A favorite theme of Hollywood movies is revenge. Audiences love to see the bad guy get what he deserves in the end. Yet, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. He taught us to go the extra mile, even give up our cloak when our coat is lost in a legal dispute. When you feel like the worst has hit; when you've reached your limit and more; when you think it's time to beat the devil out of somebody, what do you do? How do you escape the burning, fiery furnace?
by Jerry Gentry
"And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace" (Dan. 3:23).
You have been done in. Royally done in. Your best friend just ran off with your wife of 17 years. Your mother said shame on you and your three teenage children all said it was your fault. Your minister finally told you your leadership had failed and that he'd seen disaster coming for a long time, but had held back for reasons unexplained. You just got a letter from the IRS telling you the taxes on your wife's former income she gave to her new boyfriend is your responsibility!
Your dog was run over by a car and your automobile transmission blew up yesterday on your way home from your doctor's appointment about stress. You checked the warranty and, yes, it expired just last month. As you choked through your prayers before bed that night, you found the words difficult. You remembered about loving your enemies and doing good to those who despitefully use you and rejoicing when you are reviled. But, you think, "Whoa! I feel more like hitting somebody over the head than loving anybody right now. I feel like hanging it up, throwing in the towel, getting even." If this is the life of a dedicated Christian, you think, then it may be time to check out the teachings of Rev. Moon or Madeleine O'Haire.
Well, brother, now's your big opportunity. Now you have a chance to join an elite club. You are travelling the road few men and women have trodden. You can choose to take matters into your own hands, buy a billy club or .45, do somebody some serious damage and feel like a Hollywood hero. Or you can get a grip and learn the lesson of spiritual maturity. Your faith is on trial. The furnace is now burning seven times hotter than you ever thought possible and you, brother, just got thrown into the flames. What do you do now?
You say, "Spiritual maturity? That's the least of my worries right now. I am thinking more about survival." You kneel by your bedside and grip your nauseous gut. You beg God for help. Buckets of tears have soaked your carpet now for nights on end. You try to calm your nerves. You try to get a grip. You recite a Psalm from memory, but your mind is elsewhere.
Thoughts of John Wayne's jug of whiskey and bullet for the other guy's chest and Clint Eastwood's magnum force are tempting. Even Sylvester Stalone's bloody sweep of automatic rifle fire power and Arnold Swartzenegger's blast from a shoulder rocket launcher to the whole situation becomes quite appealing now.
You are alone like you have never been alone before. Everyone has forsaken you and, Oh, how alone you feel! My God, where are you now, you sob! Why have you forsaken me? What have I done to bring on such destruction and intense, emotional pain? You foolishly pray for the peace of death, which eludes you.
You have read about the testing of Job, the story of Joseph and the burning fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. You have read about Elijah and Gideon and Barak and Samson and the Apostle Paul.
However, all these good Bible examples seem quite distant right now. Your pain is overwhelming. Your grief is excruciating. Your sorrow seems without limits. Where will you turn and what will you do now that you feel so much like just ending it all?
You crawl into the covers, soaking your pillow again with tears. You remember what the Psalmist recorded: "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears" (Ps. 6:6).
Your sobbing subsides and your thoughts turn to the Bible stories you remember. What must Joseph have felt as a teenage boy thrown by his older brothers into a dry pit to die, then later hoisted up and sold as a common slave to a group of travelling gypsies on their way to Egypt? How did he feel as he begged his older brothers; Please, no; Please, please, NO! NO! He witnessed the coldness in their eyes, the jealousy and hate of their countenances. No pleading could reach them. No begging could turn their merciless treachery around. No crying could touch their heartless souls.
You lean over and turn on the bedside lamp, then reach for your Bible. You turn to the story of Joseph and read the words of Joseph's father: ". . . For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him" (Gen 37:35). You now understand how Joseph and his father must have felt so long ago.
You turn a few pages and are reminded of Joseph's words to those same treacherous brothers many years later, when he could easily have evened the score: "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Gen. 50:20). Now you know that Joseph was a man of spiritual maturity.
