by Mike Ratliff
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)
Steel is made through the smelting of iron ore. Iron becomes steel as carbon is added while the iron is very hot. What makes steel much harder than iron was not really understood by the ancients who created it. All they knew was that at a certain point in the shaping of a sword they would lay the red hot blade into the coals for a few minutes then resume the process of hammering, cooling in water, re-heating, hammering, cooling in water, et cetera. The finished product was a sword that would not bend in battle and could be sharpened over and over. The blade was actually made up of many pieces of iron rods that were heated, flattened, and folded upon itself over and over. It was hard work, but that was what it took to create a fine, usable steel sword.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
When we are born of the Spirit at regeneration we are new creations. However, that does not mean that we become instantly sinless. Nor does it mean that we are instantly mature and able to know the will of God in walking before Him for His glory alone. No, these attributes come over time and after much “smelting, hammering, cooling, re-heating of us in the fires of sanctification. When I was a young Christian I remember many times being on the verge of walking away from my faith. Why? It seemed that I was “in the fire” all the time. I am very glad that God preserved me, but I want to share with all of you reading this that God has not stopped this process in me. I have been a believer since 1986, but I am no where near complete and this is obvious as God has not relented in showing me how much I must suffer for the name of Christ.
Early in my walk I heard a sermon which was titled, “Are you picking fruit or pulling roots?” The fruit the preacher was talking about were things like anger, bitterness, cynicism, and many other negative things that our hearts produce. I sat in that pew struggling big time as it seemed he was talking about me. Before God saved me I was a cynical, bitter person much of the time. After I was saved I found that I was better, but there were times when that negativity seemed to rise up in me when my circumstances took a turn I did not want. The sermon I was listening to described the process of not reacting to the fruit, but going after the roots. What he didn’t tell me is that over 20 years later I would still be doing this. What are the roots of bitterness and cynicism?
Bitterness and cynicism are born of broken gods; bitterness is an indication that somewhere in my life I have belittled the true God and made a god of human perfection. – Oswald Chambers from Not Knowing Whither, 913 L.
When we find ourselves reacting to our circumstances with bitterness and becoming more and more cynical we will also discover that we have moved our focus away from God and onto ourselves. Instead of walking through our day with our eyes on Christ we get our focus on ourselves which is idolatry. We have made of god of having our own way. It is as if there is a part of us that tries to make us believe that if God really loved and cared for us and we really belonged to Him then things would always go our way. That is a lie folks and it is born from a flesh focused heart.
Over the last several months I have become increasingly aware of this lie trying to take root in my heart. I keep pulling it up, but it seems that I am only picking fruit because the root remains. However, I have become convinced that God is working within me to educate and change me through this struggle to recognize this happening much earlier in the process than I have in the past. He has also been showing me that the circumstances in my life that seem to be provoking this to happen are being allowed by Him to exacerbate the problem. He is deliberately putting me in the fire, hammering me, cooling me, re-heating me, et cetera in order to shape me even further.
The difference now as opposed to my early days as a Christian is that bitterness does not lead to cynicism like it used to. I deal with it way before it comes to that. However, I do catch my heart at times dwelling on deliciously bitter thoughts. Yes, you see our flesh loves to try to justify itself this way, “Poor, pitiful me!,” or even entertaining thoughts of revenge. I have a very strong sense of justice so I am constantly being provoked in areas where hot buttons reside. However, God is working in me to put this all to death and I am very grateful.
I have found over the last several weeks that the hotter the flames, the more patient and gentle I have been with people I work with, live with, and deal with online. It is as if God has taken me to a place of maturity where he is producing this in me despite me wanting to flee from the fire. I confess that I never thought it would be like this. I always imagined that the more I matured that the easier things would become. However, it seems that the opposite is true, at least for me. I know that God works through me for the benefit of those who read these posts. It isn’t me doing that. It is Him. It is as if He has given me a gift that must be shared with those who will hear. That brings a great deal of responsibility which I am not so sure I am responsible enough to bear.
If you have got bitter and sour, you will probably find it is because God brought you a blessing and you clutched it for yourself; whereas if you had poured it out unto the Lord, you would have been the sweetest person out of heaven. If you are craving spiritual sponges, always taking these things to ourselves, we shall become a plague; other people will not get their horizon enlarged through us because we have never learned to pour out anything unto the Lord. – Oswald Chambers from The Place of Help, 1024 R.
I have pondered shutting down Possessing the Treasure so I could spend more time in this pursuit. However, this ministry is a huge part of what God is doing in me. Therefore, I have dedicated myself to remaining in this battle as long as God allows it.
There is a pine tree whose cones cannot open to release the seeds inside unless it is heated by fire. Therefore, forest fires are required for the tree to reproduce. What we view as deadly and wasteful and damaging, is actually the way God designed for the forest to be replenished. My brethren, while none of us enjoy the fires of sanctification, we should prayerfully look long and hard at our circumstances and look for God’s hand in them. He is allowing these things in order to put pressure on us, to squeeze us. This is how you see what liquid is in a sponge isn’t it? You squeeze it and the liquid comes out. When God squeezes us, putting us under pressure, He is revealing what is really in us. He already knows what is there. He is showing us. Therefore, when we are squeezed and we respond in bitterness, anger, or even cynicism, then He will reveal that to us. Our conscience will bother us. We will become convicted of our fleshly response. This is where we should go for the roots instead of picking the fruit.
All this week I have been constantly pulled in every direction while at the same time I have some very serious work to finish that requires my full attention. It is so frustrating for me to have to stop working on what really needs to be done in order to appease the harpies who are surrounding me, demanding my attention. My patience is stretched. I want to scream, but then as the head harpy is standing in my cubicle wanting me to perform some task “right now” and I hear coming out of my now smiling mouth, “sure, I can take care of that,” I then find my heart bowed down to God in gratitude and awe for I know that I am not capable of that.
Some have suggested this week that I appear to be distracted. Well, now you know what is distracting me. God has my attention. He is showing me something huge and deep. I have found that all this week in midst of all of the frustration, that my heart has been full of joy and I have been worshipping my Lord with my attitude. What? How can we worship God with our attitude? Perhaps those are not the right words, but that is what it seems to me. It is a sacrifice of “my right” to have my way and if I don’t have my way then I will react negatively. I sacrifice that and respond gently with patience I didn’t know I had. My brethren, think with me here. What would Christians’ testimony in this world be like if this is how we were all the time?
I believe this is a huge deal my brethren. It is a huge deal because in it God is maturing us. It is also a huge deal because God is preparing us for what is coming. A large part of this is a sacrifice of my “rights” now knowing full well that in doing so that I build up my treasure in eternity. This is living here and now with our focus on the Eschaton. As this “concept” becomes a ruling part of how we interact with our circumstances and all those people God has put in our lives, it will become easier and easier to view the temporal as that which God is going to burn up. It is the eternal that is significant.
I pray that all this made sense. I pray that God will open the hearts of all reading this to draw them to live this life in total surrender to Him. This is how we take up our crosses daily and follow Christ my brethren.
Soli Deo Gloria!