I don’t think I fully understood God’s love for his children until I became a parent. I always knew that God loved me in a nurturing, protecting, fatherly way. He provides for me. He blesses me. He is filled with joy when my delight is truly in him. He teaches me and guides me just as a good father should do. He was and is the perfect parent.
But there is another aspect of his love that had not yet been revealed to me in my earlier years, at least not in a way I could understand. It’s the love that doesn’t really look like love at first glance. The tough love. The kind that usually comes with heartache. In the message I heard today*, we focused on Malachi 2. Pastor Dan was describing the heart-breaking love that God was displaying for the Israelites. Again and again they had chosen to stray from the Lord. God had given them warning after warning, but still they did not love him with their whole hearts. Their practices were only surface deep. They were talking the talk without walking the walk. Therefore, God was going to allow them to endure life without his blessings in order to refine them. As Pastor Dan put it, “He’s willing to run us through the furnace again in order to avoid his ultimate judgment.”
Our God is so very patient with us. He is a God of second chances. (He’s also a God of third, fourth, fifth chances…) But when we refuse to change, in his love, he allows us to be burned in the refiner’s fire so that what is impure in our lives is removed, and what is pure, that is, the righteousness of Christ, remains. Without the removal of the impure, the pure never has the potential to shine through. That is tough love. I do not think that God takes joy in refining his children. He takes joy in the refined child, certainly. But when he sees us learning lessons the hard way, he is saddened. If only we were children who would say “Yes, Dad!” and listen to him when he corrects us the first time! What heartache could be avoided! But because he loves his children so much, he is willing to allow us to be burned in order to finally bring about the change that he desires in our hearts.
Personally, this message couldn’t have been more timely. I have a five year-old and a two year-old. They are such precious gifts to their father and I. They are beautiful and healthy and full of life. But they are also little sinners. They are not the gentle, mild, compliant type. No, instead, God in his infinite wisdom has blessed us with strong-willed, energetic bundles of love. They have tested us in ways we could not have imagined. We are learning and growing with them every day. But some days are a challenge. When one of them disobeys repeatedly, we have to bring out the tough love. Sometimes, the battles we fight as parents are fierce. Yet I know, that even when we have to administer a punishment that brings sadness, we are DOING THE RIGHT THING. Why? Because that’s true love. It’s easy to love when things are fine and dandy. But when things get rocky, we are called to make a choice. Do we soften and give in to make quick peace? Or do we stand our ground and demand obedience for the greater good? Don’t get me wrong. In our house, we give second chances…and third, fourth, and fifth chances, just like our Father God gives us. But if there is no change of heart, then we have to change our tactics. It is this process of allowing heartache that is sometimes necessary to reach a child on the inside. And that’s the only place where real change occurs. Not to mention, when we parent with this kind of love, our children get a glimpse of their heavenly father’s love – a love that never gives up on them.
As I listened to the message today, it struck me. This is what my Father does for me. This tough season of parenting that I am in is exactly what God does with his children. He gives unconditional love, as all good parents do. But when the dirtiness of impurity covers up the goodness God has placed in me, he lovingly allows me to be burned in the fire so that my heart is filled with the pureness of Christ again. He clears away the sin and the fruit of His Spirit shines forth in my life. Praise be to God that he does not leave me in my disobedience! He shows me mercy and grace time and again. And when I need to go through the fire to turn back to him, he lovingly allows it.
I don’t know what ways you have been burned. Maybe for you, this doesn’t relate to the realm of parenting at all. Perhaps is resonates in another area of life. Maybe you have a broken relationship. Maybe you lost a friend. Maybe you lost a job, a spouse, a child. Undoubtedly, each one of us has been dealt tough blows. Have you ever looked at your circumstances and wondered, “What do I do with this?” Let me encourage you to look at the circumstances through God’s eyes. Instead of asking, “What do I do?” ask “What will God do?” How is he using what has happened to refine you, to draw you closer and trust him more? Every situation can be for your good and his glory. Every. Single. One.
Will you allow the refining fire of your loving Father to burn so that the purity of Christ will shine through in your life? Will you recognize your hard circumstances as an all-consuming love instead of rejection? For that is truly what they are. God never gives up on us. You see, if God would choose not to send us through the refiner’s fire and instead, let us run farther and farther from him, we’d end up without him for eternity. But in his unstoppable love, he draws us back, holds us close, and purifies our hearts.
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” ~Hebrews 12:10-11
In joyful surrender,
*Note: Interested in listening to the sermon I refer to? Click HERE to be taken to our church’s website where you can listen to Pastor Dan’s sermon “Exhausting the Inexhaustible” from June 22, 2014.