READ : Proverbs 17:3
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tries hearts.
Proverbs 17:3, RSV
The Lord tries hearts. He does for them what the crucible does for silver, what the furnace does for gold. He searches them, weighs them, proves and refines them. Call God the Heart-Tester.
HOW HE TESTS US
Just what are we talking about here? How does the Lord test us? For one thing, He does so when He sends us His Word. Remember what the patriarch Joseph went through? God made it known to young Joseph that he had a high destiny. His brethren and even his parents were to bow down before him. He was born for greatness, but through a long period in his life circumstances seemed to defy his dreams. He was abused and sold into slavery by his own brothers. He was maligned because of his integrity, falsely accused and thrown into prison. The psalmist writes about Joseph like this: “Until what God had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him” (Ps. 105:19). The promise of God subjected the young prisoner to a stern test. Would he remain faithful when everything seemed to be going wrong? Would he believe God against all odds?
Think of old Abraham. He had known what it was to have a staggering promise of God fulfilled. He and Sarah had been given a miracle child in their old age: Isaac. This was the son through whom God’s covenant blessings would come to the whole world. But one day when the lad was just becoming a man, God spoke to the doting father:
Abraham, take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you (Gen. 22:2).
In the most agonizing way we can imagine, God’s word tested Abraham. Would he obey this hard command? Would he do this incredibly painful thing? Would he believe that God could be faithful to His promise, even when the child of promise was no more? Every time God makes a promise or gives us a command, the word of the Lord is testing us.
He tests our hearts also by affliction. Like Job we may be stripped of our possessions, bereaved of our loved ones, broken in our health. We may be drenched by shame or pelted with the hail of persecution. We may suffer in body or mind a pain that never seems to go away. Can God be testing us in that, trying our hearts?
The saints in all the ages have said yes. This is what we all think of most readily when we hear of the crucible or the furnace. That’s what we mean when we speak of the “trials” we go through. We affirm that in these hardships, these heart-breaking circumstances, we are in the hand of God. He is searching us, passing us through the refiners fire.
The biblical writers remind us that we shouldn’t be shocked when such things come upon us.
Listen to Peter,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Pet. 4:12).
James can even say that we should “count it all joy” when we meet various trials because of what God may bring about in us through them. The psalmist can testify, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). Almost a paraphrase of that is this word from a much tested saint: “Among my list of blessings infinite stands this the foremost, that my heart has bled.” Strangely, wonderfully, God tests His people in the furnace of affliction.
But that’s not the only way. I was struck recently by this word from the Proverbs: “The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives” (Prov. 17:3). Can blessings test us too? Apparently they can. We don’t often think of the praise we receive from others as a divine test, but from God’s point of view, it shows something about us. It brings to light something within us. It puts us to the proof and discloses what we are.
Congratulations may leave us prouder or humbler, more grateful or more grandiose. Praise is heady stuff. It’s difficult for anyone to handle. It lights up how we feel about ourselves, our abilities, our qualities of character, our triumphs. Are they all ours, fuel for bonfires in our honor? Or are they chiefly His, meant to be offered to Him in the incense of worship? Prosperity and praise may be more searching tests for us than trouble, because we are less likely to see them as divine refinings.
God sometimes tests us at a crossroads of decision. Here is Isaac in need of a wife, Moses facing a job too big for him, David about to meet a formidable foe. Or on the other side, how will Saul handle Samuel’s delay in coming to him? Where will an ailing king look for healing? To which prophet will King Ahab listen? Decision is a test because it exposes the true basis of our trusting. Will we consult the wizards that chirp and mutter or will we call upon the living God? Will we show that our confidence is in horses and chariots or rather that God is our refuge and strength? Think about decisions you may have made lately. What have they revealed about you and the place that God has in your heart and life? The Scriptures indicate also that we are tested by the needs of people around us. Jesus pictured in one of His matchless parables a man who fell among thieves and was left half-dead by the roadside. What a testing he proposed — just by lying there — for the priest, the Levite and the good Samaritan! How they reacted to his distress revealed what was deepest about them.
When Paul wrote to his fellow believers in the city of Corinth, he told them about the famine victims among their fellow Christians in Judea. He saw the response in the Corinthian church to these needs as a kind of test. He wanted them to pass it with flying colors. He wanted this call of human want and suffering to demonstrate the genuineness of their love.
