it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the
coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its
You are My servant . . . In whom I will display My
(Isaiah 54:16; 49:3)
SOME YEARS AGO,
Rosalind and I watched a blacksmith place a length of metal
into a fire until it was glowing red-hot. Then he hit it
hard and plunged the metal into a bucket of cold water
before putting it back in the fire again. A short stubby
point soon emerged, which became more pronounced with each
successive stage of the hammering process.
When the blacksmith judged the point to be long enough, he
bent it in two over the edge of his anvil and clamped it in
a vice. Taking a pair of pliers, he shaped it with a few
deft twists, tapped it with a soft wooden hammer and, barely
twenty minutes later, had produced a beautiful latch for a
We found it intriguing to watch something so intricate being
fashioned out of a solid lump of metal. The blacksmith knew
exactly what he wanted to create, but success depended on
applying the right amount of heat and pressure. Too much and
the point would sheer off, too little and the metal would be
insufficiently malleable to work. Incidentally, the word
‘malleable’ comes from the Latin ‘to hammer’. It is not hard
to see the spiritual parallels.
John the Baptist prophesied that the Lord Jesus would
baptize not only with the Spirit but also with fire.1 The
fire of God burns up impurity, not in white-hot anger but in
white-hot love, separating the dross in our hearts from the
renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
Anything else that can withstand fire must be put
through the fire, and then it will be clean —
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the
eyes of Him to whom we must give account.2
During a time of
intense refining in my life, the Lord once spoke these words
to me: ‘Souls are tried in the crucible!’3
There come times in our lives when the Holy Spirit begins to
expose our heart’s true motivations. It is a most
uncomfortable experience. At an earlier stage of our
pilgrimage we may have been eager to reform and improve
others, but now we begin to see just how far we ourselves
are from living in the spirit of trust and repentance. Where
once we had thought we were strong, we realize now that we
were simply untested.
It is the Lord who initiates such soul-scouring but it is a
delicate and a dangerous time. The enemy tries to hijack the
process by making us mistake this work of refining for a
sense of being rejected by God. When friends let us down,
ministries fail to develop as we had expected, and
unforeseen setbacks happen to and around us, roots of
disillusionment can easily spread their bitter poison.4
a fine balance between healthy confession and
unhealthy introspection. If we focus too much on
minor faults we will merely end up feeling
permanently guilty. Since sin is all about getting
things out of proportion, even our confession can
become all-absorbingly self-centred. If we begin
with confession we may never progress beyond it.
need not only to confess our sins but to receive His
cleansing and forgiveness. For this reason we may find it
helpful to approach the Lord in a spirit of adoration. That
is why young Christians used to be taught the principles of
A.C.T.S: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and
How gracious the Lord is! Although He may occasionally have
to take drastic action, more often than not He waits for us
to become sufficiently disgusted with some habit or failing
before He intervenes to challenge and deliver us. The Ascent
of Toil develops our love for the Lord to the point where we
are willing to do anything rather than miss God’s best for
There is a vital principle to understand here. Neither
people nor situations can crush God’s purposes for our life
– but our wrong response can. There are many circumstances
that we cannot change, but we are still responsible for our
reaction to them. In other words, God is as interested in
our response as He is in our original dilemma. As Paul and
Gretel Haglin put it: ‘The Lord wants our hearts to become
stronger, not harder, through the things that happen to us.’
The Parable of the Forge is a poignant reminder that the
Lord is unflinchingly determined to fit us for effective
service, both now and for all eternity. If that means
challenging our complacency and weaning us from feelings of
superiority (or the love of ease) then the Lord will not
hesitate to do so. He is thinking of eternal fruit, and He
is quite prepared to prune us radically – even to the point
where He may remove the strongest and most dominant
‘branches’ of our life. Our Heavenly Father thinks less of
the pain such pruning causes in the short term than of the
healthy growth that will come in the future.
As we advance beyond this period of inner testing (and
always remember that these times are cyclical rather than
once-for-all) the Lord develops in us a more rounded faith.
He will not allow this process of refining to continue one
moment longer than is really necessary. Provided that we
respond to His challenges with faith and repentance we will
emerge from such times better equipped to abide in the fear
of the Lord.
The wilderness experiences we shall be examining in the
following chapters do make the Ascent of Toil feel at times
overwhelmingly steep, but the Lord provides respites on the
way. We must continue to climb in the shadow through the
ravines until we reach the sunlit Broad Open Spaces at the
top. What joy there is when a particular season of testing
is complete, and we begin to glimpse the treasures the Lord
has unearthed in and for us through the darkness!
In what ways have you seen the Parable of the Forge in
action in your own life? It would be a humbling but useful
idea to keep a record of the Lord’s chastisements as well as
of His more obvious blessings! Ponder the following ways by
which the Lord ‘forges’ our character:
nail on a board. Will it ever go through the wood on
its own, no matter how sharp it is? No, indeed. You
will only sink it into the board by hitting it with
a hammer. We are just the same; it is only by hammer
blows that God manages to humble us, no matter how
good our native disposition might be.
I pray God may
open your eyes and let you see what hidden treasures He
bestows on us in the trials from which the world thinks only
(John of Avila)
the life of man upon earth a trial?
Who would want troubles and difficulties?
You command us to endure them, not to love them.
No person loves what He endures, though he may love
the act of enduring.
Love makes it easy to carry out whatever is
difficult in His command.
Lord God, I cry to You,
forge within My heart all that is most pleasing to
You. Do whatever it takes to set me free from the
selfish passions and fixations that war against my
soul, so that my words and my attitudes may more
nearly reflect Your heart.
Help me to cope with the uncertainties of not
understanding what You are doing, and to welcome
Your hidden dealings with me. May my trust match my
calling, and Your power be granted for each task
that You call me to embrace. In Jesus’ name, Amen
1. Luke 3:16, cf Mark 9:49.
2. Numbers 31:23; Hebrews 4:13; ‘Laid bare’ (gumnos in the
Greek) literally means ‘naked.’
3. To develop this theme, study the word ‘try’ in a
4. Hebrews 12:15.
5. Quoted in The Wisdom of the Saints, Jill Haak Adels (O.U.P.).