Tuesday, February 26, 2008

loving the fire

"The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts."

Proverbs 17:3

For many years my prayer has been, "Lord, I want to know You. Draw me close. Reveal Yourself to me." A good prayer--but like Lucy stepping into the wardrobe, we can hardly imagine how far such a prayer may take us.

Myths about God are as common in our society as they have ever been elsewhere. The white-bearded, half-blind God who sits in the clouds and shakes His head over our misbehaviour is as much as myth as Santa Claus. The true God has revealed Himself to be someone very powerful, very beautiful, and very holy. No one will ever enter a relationship with Him without being changed.

In Revelation 1:14-18 , the apostle John saw Jesus as He truly was:

"His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

"And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

"And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."

Gold and silver, two of earth's most precious metals, are both purified in the same way: by being melted and refined over intense heat. Proverbs 17:3 is an allegory. Our hearts are like silver and gold. The LORD Himself is the purifying fire.

We who walk with God will often find ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances. Our lives will know pressure and fire; darkness and doubt. We will know the deep passion of a heart in love with fire, and we will sometimes know the pain of a heart purified by it.

The author of Hebrews wrote, "Our God is a consuming fire." His character is so righteous, so holy, that to know Him is to come under His transforming influence. God doesn't leave us as He finds us. But this should encourage us, for no matter how lowly we are, God sees our hearts as gold and silver. We are worth a great deal to Him. Worth loving, saving, and transforming.

To God, we are worth it.

Is He worth it to us? We were created to know God. In His presence is joy and glory we have hardly dreamed of. He is the awesome, beautiful, glorious God; and no pursuit in life can ever equal the pursuit of Him.

Sometimes, knowing Him burns. But it is more than worth it to love the fire.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

the king's countenance

"In the light of the king's countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain."

Proverbs 16:15

You know you're loved when someone looks at you and their eyes light up. In your presence, they quietly glow. Likewise, you know you love someone when they have that effect on you. It's this kind of light that Solomon speaks of: "in the light of the king's countenance"--in the light of his eyes, his face--"is life."

The second half of the verse is just as simple, just as relatable. Have you ever experienced drought? The long, dry parching near the end of summer when yellow dust climbs the air and coats everything, the grass turns brown, and the trees droop with exhaustion? Have you ever felt the oppression of unrelenting heat? And then, one day, a cool breeze begins to blow; and on it rides rain... gentle, cool, sweet rain that turns the earth green and brings life back. Such is the "latter rain" that comes like a mist; and such is the favour of the king.

To men and women living in Solomon's day, this had immediate and practical application. To be singled out for the king's favour was life indeed! It meant material blessings, safety, provision, honour.

Few people in our society today have the power of ancient kings to so lift us up. But we who live in a kingdom will find these words have just as much immediate application for us. Through Christ, the countenance of God looks on us with light. We are given His favour, freely, as a gift.

Jesus' words in John 14:23 drive this reality home:

"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have made their home with me. They dwell with me. Each day they look on me with favour and love. It is true for all who believe and love Jesus the Christ. May our eyes be open to the light that shines from His face--may our every sense be cooled by the touch of His latter rain.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

better is

"All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast."

"Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith."

"Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."

Proverbs 15:15-17

The Bible is a book of "better is." Our lives are all about choices, and Scripture is eager to point us in directions that will bless our lives and fill them with good things.

Most of the better things, according to God, have little do with material concerns. In fact, when we compare them, the treasures of the heart are seen to be far greater than those of the belly or the pocketbook. Solomon points to this truth in these, three of my favourite verses in Proverbs.

His first "better is" is a merry heart. This verse always reminds me of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Scrooge possesses an afflicted heart: he is miserly and miserable. His poor-as-a-churchmouse nephew Fred, on the other hand, lives a golden life because the merriment in his heart overflows and turns every smile and streetlamp into a feast. Life feeds him because he greets it with cheer.

Cheer is not something we talk much about these days, preferring to discuss deep, spiritual joy. But while transcendent joy is important, Solomon reminds us that cheerfulness has value, too.

The second "better is" is the fear of the Lord. I talked about such fear in my last post, where I said that we fear God because He is who He is--and He is good. The fear of God fills our lives with awe and wonder. It protects us from making decisions that would bring harm. Ultimately, it moves our lives away from unreality and makes us authentic.

The third "better is" of Proverbs 15 is love. Christians have known and celebrated this truth since Jesus first lived it for us so gloriously. Love, for God and each other, is the deepest need of our hearts and the greatest joy of our lives. I'm reminded of a line from Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye, speaking of his daughter and son-in-law, says, "They're so happy they don't know how miserable they are." They had nothing but love, and that was more than they could contain.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that if we have faith enough to move mountains, if our understanding is perfect and our tongues eloquent, we are nothing if we have not love. The beauty is that no Christian need be without it. Jesus Christ has given His life for us in the greatest act of love anyone could possibly imagine. Through His Spirit, that love is given to touch us, to indwell us, and to pour out to others.

Better is life with Christ, I say, than the treasures of heaven and earth without Him.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

strong confidence

"In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge."

Proverbs 14:26

Of all the verses in Proverbs, this is one I relate to very personally. People now remark on my confidence, but it wasn't always that way. A daydreamer, I was never much good at practical things--nor did I always quite live in the world others did. As a young teenager, I had the usual struggles with inadequacy.

I do remember what prompted the change. God brought new circumstances and people into my life that stretched me. They forced me to take all the training my parents had given me and really apply it. I was in love with the Lord and wanted to serve Him, and I saw how my old worries and fears would hamper that. But they didn't just go away.

Into that came Proverbs 14:26. In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence. His children have refuge in Him. He was offering me confidence. When I did fall, He offered me refuge. So there was no cause--no cause at all--to be insecure.

Fear of God does not mean cringing terror. We insult God by "fearing" Him the way we would fear a cruel tyrant. We know, from His Word and His acts in our world, that He loves us. To fear God is to recognize who He is, to acknowledge His Lordship, to act accordingly. We fear Him because He is who He is--because He is good.

When the fear of God is the central focus of our hearts, circumstances and worrisome things can fade into relative unimportance. We can be confident, not in who we are, but in who He is.