October 2011 - Vol. 53

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace
. Reflections on Suffering
By Lynne May

I have been reflecting lately on my experience of suffering hardships and trials and how God can use these to strengthen me in faith, hope, and love. Jesus stated that a grain of wheat must first die and be buried, covered completely, before it can bear fruit and become what it was made to be (John 12:26). I think that is an image of what God does in each of us as we die to ourselves, even in our times of suffering, and rise to new life in Christ. Jesus showed me that, because of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, suffering is now a gateway to hope. And hidden within the ground of suffering lies the treasure: the priceless gift of eternal life with God in heaven. 

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Book of Daniel, Chapter 3), who were thrown into the fiery furnace has been as inspiring example for me of how suffering can allow faith to grow and also be a witness to help nonbelievers find God. Three men, in a pagan land, are commanded to bow before a golden image, to commit idolatry. They say no, and are thus thrown into a fiery furnace – a furnace with real fire, a fire whose heat killed the men who threw the three in. The three who chose to be martyrs rather than idolaters, were engulfed in the flames and felt the heat, and yet they lived. They are thrown into the furnace bound, yet in the furnace – and not before – they are “unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt,” Scripture says. I think, if we pass this too quickly we may miss the reality that they felt the fire, that they were touched by it, in their bodies, but ultimately were not harmed. This preservation is the cause of Nebuchadnezzar’s change of heart: “I see [he physically saw] four men walking in the middle of the fire and they are not hurt.” 

Walking in the furnace of this world
The witness we can offer, perhaps the most provocative one, is that, if we find ourselves in the midst of trial, is to keep walking – keep walking in the furnace of this world and to live as “unbound” men and women. And we are called to live as “three,” as a community and not as individuals, confident that we do not walk in the furnace alone but with Jesus Christ, who is much more, “more” in every sense of the word, than the “angelic being” who was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 

During some recent trials of mine I have felt a little like I was being bound and tossed into a fiery furnace, but I now realize more clearly that Christ has set me free. I can choose to walk in faith – to get up and live my life each day with Christ beside me, even in the midst of the heat of temptation. This is one concrete way I can witness to others around me. Satan wants me to be bound in fear and discouragement, and one of the best ways I can thwart his strategy, is to continue to pray, serve, and share the gospel joyfully, even in the midst of sorrow, pain, and suffering.  

Because of what Jesus has accomplished through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, we are free to choose for eternal life with God. 

Your response to suffering
I think it’s helpful to ask ourselves, How do I respond to personal suffering? Do I pull away from the Lord and from others? Or do I embrace the Lord in my suffering and, as the psalmist says, “pour my heart out before him” and proclaim that the Lord is my refuge? (Psalm 62: 8). 

In our daily life, the Lord will at times give us a foretaste of the glory that awaits us. As Paul says, we are being transformed “into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For me the most powerful and richest taste of this heavenly reality has come in the midst of suffering because it reminds me that I am made for something more – for glory with God. 

As I experience God bringing me through trials, I experience, in minute ways, the redemption of my body, from which God’s own life of grace flows, just as the Psalmist promises will happen: “As they go through the Valley of Baca / they make it a place of springs” (Psalm 84:6). 
Lynne May is from Jackson, Michigan, USA. She is currently working on a Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan. She is a member of the Word of Life community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

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