Our family were in the Dandenong Ranges during the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria a few years back. We did not suffer loss, but we had friends who did. It killed many, changed many lives. Many who were not even affected by the fires made significant life changes as a result of them. They left the hills and went to live closer to the city where there is less bush to burn. The reason they went to the hills in the first place was to find a haven, a tree change in the midst of the rat race. What they discovered that living in the country has its own hazards and you can’t outrun the long arm of the Lord.
Suffering loss through a natural disaster covers the gamut of experiences. As I said, you can remain physically untouched by the fires but still decide, out of fear for the future, to move house, and that is a traumatic enough experience, especially if you have lived for many decades unmolested by misfortunate and at peace. Or you can lose everything. One family we know of built a home amidst the bushland and literally away from everybody with only a dirt track running up and down gullies to get to their home. When the fires struck they were in real danger. What they thought was a secure haven became their worst nightmare.
This was supposed to be a good news story. Just give me a paragraph or two.
One of the methods to fight large bush fires is to backburn. The rule is where the fire has already been, it cannot pass over again. So fire fighters remove the source of the fuel where they think the wind is going to send the fire. This usually happens in open country where the fire is getting out of control. Sometimes you get fire fighters in Australia doing what we call ‘burnoffs’ in the winter when the possibility of bush fires is a lot lower. They burn in the winter in order to reduce the severity of any possible fires in the summer when the conditions are a lot worse.
I find it really interesting from a spiritual point of view that when God talks about our works being tested by fire to see what will burn, God is pretty much doing the same thing.
But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 13 :10-15)
Once the fire has taken everything from you, there is nothing left to burn. You get to a place in your life where there is literally nothing left in you, no more idols, no more fleshly attitudes, no more obsessions or things you won’t let go of. There is just you and God and your faith in Him because He has tested you and tested you. I am here to tell you that the testing sometimes gets very very hot, to the point that you can’t think of one more thing that could possibly happen to you. Once you get to the place where you trust God in all things because all of the fight has been burned out of you, you are just about numb and can do one thing and one thing only and that is praise God, then you know you have come to a place where you are on holy ground. God does not try us to destroy us but to destroy our flesh. He takes us through every possible testing, if we are willing, and wants to know what we will do with it. Will we, like Job, choose unrighteousness over affliction?
Do not desire the night,
When people are cut off in their place.
21 Take heed, do not turn to iniquity,
For you have chosen this rather than affliction. (Job 36:20,21)
Or will we say to ourselves, like Job, God gives and God takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
There is another thing about back-burning and God’s ways. Sometimes He burns us before Satan gets a chance to. If He controls our lives by taking us through afflictions so that He can burn away the dross and get to the refined gold, then Satan will have less with which to whip us if he gets a chance to set a fire in our lives. Because both God and Satan can arrange a scorched earth session. If Satan gets to it you can be assured he will make it burn hotter for longer than God ever would. He seeks to destroy, God seeks only our good. This is why God looks for the response of faith in affliction. Remember:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous but God delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19)
To be able to worship the Lord in the midst of affliction is the change God seeks in us. But to get to this place, we can’t just wish it upon ourselves, God has to work the change. Sometimes you think things just can’t get much worse, and then they do. What I have discovered is that if you really look back at your life, you will see that you actually did survive, even if you feel like you have been run over with a truck. Not only did you survive but you survived to praise the Lord. And this my friends and family is the place of true joy and life. For God is eternal and unchanging, and whether we live in the best of times or the worst of times, He does not change. He is still holy, perfect, righteous, just and merciful and He goes with us through the battle, through the pain, through the devastation, through the outrage. And if we choose His ways, and to praise Him through it all instead of cursing God and turning away from Him, we will change. We will become the sons and daughters of God that He is looking for. People who do not look to their outward circumstances for evidence of God’s faithfulness, but recognise that His faithfulness is eternal and is therefore worth praising regardless of how we feel.
I used to hear sermons like this as a young Christian. I don’t hear them nowadays, they would be considered to be ‘offensive’ to many. Yes, because they are offensive to the flesh, they are offensive to the natural mind of man, not to the Spirit, and to the nature of Jesus Christ which He is working in us. And He is not looking for men to pay lip service to Him either. To find the genuine ability in a human being to praise God in the midst of difficulty is a rare thing, because narrow is the way and few are they that find it.
To be able to declare God’s goodness in the land of the living (as opposed to Hades) is a wondrous thing. How can any human being do such a miraculous thing unless God himself touches us. He scorches our land, takes the fire through, takes everything, burns it to see what it is made of. If it is flesh, it will burn, if it is Spirit, it won’t, because of course that which is of God is made of gold, silver and precious stones, as is the New Jerusalem. We must be made of things eternal, which moth and rust and thief can destroy (not to mention fire).
This is not a popular thing to say. Nobody wants to be told in the midst of difficulty that God is testing them. Paul tells us that nobody enjoys chastening but afterwards reaps the peaceable fruits of righteousness (Hebrews 12 7-11)
11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
But it is true nevertheless.
Being in the midst of a trial makes you blind. You can’t see the big picture, often you can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. You often can’t see God, can’t hear Him, don’t know if He is listening to your prayer. But keep going. In fact, let me just say this. You may have what psychologists term ‘suicidal ideation’. It’s just a fancy term meaning, even death looks good compared to this. They just don’t want to use the term. But I will. Because death to the flesh is actually what Christians are involved in every single day of their lives. But you have days when your life is turned upside down by difficulty and trauma, sometimes from all sides at once, and you think you can’t possibly cope with any more pain. Yet you do. Guess what? The earth has just been scorched. Once God has burned the ground, it doesn’t burn again. You are safe on the scorched earth. If you stand there, you are free. You have nothing left but God. Yes it seems like its the worst possible thing that could happen to you, but it isn’t. Allowing God to test you in the fire is going through death in order to find life. It’s no longer I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me.
Have I made it? Am I that person who can praise God in the midst of trauma? Let me just say that in all honesty I wish I was. But I am BETTER at it than I was ten years ago. I am not blowing my own trumpet here, I am just able to say that yes, the fire has scorched the earth and I am standing on ashes, but what burned was necessary to burn, and what has not burned is my spirit and my soul, and I can stand and praise God and focus on Him and know the truly peaceable fruit of righteousness. AMEN!