The president of the college I attended once told a group of us bright-eyed, idealistic students that in his time of testing, he threw out almost everything he ever believed. As he came out of the fire, he looked back. Some things he had retained, but others he threw away some – They were fluff.
When I heard this, it blew my mind and comforted me at the same time. What blew my mind was that seasoned adults go through the tough questions also. It comforted me with the reality that it wasn’t a sin to struggle with, and even throw out, certain beliefs you have held, as long as you pick up the right ones on the way out of the furnace.
This is why it’s not what goes into your fire that matters, but what comes out. What comes out is what is real and worth holding on to. What goes in is still in question, until it is touched by the flames.
What kind of things pass through the fire? The things you hold dearly, the beliefs that never go on sale, your tenets of faith, the convictions you would die for, the doctrinal systems you have built your life around. Then comes the indifferent purging fire that does not argue with our theological systems, but mercilessly seeks to burn away all that we have become. Thus we have this harsh reality in the book of Numbers.
“Everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean.”
Numbers 31:23 (ESV)
I often encourage parents not to fear when their children throw out values you have taught them. I am convinced that with continual prayer, they are right on track to finding God for themselves no matter how long it takes.
A question you must ask yourself is: Would you rather have someone believe a thing that you tried in the fire, or have them believe a thing that they themselves have tried in the fire? I think the answer is obvious. Whatever I own in the fire becomes mine forever. Whatever someone tells me can be easily lost.
The classroom can inform me of what I should believe, but it is in the fire where I purchase that reality forever.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich,
Revelation 3:18 (ESV)
The Psalmist purchased gold in God’s fire when he stated, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71 (ESV). The Psalmist would not have learned God’s statutes (decrees, laws, requirements) had it not been for the fires of affliction.
Isaiah gave a promise to Israel that can also be for all God’s people who go into the fire
When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:23 (RSV)