We spend a lot of time as Christians talking about “going through.” We’re “going through” the valley. We’re “going through” to the other side. We’re “going through” trials and tribulations. We adopt catch phrases like, “If he brings you to it, he will bring you through it,” and “If you’re going through Hell, keep moving.” We talk about what happens once we have gone through. We talk about the mountain tops. We talk about restoration and getting double for our trouble. But we don’t don’t spend nearly as much time talking about what’s happening WHILE we are “going through.”
See, this is the messy part of following Christ. It doesn’t sound great on Instagram. It won’t play well on YouTube. It can’t be reduced it to a 140 character tweet. It’s messy and it’s complicated and we don’t like to talk about it because it means admitting to each other and to the world that, as a Christian, not only do you have to go through stuff, but sometimes you have to survive IN stuff. I don’t care how much we pray. I don’t care what fantastic worshipers we are. It doesn’t matter that we can quote scripture like Jesus and sing our way out of prison. We are going to find ourselves IN some…stuff. The good news is this: our pain has a purpose, and it may not be the purpose we think.
Remember those Old Testament guys? You know that one Bible story that, if you have walked BY a church, you know? Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah? Remember those guys? No? What about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Yeah. You know those guys. The enemy changed their name, but that’s a whole different story. I really want you to pay attention to the story you already know. Think back to VBS, the fiery furnace, and the fourth man. Now step back and look at the bigger picture. We’ve got a group of young men who refuse to bow to a false idol. They look the king square in his face and tell him, “Look, boss, it doesn’t matter what you do to us, we are NOT bowing before THAT.” In every way, these guys are doing EXACTLY what they are supposed to do, and they STILL get tossed in a furnace that is so hot that it kills the men that are pitching them in. (Ever found yourself in some…stuff… that’s not your fault when you thought you were doing everything right? Yeah, me too.)
Daniel tells us that Nebuchadnezzar “commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning, fiery, furnace.” These are the strongest men in the army. Why did they need to tie them up? Why not just push them in? Why is this detail hanging out like ripe fruit? Keep reading. The boys are tossed in, the men who do the tossing die, and after they pull the smoking bodies of the soldiers away, Nebuchadnezzar looks in and freaks out.
“Whoa. Wait a minute. Didn’t we throw three, BOUND men into the fire?”
“Then can you tell me why I see four men walking around UNBOUND like they are on vacation?”
I’ve read it for years and missed it. I wasn’t paying attention. I was so busy praying, working, wondering when God was going to get me OUT of the furnace that I missed what he was trying to do during those times that I was IN the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t see three bound men laying on the bottom of the furnace; he saw four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed. Here’s what I want us to see: first, the boys were faithful and still wound up bound and tossed into the fire. Our faith is not a shield from circumstance. In this world, we will have trouble. It’s a fact of life, but we need to stop for a minute and ask what God might be doing. Ok, so maybe we are in the fire, but not only is God shielding us from the heat, but that same heat is burning away our bindings. Not only are we coming out without a hair singed, but we are coming out FREE! We may have gone into this circumstance, this situation, this… stuff… bound. Bound by anger. Bound by fear. Bound by resentment. Bound by lust. Bound by alcoholism. Bound by…stuff. But this fire – this financial crisis, this broken relationship, this death, this persecution – is burning away those bindings, it’s melting those chains, it’s searing away those cords. It time to rub our wrists, to roll our shoulders, to stretch our legs. We are coming out, and we are coming out FREE!
Thanks for reading!