Through Fire or Rain

© 2015, Lynn Abbott

Had it been up to me, I would have chosen another path.  I could well imagine happier ways to spend a beautiful May Saturday.

But there I was… laying in a hospital bed, receiving an epidural and waiting for medically induced labor to begin.  Delivery should bring great joy.

However, my firstborn son had died in utero.  Thus, I would birth grief just two months after my father’s death.  Sorrow upon sorrow overwhelmed me.

If only my little one had been able to hold on a wee bit longer…

If only… After all, his life would have been viable outside the womb. He would have been premature, of course.  But we loved him.  We had waited a long time for him.

Yet, here I was.  Apparently, my labor had begun prematurely a week prior, but then, it stopped inexplicably.

If only…

Unfortunately, since I was a first time mother, and the labor abnormal, I didn’t recognize the signs.

Thus, on May 7, a week after my first sporadic contraction, a medical team worked to secure my long-term health.  My little boy already rested in Abba’s arms.

Labor didn’t go well: the epidural didn’t take fully;  My body reacted badly to the drug used to induce.

Anaphylactic shock set in. An emergency team of 3 doctors and 5 nurses flooded the room.

My husband held his breath.

However, despite the dangerously low state of my vital signs,  Abba didn’t call me home that day. The physicians stabilized my condition.

Within minutes, my labor began abruptly,  contractions coming one on top of the other.  No time for me to breathe.

I gripped the hospital bed rail, and whispered, “God help…” Again and again.

Labor intensified and my hope rested in Abba alone. No anticipation of delivery joy could carry me that day. Labor seemed futile.

And I certainly didn’t want to be there.  Not then.  Not in that condition.  Not with the guaranteed prospect of loss.

It surely wouldn’t be the last time that my life would hang in the balance nor would it be the only time I longed to leave a hospital far behind me.

But that birth and death on a May Saturday certainly qualifies as one of the most memorable days of my life.

When I held our little boy in my arms, tears streamed.  He was beautiful.

Despite the grief, my husband and I felt tremendous peace.  I didn’t want to be there, but during that dark day, I especially felt Abba’s presence. I knew He had it all in hand.

After all, I had spent several years studying God’s sovereignty as described in His Word.  I’d gathered academic knowledge of His attributes.

I guess it was time to go deep.

Examination day had come unexpectedly. But it had come nonetheless.

Faith tested under fire.  If my faith faltered, few would know.  Certainly, no one would blame me if I lashed out.

But on that occasion, at least, I turned to Abba and “found grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).

After delivery, the nurse quietly worked to make me comfortable, and I thanked her more than once.

She stopped, hesitated and finally said, “You seem so calm.  There is a lady down the hall today who has also given birth to a stillborn son.  During delivery, she screamed profanity at all of us.  She is so angry.  Yet, you are different… Why?”

I didn’t want to be there.  But that day reached beyond my personal health.  Abba used my pain to orchestrate a song of grace for others.

As I reflect once more during this anniversary week, I can’t help but think of four young men who lost all that they held dear.

Scripture tells of four who were taken to a place they didn’t want to go,  to live in conditions that ran contrary to their faith, to serve far from home.

They certainly had a right to grumble.  They had done nothing to deserve their circumstances. Few would blame them if their faith had faltered.

Yet, Daniel and his friends followed Abba with all their hearts despite their circumstances: Israel had been conquered.

Nebuchadnezzar, in fact, had a habit of choosing the best of the best from his conquests to serve in court.  And that was how a group of young Jewish men ended up in Babylon.

Immediately, their faith set them apart.  As members of the king’s wise men, they were entitled to rich Babylonian foods. Many of the foods, however, were among those that God had forbidden them as Jews.

Thus, even though no one back home would have ever known if they faltered, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not take the easy way out.

Daniel spoke to their superior, and gained permission to conduct a ten-day trial. They would follow a diet that pleased God.  If their health remained robust, the Babylonian overseer would allow them to continue to follow their chosen menu.

They weren’t where they wished to be.  No one would blame them if they chose self-preservation.  Yet, they were young men of integrity and placed their bets, so to speak, on Yahweh.

And God blessed them. At the end of ten days, the four were healthier than their counterparts.

That’s not to say that their lives from that day forward were a walk in the park…

Their faith in sovereign God would literally come under fire.

Nebuchadnezzar, who was not reputed for his humility, constructed a statue of himself that scholars suggest was approximately 90 feet high. On dedication day, the people bowed before the image and worshiped according to the king’s decree.

