When God prepares a person to serve him in a leadership or other significant ministry role, he often chooses to use crucibles. Crucibles are small pots used in chemistry labs in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature. In the middle ages, alchemists used crucibles in their various attempts to forge gold out of base metals and various strange ingredients. But Webster also defines a crucible as a difficult test or challenge or a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions.
The Scriptures speak of the crucible as an instrument for purifying silver, but always in the context of some type of testing for the purpose of refining.
In the preparation of his servants, God uses crucible experiences that test and purify us. This is no less true of missionaries than of any other servants of God. In a previous post in this blog, I looked at Scripture verses that speak of crucibles and noted some different types of crucible experiences. I emphasized that our response to these crucible experiences is critical. If they are to be transformative, we need to identify and extract from these difficult and often painful experiences that which God has intended that we learn from it.
How do we do that? How do we mine crucibles? I think we need to begin by learning from Jesus. He not only went through the crucible in order to purchase our redemption, but he shows us how to persevere and learn from these experiences.
In two previous blog posts, I have been talking about crucible experiences that God often uses to perfect us. But as I have noted, difficult life experiences in themselves do not refine us. Our response to the crucible experiences of life and ministry is what allows the crucible to become transformative.
Crucibles are used in refining gold out of crushed ore. In doing some study on the process, I have learned that borax is often used as a flux for smelting gold out of crushed ore. Borax reduces the melting point of gold, thus making it separate more easily and quickly from the other minerals in the ore. The question I have asked myself, “How can we add borax to our crucible experiences in life, so that we can extract the ‘gold’ more quickly and easily?”
In three previous blog posts, I have been talking about crucible experiences (trials, or in other words, painful and stressful life or work circumstances) and the role they have in transforming us. But as I have noted, difficult life experiences in themselves do not refine us. Our response to the crucible experiences of life and ministry is what allows the crucible to become transformative.
Crucible experiences are often endured alone, or at least without the company of other human beings who truly understand the pain and stress you are experiencing. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days alone with the wild animals. Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel to Mt. Horeb, leaving his only companion in Beersheba to travel 40 days into the wilderness alone. Abraham went to Mt. Moriah to offer up his only son as God had commanded, and although Isaac with him, Abraham bore his test in silence, without explaining all that was going on in his mind to his son.
But although the crucible may often be experienced alone, I believe that crucibles are best processed with the help of others. If crucibles are designed by God to transform us, and we are to fully mine the wealth of all that God wants us to learn from them, we need the Body of Christ to learn from them. God sent Ananias to Paul in Damascus to help him make sense of what had happened to him on the road when his whole world was turned upside down. Jesus debriefed Peter on a long walk along the beach up in Galilee after Peter denied him 3 times. Even Jesus was attended by angels after the devil had tested him in the wilderness (Matt 4:11).
These days, I am following a training plan to prepare for a half marathon that I would like to run in September. The training plan is progressive. You start with running 4.8 km, then after a few weeks, you move up to 6.4 km. When running 6.4 km is no longer a big challenge, then the training plan asks you to run 8 km. A few weeks later, when 8 km becomes relatively easy, then you are asked to run 10 km, and so on.
There are no shortcuts. This is a 20-week plan and slowly builds capacity up to 21.1 km as you faithfully follow the plan. Other training plans for half marathons may be shorter, but they all follow the same principle. You run longer and longer distances as your capacity increases over time.
I have also been reading the book of James these days and reflecting on the relationship between crucible experiences (trials) and our personal growth. James 1:3-4 reminds us that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James clearly says testing produces perseverance. But then just a few verses later, he seems to contradict himself by saying that perseverance is required to stand firm in a time of testing.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
So, which comes first – the perseverance or the trials? Do we need trials to develop perseverance or do we need perseverance to withstand trials?
In the past month, I have been meditating on the idea of awe and reverence. A spiritual audit I took in early November asked the question, “Have I maintained a genuine awe of God?” I realized that this was a weak area of mine, and I decided to take a month to reflect on different Bible verses that spoke about awe of God. One of my last meditations was on the passage from Hebrews 5:7-10 which speaks of Jesus’ reverence for his Heavenly Father. Yes, Jesus, though he was God Himself, had a deep reverence for his Father in heaven, a reverence that enabled him to be a great student.
Hebrews 5:7–10 (NIV)
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he sufferedand, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
In an earlier post on the value of crucible experiences, I noted how the suffering that Jesus endured, probably referring to his crucible experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, was used by God to perfect him (Heb 2:10). Although Jesus was not disobedient before his suffering, he learned about the cost of obedience from his suffering. In a later chapter, the writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about “the joy set before him” that motivated Jesus to persevere through his suffering (Heb 12:1-2). Jesus learned that submitting to the Father’s will and pleasing Him is worth it all, even to the point of suffering excruciating pain and rejection.
God can transform the most painful experiences of our childhood into preparation to bless others. Joseph told his brothers many years after they sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20).
I just finished listening to a similar story. In The Tank Man’s Son: A Memoir, Mark Bouman shares his gut-wrenching account of pain and misery, while growing up in rural Michigan. He was the son of an abusive man who owned a tank and ran a gun range near his home where military weapons of various kinds were regularly (and illegally) fired. His memories are terrifying – and at times comical – but always highly unusual.
As a young boy, he suffered shrapnel wounds while helping his dad with the shooting range. He found a huge tree root sticking through the roof of their home when their father used too much dynamite to blow up a stump. He watched his father and his friends play war games in his backyard at night. His parents’ home was unfinished, marked by holes in the floors and broken fixtures, and situated on 11 acres of garbage and various items crushed by the tank or left to rust. But above all else, Mark’s childhood was ruled by fear of his father’s totally unpredictable outbursts of anger and regular physical abuse.