And doesn’t Jesus’ parable about the king who divides between the sheep and the goats make the same point inescapably? Christ presents Himself to us in the hungry and the thirsty, the homeless and the imprisoned. Their suffering, their mute cries for help try our hearts. Are we the followers of the crucified? Does His love abide in us? “How can it?” says the apostle John, “if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him?” (1 Jn. 3:17). Though the rich man in Jesus’ parable never realized it during his lifetime, the presence of the poor beggar Lazarus outside his mansion may have been the most revealing test of a lifetime for who he was.
WHY DOES HE TEST US?
Why does God do all this? Why does He make Himself known as the heart-tester? Obviously not because He needs the information. The biblical writers celebrate God as the One who already knows the secrets of our hearts, knows what we think long before we think it:
Thou discernest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it all together (Ps. 139:2-4).
God doesn’t need to look carefully to understand all about us. He already knows us “right well.”
Nor does He ever test us maliciously. The evil one is the author of temptation. He, the enemy, is the one who solicits us toward evil, who plots our ruin, who delights in our fall. Not God. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. In all His testing, He seeks our good. God takes no delight in exposing our frailties and making us look bad. His work, remember, is like what the crucible does for silver and what the furnace does for gold.
The searching, friends, is for our good always. The psalmist understood that when he prayed to the all-knowing God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:23). The test is a great mercy when it reveals to us our true condition. The refining is a gift when it purges away impurity. It is blessed to be tried if we may come forth thereby as gold.
WHAT SHOULD BE OUR RESPONSE?
When it comes to the testing of the human heart, the image of the crucible and the furnace can take us just so far. Our hearts are never inert, merely passive. The verdict of God in His heart-searching is meant to lead us to agreement about it. He shows us what is precious and what is worthless that we may prize the one and reject the other. That’s why the classic prayer for God to search us ends like this: “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps. 139:24). In other words, If there’s any wicked way in me, You see it, O God, already. Help me to see it, too. And then let me forsake it and follow You in the way everlasting.
That launches us already on my last question: What should our response be to God the heart-tester? If He is this kind of God, working in these ways, with such goals in view, what is our fitting response? The first thought that comes to me is: watchfulness, thoughtful alertness. At the heart of what the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord” is a living, reverent awareness of God, a realization that in every part of life we have to do with Him. It means the consciousness that everything that befalls us is either sent by God or allowed by Him. All somehow passes through His hands and in all, He is at work for our good.
Daniel Webster once said that the most profound thought that had ever entered his mind was that of his personal accountability to God. The kindred awareness that all of life brings a revelation of what is in our hearts is similarly awesome. Nothing can take the place in religious life of reckoning with the heart-searching God. It takes regular exposure to the Scriptures to make that real to us, along with many a reminder. But how good it is to see God at work in all that befalls us, to see everything in the light of our relationship to Him!
Then, as the psalmist did, we need to pray for light about His searching, to invite it personally. “Show me, Lord, what You see. Don’t let the revelations of character which each day brings be lost on me. Teach me in Your light to examine my own heart. Help me to distinguish between the precious and the vile and to choose or change accordingly.”
Above everything else, the knowledge of God the heart-tester ought to lead us to cling to Him in faith. Faith is what He’s looking for in all the searchings of the heart. Listen to the apostle Peter:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6,7).
When you take God at His Word and obey His call, what is that but faith? When you respond to honors with gratitude and to afflictions with patience, those are the fruits of faith. When you prepare for decisions by prayer, when you respond to human need with compassion, this is because you have the vital knowledge of God which the Bible calls faith.
Faith begins when we get a glimpse of God’s marvelous love toward us in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, when we recognize that He loved us and gave Himself for us. When we cast ourselves upon God’s mercy in Him, we take our first steps in a life of trust. And all along the way, the Heart-tester is at work in us, to perfect that good work He has begun, so to purify and refine us that He may present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. All praise to God the heart-tester! He is the One who by His patient grace will yet bring us forth as gold.
PRAYER: Oh, God, let it be the prayer of each one who shares this broadcast, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.