The Furnace or the Garden

Garden

One of my favorite authors to read when it comes to trusting God and experiencing His grace, is Brennan Manning.  If you haven’t done so already, do yourself a favor and read two books from him:  The Ragamuffin Gospel and Ruthless Trust.  Brennan has a very unlikely history from someone you would read “Christian” literature from, which is one of the reasons that I love him so much.  He was an ex alcoholic, Franciscan Monk, divorced and had lived among the poor in Spain in order to help feed and clothe them.  He was a walking dichotomy at times as most of us are.

I am not advocating the sketchy parts of his life, obviously, but the thing that I love most about Brennan is that he was very up front about how flawed of a human being he was and I think we could learn a lot from him when it comes to the grace of God.

I wanted to share this quote from him with you because I simply could not do any better when it comes to describing what it means to trust God when you are completely broken.

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.” – Brennan Manning, “Ruthless Trust”

Wow!  Doesn’t that accurately describe where most of us are at when it comes to faith in God and trusting Him when all seems lost?  It seems like we are moving from the known into the unknown.  From walking out of what we have firmly nailed down about God, to situations that defy explanation.  Have you ever found yourself there?  I have good and bad news for you, this is where God works best.  It is where you see Christ shine the most, in the darkness of your present circumstances.  When you find yourself dwelling in the fog and setting up residence in a strange land, you will need Someone by your side that can be completely trusted and that will act as your guide.  That person for me is Jesus who has given us the Holy Spirit as our Guide.

I can think of two instances that stand out to me as shining examples of this moment.  It is in the furnace and in the garden.  This first act of legendary faith takes place in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar who is often characterized as ruthless and at times mentally unstable.  Three followers of God had been made captives under Babylonian rule and their names were Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  They were being asked to worship a false idol that was made in the image of the king and this would violate their belief in God.  They decided that they couldn’t do it, and the authorities had informed the king.  They were told unless they bowed their knee to this false idol, they would be burned to death in a furnace.  Not many of us could pass a test like this.   I’m sure they were pretty conflicted at first.

Now they were faced with the very real possibility of a painful and public execution.  What would they do?  I’m not sure how you even make a decision like this unless you have been prepping for it for a while.  Here’s what they say:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

These three make the decision to walk into the furnace rather than violating their relationship with God.  Their reasoning is inspiring.  They plainly tell the king that their God is able to save but they are not sure that He will.  Did you catch that?  They have full confidence in who God is and what He can do but they can’t guarantee that in this situation they will come out of it alive.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie “The Untouchables”.  I know, its an ancient movie but it is worth seeing.  There’s a little bit of language though, so don’t email me about it, you’ve been warned.  There is a scene in the movie where the retired veteran, Sean Connery, is coaching a very young FBI agent, Kevin Costner, about taking down Al Capone.  He warns him that if he makes the decision to move forward, he has to be prepared “to go all the way!”  Then he utters an extremely significant phrase that will be repeated throughout the movie and it is this “what are you prepared to do?”  His point is, if this is your goal, taking down Al Capone, what are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?

These three were willing to give their lives.  They did so by being tested by the furnace.  When they were in the furnace it says that there was a fourth person with them.  I believe that person to be Jesus.  Jesus was with the three in their fiery trial.

The second display of ruthless trust in God comes from the One you would expect to show the ultimate act of heroism:  Jesus.  He has finished the “Last Supper” with His disciples and is now facing His death on the cross.  They have arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was a place that Jesus often came to pray.  It was serene and quiet.  Quite a different setting from the furnace.  At first glance, you would want to be in a garden setting versus a furnace setting…at least one that you were about to be thrown into!

Jesus has led a few of His trusted disciples and friends to this spot to pray with Him.  They would fall asleep but Jesus would pray so intensely He would sweat blood.  Matthew writes this bit of information for us:

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39

Jesus is showing His full humanity in this story.  He knows His mission but is dreading the path to get there.  I’m sure we could debate over whether He was just talking about dying on a cross and the pain associated with it or taking on the sins of humanity and the shame and excruciating pain of becoming sin when you are sinless.  I’m not sure this is the point of the passage though.  Because He was human, as well as God, He felt pain and suffering.  This is a heartfelt plea of a Son to His Father.  The result of this trial is very different than the one in Daniel.  Jesus willingly gives Himself up in the place of humanity and He suffers and dies on the cross.  Sure, we know the end of the story and He comes back from the dead.  However, He had to go through Golgatha to get there.

In both of these trials you see ruthless faith.

  • In both stories, a difficult decision must be made to follow God no matter what the result may be.
  • In both accounts, the participant(s) are willing to follow God into a nebulous and dangerous situation.
  • In both situations, their trust in God sustained them through the trial.

However, the outcome in these situations are vastly different.  With Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, they were not touched by the flames of the furnace and with Jesus He willingly submitted Himself to the cross and was crucified.  However God was present in both instances.

What is my point?  In our suffering, God is present.  We are not sure what the result of that trial may be, deliverance or more suffering, God isn’t guaranteeing the ending that we want.  What He will guarantee is His presence and that our faith will be strengthened if we focus on Him.  That will not be easy.  You will battle doubt, anger, hopelessness and fear.  That will not go away.  Desperate times require desperate measures though.  To face a ruthless opponent, you must have ruthless faith in God.  It is like holding onto an oak tree during a violent storm.  You may have to tie yourself to the tree and be willing to endure flying debris.  However, if you find some people to hold you in place, pray for you and bear your burdens, your grip on that tree will hold.  (I owe that last illustration to the late Brennan Manning.)

A ruthless trust in God will result in battle hardened faith that will be stronger and ready to face the next storm.  I will be praying for you if you will pray for me.  Tighten your grip friends, and hold on to Jesus regardless of the outcome.  Grace, hope and love to you.

 

“On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.” ― Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God

 

 

 

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