And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
--Zechariah 13:9

Has something, anything so thoroughly captivated your mind, soul and emotions that it seasons every thought, every action, every word? Has an idea ever hounded you, nipping at your heels relentlessly no matter where you turn or what you are doing? When something gets a hold of me like that, it is usually because the Holy Spirit of God has something massive to teach me. Lately, no matter where I study in God’s word, He brings me back here in Zechariah, where I’ve been stuck since before Christmas. If I try to leave, my mentor calls me back. I read ahead, and my mother has discovered something special there. Sermons not even based in Zechariah call me back to it, conversations bring its words to mind. I’ve memorized some of its verses without realizing that I’ve done so until God calls it to mind while I pray . . . “Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain” . . . “Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts” . . . “Do not fear” . . . “And I will put this third into the fire” . . . I always find my way back to the verse about the fire.

It’s an uncomfortable verse, this one. It is preceded by the Lord saying that after He deals with all of the people in the land, only a third will survive. This elite third is then thrown into fire. This fire isn’t hellfire, that much is obvious. It’s a fire that serves a purpose. There is so much application to be had here. A hundred people could read this verse, and each one could take away something different. That is the magic of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God working together—it is alive and vibrant. It speaks in all languages to all levels of understanding. 

Because God kept leading me back here, I began to pray for understanding of this verse. I asked Him to show me what I must take away from it. He’s not done with me yet—this verse is still hounding me--but I wanted to share what He has shown me so far. It’s a lot and it doesn’t necessarily follow the logic I’m used to, so strap yourself in. 

After finishing Zechariah, I read Malachi because that’s just what you do when you’re so near the end of the Old Testament. It was alright. Then I went back to Zechariah, which was awesome again. Then, when I thought God was done with me, I decided to go back to Ezra, a contemporary of Zechariah. Ezra gave me some much needed background and a healthy dose of perspective. Chapter 1 begins by telling us that the people of Israel had been released by King Cyrus of Persia to go home to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. God had moved in the king’s heart, and God was sending the people home, releasing them from 70 years of captivity. So Ezra tells us about all the people who end up leaving, he talks about their AWESOME worship service on the way home, then he tells us about Israel’s pesky neighbors who can’t mind their own business. When the people get home and start rebuilding the temple, the surrounding cities decide they don’t like what they’re doing, so they threaten the people and convince a couple of kings to make them stop. So here’s the setup—the people are doing EXACTLY what God told them to do and were in the center of His will . . . and because of that their very lives are threatened. Out of fear, the people stopped rebuilding. Just because the neighbors opposed the rebuilding of the temple didn’t mean that God expected them to stop building, however. God began to speak to the people through Zechariah and Haggai, telling them, “Do not fear.” He urged them to rebuild and to expect His blessing. 

This small group of people, the one-third, was thrown into fire. And what had they done wrong (recently) to deserve it? Was it because they had sinned? Was it because they misunderstood the will of God? God answers the burning question that all of humanity has at one time spoken in the event of tragedy—“why?”—to refine them as silver is refined, to test them as gold is tested so that they would call upon God. And when they called out to Him, He answered them. The temple was eventually rebuilt. 

I recently listened to a sermon in which the pastor asked, “Who here believes that bad things can happen to you when you’re in the center of God’s will?” 

It’s true, you know. Bad things happen OFTEN when you’re in the center of God’s will. You can even DIE when you’re in the center of God’s will. Think John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Stephen, the millions of martyrs who died last century alone and . . . Jesus Christ, himself.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
--Isaiah 55:8

Do we have a right to shake our fist at a Holy, Perfect, Loving God when bad things happen, when bad things happen over and over and over again? When bad things happen to others, do we have the discernment to judge if those things happen because they sinned? Here’s a thought—bad things often happen to those God treasures and who He seeks to make more like His Son, Jesus Christ, and rarely to people the Bible describes as wicked. (Psalms and Proverbs both discuss the prosperity of the wicked and the hardships of the righteous.) Bad things don’t always happen to punish us, they often happen to perfect us! So maybe we shouldn’t be so resistant to pain. And we should be very, VERY slow to judge.

A Christian man recently blamed the events in Haiti on the poor people who live there. He believes that the earthquake is the result of the sin of people. Funny, I didn’t hear ANYONE say that when 9/11 happened. Can you IMAGINE someone saying we DESERVED 9/11? I don’t understand where we Americans ever got off thinking we were better than the rest of the world. We so wrongly feel that we are an entitled people!!! I have news for us all—we are the most sinful nation in the world, for we are the most prideful. And if I am not mistaken, there is a significant number of Christians in Haiti, serving the Lord, loving Jesus and praising His name in the midst of their pain. How quickly this Christian man forgot them.

Haiti has been thrown in the fire. They are being refined as silver is refined, and tested as gold is tested. I believe their pain is not due to their sin, but due to the love of our Heavenly Father. I believe He has a REDEMPTIVE purpose in mind. I believe that He will use this tragedy for good. And I believe they are favored and loved by a compassionate and just God who “will swallow up death forever. He will wipe away tears from ALL faces. The rebuke of His people (sin), He will take away from all the earth. For the Lord has spoken. And it shall be said in that day, ‘This is our God, we have waited for Him and He will save us. This is the Lord. We have waited for Him and will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” The Lord Jesus Christ will get around to judging the world, for He is just and He has promised us justice. But for today, He is out to seek and save the lost and turn the attention of the world upon Himself to receive the glory and honor He so rightly deserves.
My perspective about fire has been changed. I cannot yet say that I do not fear it, but I can say that I welcome the heat if it means knowing God better, loving Him more and looking more like Jesus Christ on the other side. If it means this, fire is good. 

And this change of heart makes me wonder what exactly God is up to.