You think of Job, all his loss and that final chapter, when he meets God face to face. You turn to Job 42 and read: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee" (Job 42:5).
You ponder the meaning of Job's words. You read that passage again. Could God be speaking to me now, you think? You too have heard of the great works of God with your ears. You remember the testimonies of people who found great provision from God in times of personal loss, great consolation from God in times of a loved one's death, the marvellous longsuffering of God in times of persecution and personal trauma.
You fluff your pillow, lean back and meditate. What good could possibly come of this, you ponder? You remember the law of sowing and reaping. You know that what goes around comes around; you have seen that before. But you are a little confused. You have done well and evil has come on you. Why? Your mental eyes begin to focus better on the awesome power of God. He took Joseph through the fire. He took Job through more destruction than you are now seeing. He turned both their circumstances around for good. He took Daniel through the lion's den and back to safety. He took Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego through the burning, firey furnace and back, unsinged. He took a Elijah through the slaughter of 450 prophets of Baal, then through a time of fleeing for his life and ultimately back to witness the dogs lick the blood of his dead arch enemy Jezebel. He took Paul through beatings and stoning and shipwreck and perils of land and sea, and hunger and fastings and cold and nakedness. He brought all these through the fiery trials to spiritual maturity. Can God also see me through this destruction and back to victory, you wonder?
You think about how Christianity was born of persecution and suffering and blood and death. You have read about the martyrs. You picture the Roman roads lined with crosses where Christians were hanged. You know of the tortures designed to bring Christians such pain they would deny their faith. You think of that great cloud of witnesses gone before.
Slowly, your thoughts focus, as you meditate night after sorrowful night. You keep on asking God to vindicate His word in your life You ask Him to show up miraculously for you personally. Days turn into weeks. You pray and wait on God's divine answer. Weeks turn into months. You pray and wait on God's clear answer. Months turn into years. Your former friends now turn their heads.
Then one day someone points to a verse in the Bible."Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea" (Isa. 24:15). You read the chapter, the context. It is a chapter about the great and terrible day of the Lord, the time of the wrath of God upon sinful Israel in the latter days. There, in the middle of this chapter, tucked away almost unnoticed, God gives the key to your survival. It is the key to every survival, even prosperity, the key to spiritual maturity, no matter the circumstances. It seems incongruous to your feelings.
Glorify the Lord? In the fires? What is this?
You do a little further Bible study on this new concept. You are reminded of a passage in Ephesians: "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20) "In the fires," you think.
"All things?" Do all things include these miserable circumstances, you wonder? You have to admit, yes, it is what the Bible says. Very tentatively you say, Thank you God for all these circumstances. You are broken, teachable.
Now the picture is starting to come into better focus, as your fingers flip through the Bible, looking for other verses: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25).
You confirm that the life you had known before is lost forever. Your whole vision of life has been shattered. You could not unscramble those eggs if you tried. Humpty-dumpty will not be put back together. You have entered something devastatingly new and broken. You know your life is in God's hands. You are no longer in control.
Praise God, you mumble, not believing you are saying it. Praise God. . . in the fires! Praise God. Thank you, Lord. Though all else has failed, you have not failed me. You are there. I have found you. I see you now. You remember Christ's comforting words; "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebr. 13:5).
You begin to understand that you have started down the road to spiritual maturity. You know you can never take a detour. You have quieted yourself. Now you can go the extra mile, turn the other cheek. Now you can give your cloak when you lose your coat in a lawsuit. Brother what a blessing! You have heard of God before, but now your eyes see him.
God, you are great! God, you are awesome! God, you are mighty! Thank you God for being there for me now. I had heard of you before. But now I see you. Thank you! Thank you!
You put a grin on your face, hand over your cloak, turn the other cheek, walk that second mile and say: "Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires." Now you know you have come all the way through the burning, fiery furnace to a new beginning called spiritual maturity. Praise God!