I wasn’t quite 21 at the time (just a few weeks short), but I was the oldest one in the group of young 19 year old missionaries around me in that Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT. And two days into my 6- to 8- week training period, I was sick with a fever, a cough, runny nose, and weakened body, and the antibiotics that I was taking at the time were just starting to take effect. To make things a bit more challenging, I was asked to be a group leader for my group. I wasn’t sure I was up to the job…but, OK.
One day not long after that, weakened with a high fever, I struggled to get up and read from the scriptures a bit, and I came upon an interesting passage that spoke to me:
Isaiah 48:10-11 10 Behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. 11 For mine own sake, yea, for mine own sake will I do this, for I will not suffer my name to be polluted, and I will not give my glory unto another.
Wow. I thought. How odd is that?! Of all the times to come across this! With a fever and the struggle with training to become a missionary, with language, and teaching, and dealing with others who have to patiently deal with you…but don’t really want to or know how to.
In this passage, Jesus Christ is speaking to Israel through his prophet Isaiah. But at this time, the Lord spoke to me, and, really, He didn’t have to say much. But He said enough. This affliction, this physical ailment, was more than just a fever. It was more than just a struggle. I was in training…but of a different kind. A spiritual training…happening in parallel with this mortal, missionary-center-based training I was experiencing.
That changed my perspective and attitude towards my physical condition, my fellow missionary companions, and my role. My training would be more than just training for a foreign language, training to teach, or training to lead. I realized that I was being prepared differently…to handle things differently. And my high fever was just a physical way to get me to realize the fire that I would be immersed in soon enough.
I had committed myself to a work…this work of sharing and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ….as a missionary. The Lord wanted to know, from me: Was I up for it? Was I really committed? Would I stay strong in the middle of physical affliction, while I would be subjected to spiritual and social affliction as well? I was to be tested, and He would test me.
And He did.
That official missionary experience lasted 2 years. The rest of life happened since then, and twenty years later, I’m still at it. And He’s still at it. That training hasn’t ended.
You know, as missionaries, we teach about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We teach about baptism by water and by the Spirit. We teach about the physical way those baptisms happen: by complete immersion for the “water” part, with hands laid upon your head in the “bestowing” of the gift of the constant companionship (again, a type of “immersion”) of the Holy Ghost, and that both of these are performed by someone who has the authority given by God to do so….what we call the “Priesthood”. We talk about how the baptism by water is like a cleansing from our sins, and how the baptism of the Holy Ghost is like a purifying process, like a fire. But, for some reason, that’s about as far as it gets in the minds of many…as if, that’s all there is to it.
But there’s something missing…and I noticed it as I read the following scriptures:
John (the Baptist) answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire...
And then, here’s another related scripture, which, I feel, gives a bit more “oomph” to this idea of baptism:
13 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if (here's what we decide to do...) - ye shall follow the Son, - with full purpose of heart, - acting no hypocrisy and - no deception before God, - but with real intent, - repenting of your sins, - witnessing unto the Father - that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, (how?) - by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, - according to his word, behold, (then what...?) - then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; - yea, then cometh the baptism of fire - and of the Holy Ghost;
We don’t usually talk about the baptism of fire as much. Usually, we teach that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is as if it was a fire….with the effect of purifying us and burning out the impurities in us.
However, to me, the baptism of fire is connected with that scripture I discovered in Isaiah when I was sick with a fever as a missionary in training. The baptism of fire is different from the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It is the fire in the “furnace of affliction”. Baptized in the furnace of affliction? What??
Christ’s people…those whom He has chosen…and those who have chosen Him…will be refined and cleansed in order for His name to be free from “pollution”. In other words, if we’ve decided to take on this commitment of being called “The Savior’s People” or “Followers of Christ” or “Christian”, and we’ve committed ourselves FULLY (immersed, completely) to this cause, then He will test our commitment to Him. He will do this by allowing us to pass through…or be immersed (aka “baptized”) in affliction. This is to be our Gethsemane…or one of many Gethsemanes.
All who desire to follow the Son will find themselves not just trying to do what He did (behavior)…or be as He is (character, heart, mind)…but also walking where He walked (environment, circumstances). We can expect to walk in His paths:
* the paths of trial
* the paths of loneliness
* paths of false accusations
* of persecution
* of people who doubt you, hate you, mock you, jeer at you, make fun of you
* the path of the world’s false judgments, of misunderstandings, of accusations
* surrounded by unwilling hearts and minds,
* having to face temptation…and overcome it,
* having to teach people who do not want to be taught
* having enemies that need to be faced, chastised, taught, forgiven, loved
* ultimately to be punished for things He never did, as in Gethsemane,
* and to suffer public humiliation, public pain, and possibly face death, as He did on the lonely hill on the Cross at Calvary.
Dear fellow Christian, are you tired? Are you tired of all the pain, the struggles? All the questions of “why is this happening to me…especially when I try to be good?” “Why do I have to go through all this ‘bad’ stuff?”
This is the furnace of affliction. This is what it means to be “baptized by fire”. This is our test…it is where we get refined.
And the Holy Ghost can embrace us as we go through this furnace…not to protect us from the pains, but to strengthen us as we go through those very pains. This is why we may also have the gift of the companionship of the Holy Ghost given for us to receive. As we approach moments of trial and actually go through the hard knocks of that trial, we may, if we want, have the Holy Ghost be our Companion, our Guide, our Strengthener, our Comforter, and our connection with the Savior.
We don’t teach this enough…and mostly because we haven’t made the connection between the commitment we’ve made through baptism and the trials we have to face to be refined and how the Holy Spirit helps us through it all. It is through those very troubles that we discover our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our pains, our ‘bad’s….as well as our strengths, our gifts, our ‘good’s.
The Lord chooses…and leads…His people, not in the path of ease and comfort. His people will not be a coddled people. They will be exposed. They will be vulnerable. They will be tried. They will get hurt. They will feel frustration. They will struggle. That is the nature of a light placed on a candlestick upon a hill. He doesn’t want that light covered (coddled) beneath a bushel (a basket).
The Lord leads his people right out in the open. He wants that Light immersed, yes, “baptized”, in the open…where it will be subject to all the trials necessary to bring out the true Goodness in all of us. The stronger the Light is from withstanding the storms, the brighter it becomes, and the more useful it becomes. And that Light on the hill becomes a beacon, a strength, a lighthouse….strong enough to face any storm, any wind, any rain, any trial…strong enough to be a shelter for those who aren’t strong enough just yet. The Lord’s people will be a strong people…strong in Commitment, strong in Trust, strong in Integrity, strong in Love. He will purge out the impurities of heart, mind, and spirit through the refining “furnace of affliction”. And they will have the Spirit of God embrace them as their strength to make it through that furnace.
That Light, dear Christian, is you. And that light is only made stronger, more intense, more pure…in the furnace of affliction. Do not fear the trials that you go through. Rather, see the Savior’s hand as He leads you through it.
And you will come out, more refined than you ever thought.
Are you fired up?