“Why don’t you try again?” my teacher asked as my shoulders slumped in defeat. Augh! I scooped up the lump of clay for the third or fourth time in the last hour, having no idea what kept happening to create such an indiscernible blob. When I had taken basic pottery classes a few weeks earlier, I had found such enjoyment in learning the art and decided to pursue more advanced lessons. Now, doubts assailed, and I wondered if I would ever be able to produce the beautiful and unique vessels I longed to create.
We often slap a “failure” label on situations like this one; I saw it recently on a challenge expedition. The first night, we had taught the students how to start a fire and cook over it. The next morning, their shoulders slumped forward and their heads hung low in defeat after striking match after match without starting a fire. The resignation of defeat was palpable in the air as my co-instructor prompted them with questions to help them find a solution to their problem and to keep the small flame of hope alive in their spirits.
I often find myself assuming this same posture in several areas of life, but particularly in my relationship with God. I read verses like Matthew 5:48 that say things like, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect….” and my head hangs low in an attitude of defeat. It’s as though the call to become who God created me to be is the gavel of judgment pointing out the fact that I haven’t “arrived” yet at perfection. I see God’s methods of purification through the refining fire and assume it is to discipline or reject me. I get so hung up in what I’m not doing well or how I see no progress being made because I want to be fully transformed NOW!!
I’m beginning to notice, though, that perhaps I’ve been looking at these things through the wrong lens.
What if the purpose of God’s refining fire was really to draw to the surface the best and deepest parts of us—those parts of us that God created with love and intentionality that have been hidden over the years by wounds and walls? And what if that process takes time? I like to see immediate results, but it takes time for the fire to get hot enough to purify. You see, perfection isn’t a goal to be reached somewhere in the distant future, but is actually this process of our transformation on the journey now.
God’s refining and purification isn’t for the purpose of pointing out our impurities and failures. It serves to bring Him glory. And, what brings glory to God is the beauty of what He is producing in me while I am in process in the fire. When silver is finally removed from the fire, what draws your attention, the beauty of the silver or the impurities left behind in the fire? The silver, of course. Silver refined in the fire perfectly reflects the image of the refiner. Isaiah 48:10-11 says “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.” God is drawing out the truest parts of me in the process of the journey, enabling me to live from this place of truth. He knows that I’m not perfect…yet! And He loves me just as much in process as He will love me later in my life when these struggles have faded away and others have risen to the surface. God’s love is most evident in our journey of transformation. That journey, while painful at times, is a journey designed to draw out God’s overwhelming intentionality as the Creator, calling us to perfection and patiently staying with us on our journey to become more like Him. In fact, the journey is what He created us for; it is where we live out the Kingdom of God.
By the end of the eight-day trip, the same students who nearly gave in to the posture of defeat were able to start a fire with one or two matches for most meals. Not succeeding immediately made it clear that they would not be able to succeed in their own power. They were on a journey, and over the course of the week filled with struggle and experience, God used the refining necessary to bring about success that ultimately defined their journey.
I look forward to the day when I can take a lump of clay in my hands and shape it into a useful, beautiful vessel. Until then, as I awkwardly learn the skill of working the clay, I can find enjoyment in the stages of learning, patiently growing to develop a new skill. Likewise, I can trust that in process God is not disappointed, rather His love overflows.
“We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:12).
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.