, in my response of trust and obedience I am a powerful witness to the passing away of this world. What power in obeying God and not man, of setting my heart on the eternal rather than just the temporal. God's patience meant that Abraham's descendants did indeed, across generations, become as numerous as the stars. This abundant, faithful God is the God I serve as well. And he tells me “do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded (Hebrews 10:35).” 

Now is the time to respond
Indeed, God calls me to trust him and embrace his will for my life. If I cannot live well here, during this time, in the place God wills me to be (my logic being, I am single, therefore God’s will for me today is to be single), then there is nowhere, at anytime, for me to live. “This is the day the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24).” “Now” is the only time I have to respond to the Lord. God calls me to respond fully to him, with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength, in this moment, at this stage in life. Today is not the end of my yearning for something more. Being made for heaven means I will always long for something more, for the rest of my time on earth. God asks that I love his will for my life: he calls me to seek him today, to dwell with him today, and to be more like him today. 

God is asking something life-giving of me, and his grace is available. Most importantly, the response he is asking of me is not limited to my circumstances or state of life; it is the same response God asks of every person – to pick up her cross and follow him. Man or woman; single, married, or widowed – our response should be the same. How God will use our obedience, confidence, and willingness to embrace his will for our lives today I do not know, but I trust it will be revolutionary and bear much fruit.
Janice Firn lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. She is a member of Word of Life
Community and serves on Kairos in North America, the international youth 
program of the Sword of the Spirit. She graduated from the University of Michigan
in 2004 with a Master's of Social Work and currently works in hospital providing 
counseling and support for cancer patients and their families. 

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