The incentive for idolatry was great; after all, those who dissented were to be immediately cast into a furnace.

I don’t know where Daniel was that day.  Perhaps, he traveled on a king’s errand.  I do know, however, that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the idol.

Far from home, their actions validated the authenticity of their faith.  Nebuchadnezzar hesitated and offered them one last chance.

He called for the musicians to signal worship and gave the three Israelis his ultimatum.

Their response?

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire…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 3:17-18).

Faithful.  They were “all in.”  No half-hearted faith for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Although I am certain that they would not have chosen that place, that time or that path,  they nevertheless chose Abba. They submitted to His fully loving, gracious, and just sovereignty.

When they faced the fire, I believe they whispered, “Yahweh, help.”

The odds definitely seemed stacked against them.  In wounded pride and fury, Nebuchadnezzar commanded the furnace to be heated seven times more than was customary.

The heat was so great that the soldiers who threw the young Jews into the fire did not survive.

But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked unharmed in those flames because another walked with them.

Certainly,  those young men did not want to spend time in the furnace, and yet once there, they experienced Abba’s presence in a miraculous way.

They made an impression at court on that fateful day.  Of that, there can be no doubt.

Nebuchadnezzar shouted into the roaring fire, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come out, you servants of the Most High God…” (Daniel 3:26).

The world isn’t interested in inauthentic faith.  But faith tested by fire speaks volumes.

And I’m sure that the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego inspired a heavenly chorus.

Their actions professed unconditional faith.  Faith regardless. He is able to deliver us, they said, “But even if He does not…”

They knew their sovereign God.  They understood Abba’s love for His children firsthand.  They trusted God’s goodness and mercy even when that meant they must face the fire.

Their faith was character, rather than circumstance, driven.  They knew their God. They believed Abba brings things together according to His best plan, not necessarily our wants or wishes.

That kind of faith isn’t for sissies.

When I find myself in circumstances that I don’t like,  I am tempted to wrestle with God as Jacob did, (Genesis 32:22-31).

Or as was the case for the Israelites, my faith crumbles when I face the Canaanite giants, (Numbers 14:1-4).

I often long to flee the furnace.

Yet,  Abba asks me to trust even when I don’t cannot see the outcome.

Psalm 46:10 applies to me once again.  Yet, on this second reading, I glean even more.  As I dig further, I find that some translations render the words ‘Be still” as “Cease striving and know that I am God.”

Not only are we to wait upon God, but we are to cease striving.  That phrase suggests submission to God’s sovereignty.  But that submission is only possible when we fully comprehend that our heavenly Father loves us perfectly (Romans 8:38).

And He does.  Not only that, but He also knows all.  And He alone possesses all power.  He alone is ever-present.

Yes, Shadrach and his two friends fully acknowledged that Abba’s ways are higher than our ways, (Isaiah 55:8,9).

Such faith is beyond human strength.

And yet, unlike Jacob,  you and I do not need to strive or to beg for God’s strength or blessing.   Paul notes that in Christ, we have all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and he writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3).

Thus, when we choose Christ despite our circumstances,  the Holy Spirit enables us to rest confidently in His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.

“One like the son of the gods,” Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, walked in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  And that same Christ also walks through fire and rain with you and me.

Radical faith reaps peace despite unthinkable heartbreak or suffering.

In fact, Hebrews 3 promises that “all in” faith allows us to enter Abba’s rest,  that place of peace and blessing.  Obviously, eternal life brings rest from the strife of this world.

Yet, God’s rest not only represents our future hope, but also our present peace. Christ, who by grace has guaranteed my eternity, also carries me through my present trials.

This is the hope that sets Abba’s children apart. When we unreservedly acknowledge His gracious sovereignty over all of life, others take note.   Faith, even in the hard places, is unexpected.

Undoubtedly, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego possessed profound faith.  Their unconditional faith relied on Yahweh’s sovereign grace.

They held nothing back.

Indeed, with full conviction that Abba loved them and orchestrated all for their best even in the unpleasant places, they professed, “But even if He does not…”

Of course, we know the rest of their story… God did rescue them.  He validated their testimony.  And for Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, their authenticity rang loud and clear.

So it is.  Our faith flowers when we submit to Abba’s gracious sovereignty.

Cease striving… Yes, that’s how we enter His rest by faith.  And finding grace there, our life song rings true.  In those moments, people ask, “What makes you different?”

By grace we are saved through faith.  But more than that, we also recognize that through grace we walk by faith.

That makes all the difference.  And, miraculously, in Him, faith blooms …even through fire and rain.

“He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 1:8