I was asked to speak on the “Refiner’s Fire” in my church congregation this past week and I didn’t realize I had so much to say about it. I ended up speaking way over my time limit but there was no way I couldn’t say everything I had prepared to say. I thought I would share it here for those who might be interested in the topic.
Maybe you’ve seen the video my church has and know about what the refiner’s fire means. If not, let me explain it quickly. A refinery is used to melt metals, like silver, in high and intense heat, so that impurities can be screened out and all that is left is pure metal. Through this process, not only is the metal purified, but it is also strengthened. The phrase “refiner’s fire” comes from the book of Malachi: “For he is like a refiner’s fire…and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify…and purge them…that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2-3).
In the recent sections of D&C, the Lord hints towards this refiner’s fire to the Saints as well, saying, “for I will raise up unto myself a pure people, that will serve me in righteousness.” “Therefore they must needs be…tried, even as Abraham…For all those who will not endure chastening…cannot be sanctified.” (D&C 101: 4-5). Chastisement in Latin translates to “making pure”. A refiner’s fire may be chastening from the Lord. Or it might be a trial the innocent are thrown into that doesn’t feel quite fair or deserving. There are many different kinds of refining fires that we will go through in our lifetime.
A little over a month ago, my sweet 10-year-old, bright-eyed, life-loving nephew Grant passed away suddenly in a tragic accident. It has been a month of grieving, of countless tender mercies reminding us that —as hard as it is to accept — this was God’s will, and it has been a unifying month processing a terrible tragedy that is bringing us closer as a family and closer individually to God. I miss him terribly and yet I have had prayers answered that confirm he is where he needs to be.
I cannot think of a hotter “refiner’s fire” than a parent losing a child. Ryan and I are following our sister and brother’s example in expressing our faith and trust in God’s plan. Their resiliency and their faith, including our own knowledge and testimonies is what keeps us from burning and shriveling up in this refiner’s fire we were just thrown into.
For those who know me, you know I love everything art and will get my hands on all things creative. Silversmith work is really cool, but it doesn’t interest me as much as glass-blowing does. I haven’t done it myself, but it has been something I’ve wanted to try for years. So when I heard I would be speaking on “The Refiner’s Fire”, I immediately pictured the reheating furnace used for blowing glass. Which, fun fact, is known as the “glory hole”. They believe the name comes from how smoke and dust in the factory made the people standing in front of the fire opening look like angels with halos. Or because molten glass has this celestial glow and when in the glory hole, you can see a halo effect.
I am not an expert on glassblowing, but I see a similarity and connection that I find adds additional insight with the symbolism of being put in a silversmith refining fire. Let me explain to the best of my ability how glassblowing works:
The glassblower has a long pipe with a tiny blob of molten glass at the end of it, taken out of a crucible in the furnace. They pick up more glass they want to use for design purposes and take it to the blazing hot fire. This reheating furnace is even hotter than the silversmith’s, at over 2,000 ºF. It has such a mesmerizing glow. When the gThe glassblower has a long pipe with a tiny blob of molten glass at the end of it, taken out of a crucible in the furnace. They pick up more glass they want to use for design purposes and take it to the blazing hot fire. This reheating furnace is even hotter than a silversmith’s, at over 2,000 ºF. It has such a mesmerizing glow. When the glass is in the furnace, they have to carefully watch it and pull it out at just the right moment. You can’t just throw it in like you would cookies in the oven and wait for the timer to beep. Molten glass acts like a thick honey, moving and always threatening to drip. The blowpipe has to be rolled constantly so that the molten glass does not pour out into the fire and get lost forever. The glassblower takes it out and uses tools to form it into their desired shape. Once it gets too cool and harder to manipulate, the glass is put back into the furnace opening to reheat and soften, making it pliable. Still spinning, always spinning. And watching it constantly, since keeping it in the furnace for too long will make it lose it’s progressed shape. That process repeats again and again, going back and forth between heating and shaping. During the shaping, the glassblower blows into the end of the long hollow rod to build the inside bubble and create the form they’re going for. When you watch a glassblower do their thing, it is almost like a dance and they have rhythm to it. They use long slow movements and wear these huge soft cloth mitts to lovingly stroke the glass as it’s twirled around. They are ever so gentle and take great care not to cause enough pressure or thermal stress that it would shatter.
As you can see, this intense process is why handblown glass is so expensive. At the beginning, an outsider could try to guess what the glass will be – a vase, a platter, a pitcher, so forth – but really only the glassblower knows until it’s taken off the punty rod and seen in it’s full glory.
I love everything about glassblowing and I think the connection it has to God might be why. I am that hot mess of a blob I love everything about glassblowing and I think the connection it has to God might be why. I am that hot mess of a blob at the end of a pole. We are this fragile, beautiful matter in the hands of God, our Master Artist, you could say. Soothing us, gently carrying us and taking care to not break us. This is how God loves me and you….He watches you go through hard times, but He won’t let you burn up….He’ll take you out in His timing as He lovingly holds you and molds you into the person He longs you to be. God tells us: “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84: 88). The Savior breathes His breath of life into us. He gently wipes away our tears, our fears, our rough edges and molds us into something beautiful; each one unique and priceless.
