The Lord Tests the Heart

I’ve been dwelling on this verse in Proverbs 17:

‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.’

As a younger Christian, I was offered the explanation that God tests us through difficult circumstances to see if we will still hold to faith in the midst of the storm. This picture of refinement through suffering dovetailed with a general view of God as stern, obsessed with our good behaviour, and putting our development as people above our basic happiness.

God cannot give what he doesn’t have

These days I take the view of James, who wrote of temptations and tests (same word in the Greek) as something God helps us through but never orchestrates. James 1: 13,
‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
James goes on to assert that God is always and only the author of good things. James 1:16,
‘Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’
God does not change like shifting shadows; he is not mercurial, dolling out blessing one moment and suffering the next. Jesus never ministered to a crowd and singled some out for healing while making others sick to teach them a lesson. A simple, childlike faith relies on a clear and singular image of God – the one we see in Jesus.
John 14:9, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’

How does God test our hearts?

So what of the notion of the Lord testing our hearts? How do we square that with the clear doctrinal instruction that God does not tempt or test us? The key is in the verse itself: ‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.’ How is silver tested in a crucible? By the application of heat, which changes its state from solid to liquid, ridding it of impurities. The same is true for gold. It is the heat, and the metal’s response to that heat, which purifies it. As for the Lord, it is his presence that acts as the purifier of our hearts. That is how the writer is using the analogy. Just as the silver and gold are surrounded by and saturated by heat, when we are surrounded by and saturated by the presence of God, we are changed. Though we learn from suffering (after all, why waste the opportunity to grow?), the Lord does not choose tragedies and suffering to test us; his very presence is his intended crucible for our hearts.

What do we feel in God’s presence?

I won’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the presence of God is innately loving. I feel safe (he is my strong tower), I feel understood (he is my creator and the God of all compassion), I feel humbled (he is the Great I Am), I feel grateful (he loves me, and died for me). I also find inspiration, receive answers to questions, see my circumstances with clarity, and gain wisdom. There are times when he redirects me, showing me a way to do things better, and yes, there are times he challenges me. There are times when all I can do is sink to my knees in awe. The experience of all of this can be described as a tsunami of Love. I am changed by his presence, and by spending time every day in that environment, I am continually refined by love. The presence of God is the crucible of our hearts.

Walking with God

This raises what for me is the crucial question – how closely do you walk with God? There are plenty of believers, indeed whole movements of believers, who actively disregard the things of the Spirit. Even more disappointingly, there are those who have had the privilege of a church background which did celebrate the presence and power of God, who have closed the door on spiritual experience in favour of a more sedate, cerebral, and more predictable faith. God can never be boxed or tamed in this way. John 3:8,

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

As a young man I was told that those who believed in being filled with the Spirit and using the charismatic gifts outlined in Acts, 1 Corinthians, and other epistles were ‘dodgy’, ‘unsound’, and even ‘of the Devil’. I toed the line as a teenager, and even actively persecuted those from a Pentecostal or Charismatic background.

At the age of 19 I worked in a warehouse, lugging boxes around for a few pounds an hour. One of my colleagues was a Christian chap who was into the gifts of the Spirit, and talked openly of his experiences in the presence of God. I was deeply uncomfortable with his conversation, and even though this guy was nothing but kind to me, I publicly took others’ side against him one day during a heated argument.

He took me aside afterwards and asked me why, as a fellow Christian, I hadn’t come to him first rather than embarrass him in front of his co-workers. I felt awful, especially when he was exceedingly quick to forgive and continued in his kindness and warmth. When I left the job a week or so later, he told me it had been a real pleasure to know me. What a guy! I would very much like to meet him again and apologise.

So I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, that God doesn’t answer prayer, that Bible study is a chore, and to relentlessly experience little to nothing in prayer and worship. I know what it’s like to listen to sermons about ‘wilderness times’, unanswered prayer, and the importance of ‘plodding on’.

I’m now on the other side of the fence. Prayer and worship is consistently amazing; a truly supernatural and often overwhelming experience. The Bible is alive and fresh to me every time I go to it. Revelation flows, inspiration is always within reach. I cry happy tears, and see many wonderful answers to prayer. Not because of me – I have no special right or gift – but because God is good, and his promises are true.

Hebrews 11: 6,

He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Luke 11:13,

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

1 Corinthians 14:1,.

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

We all have a choice to make

Having lived without closeness to the Holy Spirit, and after 25 subsequent years of the rich, unbroken abundance of divine love, I know that there is a journey to go on, and that the destination is real. I also know that the presence of God refines and changes us, especially when we bask in his love each and every day. If a believer doesn’t walk with the Spirit, and doesn’t regularly know the tangible presence of God, how are they going to be refined? The silver must remain in the crucible until the crucible has done its work. If this is you – spiritually dry, unengaged, uninspired, even bored – what are you going to do to change that? God is faithful and shows no favouritism. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no shadow of turning. The only variable is us. Is it time for you to seek the Lord? What would that look like for you?

12/8/2022 9:47:39 PM
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  • Duncan Pile
    About Duncan Pile
    Duncan Pile is a writer, author and speaker, living in Derbyshire, England with his wife and stepson. His mystical approach to faith straddles the Evangelical/Progressive divide, and flowing from lived experience, he is passionate about the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian faith.