In my reading this morning, I read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Allow me to summarize...
They refused to worship a King higher than God and were sentenced to death by fire. The king even made the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual.
Now, if I were one of these three men, I would be sweating pretty bad at this point, I imagine. Threat of death by being thrown into this furnace sounds like a pretty scary thing. And they have already admitted to the king that their God COULD save them, but IF NOT, he was still the one true God worthy of praise (Daniel 3:18).
So anyway, these three guys are facing this pretty scary trial. They are tied up and the king gets some really strong soldiers to throw them in this inferno. The soldiers who just get close to the furnace fall dead from the heat. Good ol' Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego go in, but as the king is watching, he sees four men, not three. The trio is called out of the furnace and everyone is amazed that the fire had not burned them or even singed their hair...there was not even a SMELL of smoke on them. I don't know if I could go into a road-side convenient store and not come out smelling like smoke.
So, God had, literally, walked them through this fire, they came out unharmed and the king ordered everyone to worship the one, true, God. And I know that even though they came out of that fire unharmed, I know in my heart they did not come out UNCHANGED.
I used to love this story as a kid. I have heard it a thousand times. But, today I heard it in a new way. We all face trials and fires of some kind. Some are hot. Some are hot times 7. I want to have this kind of example to my faith. One of my largest trials, for example, has been keeping my faith strong after the loss of my children. I know that a loss like that can shake a person to the core and rattle their faith. I don't want to be like the strong soldiers who fell flat to their deaths just by merely getting close to the flames. Although I know it can be easy to lose all faith when the threat of a trial looms. No, I want to be like the three faith-filled men who were prepared to honor God to their deaths, but instead got to see Him face-to-face in the thing that was supposed go kill them-kill their faith. I want to be like that. In my trials, in my hardest times, I want others to be able to look at me and not only see me, but see that God himself is standing right beside me in the middle of what could have been a death sentence for my faith.
And when I eventually am called out of the hottest part of the fire, I want my faith to come out without even the smell of smoke. But, I want to come out with...and I feel like it did...a major change and strength that can only come after you have walked through a fire eye-to-eye with the creator of the Universe. How can you not be changed?
So your furnace may not actually be a burning fire, but it's something. Mine were in a sterile OR as my baby girl was quietly born, in the L&D room down the hall 14 months later when my son was delivered too little and too soon, and in a gas station parking lot when I handed a sweet seven day old boy I had mothered since birth, back to the one who carried him to be her son.
It is my prayer that others that saw me in these fires, saw not only me, but God standing with me (and my family) and as we walked out of the hottest part of the fire (the immediate, intense grief) that others could see God had not only protected our faith, but instead, we came out CHANGED. We had a new perspective on fire and trials.
That is my prayer for my children as well. Of course, I would love to think they would never face hardships, but, that is unrealistic and we know that trials build up character. My prayer is whatever trial they face in life that they face it side-by-side with the one who made them and come out unsigned, but not unchanged.