The Purpose of Trials
One of my favorite memories as a child is roasting marshmallows over a campfire in my Uncle Jimmy’s backyard in Idabel, Oklahoma. How well I remember standing close to the glowing flames, impaling two white marshmallows on a straightened coat hanger and igniting them just long enough to char a thin black crust outside and melt the gooey inside. Years ago, fire represented wonderful times of fun, food, and fellowship!
Years later, I learned that fire has a biblical application – not as the fun-filled fires of my youth, but as something infinitely more important. In both the Old and New Testaments, we find numerous references to God refining His children through fiery trials in much the same way an earthly refiner uses fire to purify gold and silver. The Lord says,
“I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
God’s Promise in Our Trials
Some time ago, I found myself in God’s crucible, and I can tell you first-hand it hurt. This particularly painful trial dragged on for many months. In the process, my motives were maligned, my words twisted, and my character questioned. It wasn’t by those who didn’t know me but by those I thought know me best!
How vividly I remember the powerful emotions that churned inside me day and night. Yet there came a point when the Lord, my Refiner, gently reminded me that He stays with us throughout our most painful and unexpected trials. Even when the heat of pain intensifies, our Refiner will stay with us – never leaving us. The Bible says,
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver;
he will purify … and refine them like gold and silver.”
And that’s exactly what God intends when He allows trials to enter your life. If you’re willing to surrender your will to His will, God promises to produce through your trials something far more valuable than gold – Christlike character.
The Process of Refining
The Bible is filled with word pictures explaining how God operates as a heavenly Refiner in our lives, mirroring the process earthly refiners use to purify ore. This unforgettable imagery is meant to help us understand the purpose behind our pain – specifically, to conform us to the character of Christ.
We don’t develop Christlike character all at once. Character is forged over time, especially through fiery trials. We can gain much insight by understanding the refining process.
“For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver.”
Step 1: The Brokenness
The refiner in biblical times broke up the hardened ore so that possible precious metals of gold and silver could be exposed to heat. In truth, we are all rough rock in need of brokenness and God’s refining fire. The Lord says …
“Is not my word like fire …
and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
Step 2: The Crucible
The refiner puts the broken, crushed ore into a crucible – a fireproof melting pot able to withstand extreme heat. Then the crucible is placed into the furnace. Our Refiner puts us into a crucible and then into the heated furnace to purify our hearts. The Bible says,
“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
but the Lord tests the heart.”
Step 3: The Dross
The refiner watches as the ore melts in the crucible and sees a layer of impurities – called dross – form on the surface. Then he removes the dross. For us individually, “dross” represents anything that keeps us from being all that God wants us to be.
“Remove the dross from the silver,
and a silversmith can produce a vessel.”
Step 4: The Heat
The refiner raises the temperature to higher degrees. The heat extracts the dross – the impurities emitted during the refining process. After the refiner painstakingly skims off these impurities, he then increases the heat and places the crucible back into the blistering furnace.
Again and again impurities rise to the surface. Again and again, the crucible is returned to the furnace to extract the dross. Why the higher heat? Our Refiner knows the exact temperature needed to extract the dross, and He knows that only certain impurities are released at certain temperatures. The Bible says,
“And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.”
Step 5: The Purification
Each time, with utmost skill and patience, the refiner continues to remove layer after layer of dross – and the silver and gold become more pure and precious than before. The refiner continues this process until all the impurities are removed.
“I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.”
Step 6: The Reflection
To gauge his progress, the refiner looks for his own reflection on the surface of the melted silver or gold in the crucible. The more dross removed, the less distorted his image. Only when the refiner sees a clear reflection of himself in the crucible is the process complete.
The Bible tells us that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As we trust God to use our pain to purify our hearts, our character will come forth as gold.
“He knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
Enduring Your Trial with Hope
And that, my friend, describes our Refiner’s loving intentions for allowing us to be in the “furnace of affliction.” But how do you hang on to hope in the midst of your intense trials?
You persevere by pressing close to the heart of the One who allowed the trial. You trust in His perfect plan for your life. You humbly yield your will to His will. And when you do, you will experience the timeless truth of God’s Word,
“When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”
In my own life, the facts are clear: Time and again, God – through His matchless mercy and grace – has transformed my tests into a testimony. And, friend, if God can do that for me – He can do it for you!
Yours in the Lord’s hope,
Oiginally published on March 10, 2015
More Helpful Resources on Trials
This 55-minute video course provides biblical insights on the purpose of trials, how to prepare for them, and how to respond when they come into your life. Discover God’s promises in our pain and what it looks like to trust God in your suffering as well as how to help others in their trial.
God can use you to help others in their trials. This 10-session video course on biblical caregiving equips you to become a better people helper – to provide effective support to the hurting and broken. With a digital format, you can learn at your own pace how to care for others without becoming overwhelmed yourself.