I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)
My friend Jenny likes to watch the television show How Things Are Made, and she told a group of us about the making of steel: It takes two passes through the fire to turn iron ore into steel. The first time through releases impurities, but the trip through the hot furnace turns it into pig iron which is brittle, hard, and easily breakable. During a second pass through the fire, high-purity oxygen is blown into the molten iron, cleansing agents reduce sulfur and phosphorous levels, and a variety of metals are added. The resulting steel can withstand all kinds of conditions, weather, and calamities.
Jenny gave us this challenge: “I know there is a life lesson in there somewhere. Figure it out and get back to me.”
Always one who likes a challenge, I watched the show myself and researched the making of steel. I was excited to devise an allegory that even scientists, engineers, and steel-workers would appreciate. Months later, this idea still sits half-formed in my blogs-to-write file, but it hasn’t been out of my head. In that time I’ve experienced a shift in familial relationships, a change in finances, no replies to my submissions of a manuscript (which I have worked on for years), and a move into the winter season of less sunshine. In all of that I have had to release impurities by naming and asking forgiveness for my words, ask God about where I go from here, and find alternate sources of light. And God has been slowly filling—and refilling when I leak—the gaps with his Spirit breath and strength. With each pass through the fire, I am changed and matured, welcoming more of Him and less of me, and in doing that I become more like the me I was designed to be.
We all pass through fire storms, traumas, and life interruptions we can’t control or avoid—and we are not the same when we come out of the hot furnace. If in the heat—in our lives, souls, hearts, and minds—things are only taken away, driven out, we are left empty, hard, and brittle. However, if we allow the high-purity breath of the Holy Spirit to blow through us, we begin to change in a different way. If we accept cleansing of our wounds and forgiveness of our sins, then the Holy Spirit’s continuing presence in us can replace our weakness with hope, strength, comfort, and peace.
Without God, humans can only move from iron ore to pig iron. It is God’s presence, salvation, and adoption that allows us to mature, gives us strength, and brings us hope. And the maturation process is unique to each of us because none are the same; we all have our own levels of wounding and sin, psychological and emotional maturity, self-awareness and healing.
If we could choose, we would remove the things that cause pain, wave our wands and take out all the obstacles and replace them with success, beauty, abilities galore, and adequate finances. But where does growth happen? It’s in the hot furnace or the gray gloom that we reach out to God. And it is in finding Him that we can face the conditions, weather, and calamities that are a part of our lives.
Jenny, thanks for your challenge.