I am not holy. I am not perfect. I am not great. I am not even good.
I was born with a sinful nature and continue to choose sin each day. I have a body that falls apart, a mind that strays where it shouldn’t, and a heart that is selfish in motive. I feel how small I am in the expanse of the universe and how worthless compared to my Creator. I see His perfection and then look at my puny self and begin to understand His sovereignty. I fully accept that my un-godliness has no place in the presence of His godliness and that, even covered by Jesus’ blood, I am not “done.” As if looking through rose-colored glasses, God sees me through the righteousness of His Son in whom I believe, but that doesn’t mean I’m truly pure. I’m washed white because of the cross, but there are always some remaining specks left over—you know, the burrs and crumbs and creases that still cling to your clothes even when they’ve been through the machine. Though my future is sealed in heaven, I’m still a faulty person. And God isn’t satisfied to leave me that way.
C.S. Lewis says,
The Church is the Lord’s bride whom He so loves that in her no spot or wrinkle is endurable. For the truth which this analogy serves to emphasize is that Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere “kindness” which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.
If God left me alone as I am, He would not love me. Just as a parent who loves a child doesn’t let him walk around with dirt smeared on his face, even if that’s what makes him most “happy.” God is more concerned with us becoming more holy—more like Him—than He is with our happiness. And I’m grateful for that. Because to me, “happiness” is walking around with dirt on my cheeks and nose, but that’s only because I don’t know the freedom and true happiness that comes from Him taking a wet wipe to my face.
Lewis goes on to say,
What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.
We will only be happy when we are able to more fully enter God’s presence. We can only enter into His presence when we are made pure. We are made pure through claiming friendship with the heart of Jesus, but God still wants to work in our own hearts too, to make us even more lovable. So He allows us to go through trials—the “refining fires” of life that pull out our impurities just as gold and silver are made stunning through the furnace.
He promises to deliver us through the flame but doesn’t say where it will take us. We may enter the fire on Earth and emerge righteous in heaven. Or we may enter on Earth and emerge more holy on Earth. Either way, we respond as the three men did in Babylon, saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us… But even if he does not, we will still worship Him only.”
1. He can deliver.
2. He will deliver.
3. But even if He chooses not to…
He is worthy of praise.
As Christians, this is how we are to respond to everything. But it’s much easier said than done. We are bound by earthly time and see the here and now as vital and significant. It’s why we hold our “dreams” and “goals” in such high esteem. It’s why we choose jobs based on “what makes us happy.” And marriages with someone “who makes us happy.” And lifestyles that “make us feel good.” It’s why we think goodness equals comfort and why problems seem like such a problem. It’s what propels Joel Osteen’s church (and many others) and what drove his wife to stand by her statement that “God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s what gives Him the greatest joy.”
That sounds nice, but it is not true. And it has not been my experience. God is not allowing me to walk through cancer to strip me of my happiness because He is cruel or because I failed Him in some way. He’s letting me walk through cancer because He knows it will make me more holy. Yes, He wants to see me happy, but He’d much rather see me holy. He wants to see all of us holy. At the end of the day, that is what gives Him the greatest joy. And besides, true happiness is impossible apart from intimacy with Christ. And greater intimacy with Him is developed right in the middle of that furnace.
You will go through it too. As believers, we are promised hardships of all shapes and sizes and lengths. In those moments, we will be far from happiness but so near to joy. Utter joy. Because we are experiencing a God who desires our holiness far more than our comfort. He gives us unworthy creatures the greatest honor by making us more like His glorious self—why would we ever reject it?