If you are walking through a refiner’s fire today, know that you are safe in His hands — an ever-changing work of the Master. We are not exempt from trials and hardship, no matter how perfect we try to be. Jesus never once disobeyed a commandment, and yet he experienced serious persecution. You may feel alone but He never leaves your side. Jesus purifies and strengthens us through our difficult trials and He is the way to come out the other side better for it. Like the silversmith’s refiner’s fire, He removes our imperfections. Sometimes it may feel like it’s forcefully pounded out of us — I know I sometimes need a good knock on the head to get out of myself and shape up, pun intended. And like the glassblowing analogy, Jesus takes that intense fire and molds us into what He wants us to be. Brother Dube said in his recent Conference message, “It is not so much about what we are going through in life, but what we are becoming.” Both of these processes provides us strength, beauty, and creates in us something we would have never become without those intense fires.
Like glass, humans are pretty stubborn and sometimes we need the heat of humility to soften our hearts. Unlike heated glass, we won’t bend in His hands unless we allow it to happen. We can’t just assume that once we’ve been tried, we will automatically be a better person. I love this quote from Ezra Taft Benson, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. May we be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, choose to follow Him, be changed for Him, captained by Him, consumed in Him, and born again.” We have to put in the work ourselves with Christ and allow Him to change our nature and work from the inside out. We need to be consumed in Him.
The past few weeks of Come Follow Me have been all about building Zion….If you notice in D&C 100:16, the Lord says, “for I will raise up unto myself a pure people”. Notice He didn’t say “a pure person”, He used “a pure people”. Building Zion is not just about building a temple or establishing a location. It is about building a people, building our community, building each other. One thing I didn’t mention about glassblowing — while the main artist is blowing into the rod, they have to have another partner spinning the pole as they blow so that gravity doesn’t misshape the symmetry. They must work together quickly, with intention, and in rhythm, like I said before, like a united partnered dance. They need to communicate their needs to each other so their piece does not fail.
You could say in this analogy the partnership is Heavenly Father and Jesus but I also like to think God uses us, His people, to be His helpers. He needs us to help build and shape each other.
My first reaction to this is to think, “I’m not worthy to be God’s helper, I wouldn’t be able to match his rhythm, I will mess it up, etc.”. However, as I look back on just this month of being in a refiner’s fire, it has grown my capacity to love those who have or are struggling with the same tragedy of an unexpected death of a loved one. An old high school acquaintance just lost her husband to suicide and now has two young daughters to raise alone. As soon as I heard, I knew exactly what I could send for her oldest daughter’s birthday just a few days after their tragedy — a small pillow with her Dad’s face on it. If I hadn’t just lost my nephew, I don’t think I would have had an understanding of what was truly needed at this time and the idea to send a unique gift. An idea that was surely sent from God. I would have said my condolences and moved on. Instead, I sent this gift and they have mentioned how much of a blessing it has brought their home.
I share this not to boast of myself, but to show that I believe those who have been in those same “refiner’s fires” are God’s partner for those who are currently in those unique trials. I have seen that in my own life – when I was mourning my miscarriage and going through our infertility journey 4-5 years ago, the ones that reached out and impacted me the most were those who had been through the same struggles. And again, I have found myself having a higher capacity to help those around me who struggle to have a child or suffer through the heartache of early loss because I had been through that refining fire…When we’ve been through the burn of loneliness, or isolation, experience the pain of mental or physical illness, consumed in blinding sin, or felt the heartache of loss, our capability of feeling and acting with Christlike love towards others is elevated.
When looking at the scriptures connected to this topic, I noticed a pattern. Every verse that mentions a refiner’s fire or purification process, the end result is that we will serve and offer the Lord our righteousness. Both Malachi and D&C mention this, and here is a similar declaration in Zechariah: “I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name…and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zechariah 13:9). When first thrown into the fire, I want to dive into my prayers and ask for the Savior to take away all my problems or blame Him for my suffering. Instead, if I reflect on the things I have to be thankful for, I know the burden of the heat will be shared with the Savior and I will see the work God is putting into me to create something better.
It may be hard to believe it when you are in the heat of the fire, but I think it’s safe to say we all have found blessings in our hardships and can praise God for some part of or outcome because of our own personal refiner’s fires. “For after much tribulation…cometh the blessing” (D&C 103:12) “…that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7).
Going back to the silver refinery analogy, I found this story used within Christian communities. Maybe you’ve heard of it: One day, a woman wanted to know what that passage in Malachi was about, so she watched a silversmith work. The silversmith held a piece of silver in the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silGoing back to the silver refinery analogy, I found this story used within Christian communities. Maybe you’ve heard of it: One day, a woman wanted to know what that passage in Malachi was about, so she watched a silversmith work. The silversmith held a piece of silver in the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were hottest. He said he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled and answered, “Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.”
Amidst challenges, remember that God is there, keeping an eye on us, never allowing us to stay in the fire too long. He wants to clean us, to rid us of our impurities, refine and shape us until He can see His own image in us. This happens when we allow Christ into our heart. Whatever moral inadequacies may be felt, whatever self-imposed dirt or filth may be in our life, whatever tragic life struggles weigh us down, they are washed away by the Savior. Imperfections are burned away, rough edges are smoothed out, and we become strong enough to face life’s challenges and hardships, celebrate life’s joys, and reach outward with a Christlike love for others.
I know that God lives, that He loves each of us. I know I will see my nephew Grant again and my promise to him and to God is that I will take this refiner’s fire and let God mold me into a better person because of it. All of the words I have shared today I believe deep in my heart and stand as my testimony. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.