By Shelly Prather
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21
When I was in youth group as a teenager, there was this song that we used to sing: Refiner’s Fire. If you aren’t familiar with this popular, mid-nineties, Christian classic, the chorus is as follows… 🙂
Refiners fire / my heart’s one desire / is to be holy / set apart for you Lord / I choose to be holy / set apart for you my master / ready to do your will, Lord / Ready to do your will.
I remember I would sing the words of this song with such intensity, such fervor, and with so much emotion. All I wanted to do was be refined. To walk through whatever “fire” God had for me. I wanted him to make me the best version of myself, and all I wanted was to do what he wanted me to do. These thoughts and emotions were usually filled with such good intent… until I would get to the point in which I had to walk through the fire.
A couple of days ago, I realized something about myself that I had never really paid attention to. Whenever I think of walking through the fire for God, it seems that I subconsciously want to walk through the refining fire of my choosing. I want for God to give me some awesome cosmic options, a variety of challenges (maybe we can call them “options of fire”) that I can and want to go through. I realized that I want to go through “refining fire” on my terms, in my timing, and really- I don’t want it to be too uncomfortable. There might be too much that is not in my control… which is really the heart of the matter. Me, wanting to be in control. Me, wanting my independence.
Recently I feel that God has graciously reminded me (again) that I am (of course) not in control of my life. Our family has had a lot going on in the past few months, with a lot of big changes. (Some examples: my husband is at a relatively new job, family has moved in with us, we bought a house, moved, my daughter is starting school, etc. etc.) In all of this, when I really think about it, I think I live in an intermittent illusion that I have some sort of control over life as a whole. And sure, to some degree, I have the ability to do this and that, and decide things from day to day. But ultimately I do not really have the kind of control that I wish I had.
Within all of these big changes, stressful situations, and desire for certain outcomes (*cough, or maybe CONTROL, *cough *cough) in my life, I have earnestly sought God in prayer on so many different things. All of these heartfelt cries to our Father have included words like, “Lord, I’d like for this to happen… and so if it’s in your will, then can ___ happen?” And he, in his sovereignty, answered so many of my prayers and gave me SO MUCH that I truly don’t deserve. But still, I was anxious. I was frustrated by a million little things. And it was in those moments that I asked God questions of WHY? Why were things not working out as planned, and why was I in a state of tremendous anxiety? In the depths of my heart, I was really asking God, “Why didn’t YOU give me the exact outcome that I had wanted, if you are answering my prayers?” And then it dawned on me.
The exact outcomes of what I wanted were NOT what I needed. What I wanted would probably have made me happy, maybe even ecstatic. What I wanted would have most likely given me happiness, material contentment, and probably more relational contentment with certain people. But, in hindsight I can see one very huge flaw…
It would have made me feel more independent.
Not independent in the positive, self-sufficient way that we mostly think about in things of this world. I would have been a little more independent- of him… thinking that my plan, my ideas, my hopes, dreams, and work that I put toward those things were my doing… and in my control, and not his abounding grace.
Because of his grace, I have come to see once again, how BIG he is, how he is sovereign over everything, and how much he loves me. He knew that if I had my prayers answered in exactly the way that I had hoped, it might change my mindset about him. Without even thinking about it, it might make me see him just as the one I go to for what I want… or it might make me think that I am smart enough to do life without going to him for everything. It might make me think that I can be more and more independent- of him. Relying on myself, and trusting that I know what is best for me is a recipe for utter disaster.
Knowing myself, the truth is, this would make my heart drift- just a little further from him. Maybe not much, but I do know that when things tend to be going my way, there are days when I think about him less. My heart slowly starts to wander from him, away from the truest and deepest love that I have ever known. And I do know his heart: that he wants me close, as close as possible, and more like his Son as possible. He, in his loving grace, will do whatever it takes to keep me in that place of closeness… of utter dependence.
I love coming back to this place, where I remember how much he loves me and how much he has lavished upon us. Even though I tend to hate going through the fire of life, I know that it brings me back to this place where I remember what is most important. And it’s him. It’s only him. He is the greatest good, the only thing worth living for.
“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”