This past Sunday, our senior pastor preached a sermon in church about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - three men in the Bible who had unbeatable faith.
It's a popular story among the Christian community. In fact, most Christians first heard the story about these men in Sunday school. We were told of how they were commanded to bow down to an idol made by King Nebuchadnezzar - the Babylonian king at that time - but refused to do so because in doing so they would be disobeying God; and how they were, in turn, thrown into a fiery furnace for their disobedience - but didn't burn! What's more, when the king looked into the furnace he saw four men in it - not three!
According to the passage in the Bible, the fourth man who was later seen in the furnace with them looked like a son of the gods. And it was on this part of the passage that our senior pastor based his sermon. He summarized it by saying that we'll sometimes have to walk through our own fire - metaphorically speaking, but we shouldn't worry because God will walk through it with us and make sure that we come out of it unharmed.
It was an encouraging word. And thanks to it, I left church feeling spiritually strengthened. In fact, I was still thinking about it hours later; and it's only then that I realized that the sermon had also answered a question that I've asked God many times before...
For months now, I've been asking God why we have to go through fires in the first place. Why can't we just learn whatever it is we're supposed to learn in another way? I've been through my fair share of fires; and when I'm going through them, they usually feel more like an inconvenience rather than an experience that could teach me anything.
Sometimes they even feel like some sort of punishment, like I'm getting reprimanded for something I've done wrong - or like karma had caught up with me and I was finally getting what I deserved for something bad I'd done in the past.
But I'm starting to realize the important role that these fires play in our lives.
Fire is used to purify metal in a process called refining. During refining, a metal is subjected to the heat of fire so that any impurities in the metal are removed from it and the final product is left pure.
This would've been hard for me to admit before, but having experienced it a couple of times now, I can honestly say that I now see the benefits of going through the fire. I now understand why we have to go through tough situations - and sometimes even stay in them for a bit longer than we would liked to. I can see why God would allow three men to be thrown into a furnace of fire that was so hot that it killed the men who threw them in; and I can see why God lets us go through different versions of fires today.
I believe that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were never the same after they walked out of that furnace. They required faith to have gone against the king's orders in the first place, but I'm pretty sure that their faith was strengthened even more by the time they were walking out of the fiery furnace without as much as burn marks on their arms or a whiff of smoke on their clothes.
Going through the fire will never be easy; it will be uncomfortable and might even drive you slightly crazy - depending on how long you stay in it. But if you're willing to wait it out, I'm confident that you'll come out of it a better version of yourself than you were before.
*N.B. The full story can be found in Daniel 3:1-29