The words furnace and fortitude have encircled my mind all week! I shared recently in “Disappointment and broken windscreens” of how difficult this season has been for me. It has been full of trials, disappointment, despair, worries, fears and total uncertainty at every turn in every direction. It’s no surprise then that my readings have been solely from Daniel chapter three and James chapter one. I want to delve into these scriptures with you and introduce you to three awesome men called: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Let’s set the scene… Bad things happen to good people
In order to fully understand where I am going with this, we need to back track a bit to Daniel 1. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has besieged Jerusalem and orders that they…
“Bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge”Daniel 1:4
Among those selected were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were not only removed from their homes, families, friends and all familiarities, but were stripped of their titles and even their names! They were then taken captive to the land of their enemies and forced to submit to the new governance, regulations and culture of the land of their confinement. Through Gods favour in the midst of their captivity, the Israelites where quickly promoted to rulers of the province of Babylon.
Do you get where I’m going here? These weren’t just any men, these were noble, wise, honourable men of great station and power. They were devout, pious and good hearted men who reverentially feared God. So what happens next beggars belief! The King made an image of gold (also known as an idol), then sent out an order that everyone in the province had to come and bow down and worship it or they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. It’s no surprise then, that these three God fearing men did not join in with the multitudes and worship this idol.
Obedience is costly
A group of malicious onlookers, who saw the opportunity in their obstinance, stepped in and accused them before the King. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego suddenly found themselves shrouded by the line of fire around them. What amazes me is the fortitude, composure and absolute assurance with which they responded to the King
“Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”Daniel 3:16-18 MSG
This infuriated the King who ordered the furnace to be heated to seven times the normal temperature! He then instructed the ‘mighty men of his army’ to bind them up in the very clothes that they wore and marched them up the burning fiery furnace.
What happens next in the story has gripped me for two weeks. On the way to the furnace, the mightiest men in the notorious Babylonian army, could not stand the heat! They dropped down dead and yet these three men kept walking!! Shoulder to shoulder, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego voluntarily opened the door and fell into the furnace. They didn’t need to be forced into the fire, there was no struggle, there was no fight, just reckless surrender and absolute abandonment… They were simply obedient regardless of the outcome, whether they lived or died. They embraced the furnace, they embraced the fire, they surrendered to the flames and let go knowing that either way, God was with them and there was a purpose in the furnace even if they couldn’t see it.
Meeting Jesus in your furnace – You are not alone
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste…
“But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”Daniel 3:24,25 ESV
The moment Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell into the furnace, Jesus fell in too. What initially bound them and caused them to walk into the fires became their redemption and release.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not stand idle inside that furnace, they were ‘walking in the midst of the fire.’What do you think they were doing face to face with Jesus in the furnace? I believe they were lost in abandoned worship, declaring who He was in the midst of the trial and tribulation. The heat had killed the strongest, mightiest men in the Babylonian army who hadn’t even reached the door of the furnace and yet here are the three Israelites standing in the middle of the flames and
‘The fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them’.Daniel 3:27 ESV
Fortitude in the furnace
How did they do it? How did they face certain death and remain so calm and composed? The definition of fortitude is ‘strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage over a long period of time.’ So how do we have fortitude in the furnace? As I have studied this story, I’ve looked deeper and tried to find the hidden treasures and glean any sort of wisdom from how these three men faced this situation. I’ve discovered that they faced their furnace because they knew two things:
- They knew who their God was
- They knew who they were in Him
If you are in a furnace today, know who goes before you!! Know who you are in Him!! The furnace is about the unyielding certainty that you are a child of God who is loved beyond measure, who is provided for, protected, highly favoured and honoured before God and man. Having fortitude in the furnace is about standing in and knowing your identity in Christ no matter what comes at you or what you have to face! The greatest treasure in this life, is intimacy and unity with the Father through His Son Jesus and living in continual fellowship with The Holy Spirit. Even in the middle of the trials and fiery furnace you are alive because He lives in you!
“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”Philippians 1:21 NLT
You won’t come out of the furnace the same way you went in
God is always wanting to do something new in our lives and sometimes that means burning up the old. In order to embrace the new things He has stored up for us in our future, we must be willing to let go of the things that are holding us back. Sometimes that means walking through a season of refinement. I am in that season. I can tell you now, I have learnt a lot about myself and a lot about how I see myself in Him by how I have reacted and responded to each test that has come my way. I know this season of refinement isn’t over, but I’ve stopped fighting it and have started embracing the fire. I have started declaring who He is over my life, my faith is rising and my trust in God is stronger than it ever has been. I’ve stopped trying to second guess God or how He’s going to fix it all, I have completely let go.
As suddenly as things turned around for destruction for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, when Jesus stepped in and turned it around, it led to an increase in favour, promotion and most of all changed the course of the entire nation!!
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.”James 1:2-4 MSG
I am not alone in this furnace, and neither are you.
Embrace the process! Embrace the furnace! Praise and be raised. He is with you!! Don’t worry about the people who couldn’t stand the heat near the furnace, Jesus is with you and He’s not letting you go! Be encouraged, He’s about to do something new, don’t give up now! Keep going!