The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.
Proverbs 17:3 NIV
This week’s postcard had a particularly unusual beginning! A friend walked up to me on Sunday morning and asked me if I knew where in Sheffield the World Snooker Championships are held. Predictably enough I had no idea. So he filled me in – “The Crucible”, he said. And then walked off.
You may conclude from this that I have some rather odd friends, but later that day when my poorly 6-year-old requested a pantomime on TV, and I picked the first one on Youtube, the opening shot was the word ‘Crucible’ up in lights on a billboard and the words ‘live from the Crucible theatre in Sheffield” at the bottom of the screen. At times like this, I start to pay attention…
This postcard of a crucible in action might be making you concerned for tough times ahead, a fire that will heat you up and draw impurities to the surface so that God can skim them off. Probably good, definitely terrifying, possibly true; and the way people often interpret this verse.
But the journey God has taken me on while praying about this picture has led me to some other places, and I’ll share them with you now, in case he has something to say to you in them too.
The first thing I’ve been reflecting is another verse from Proverbs, which casts a light on how the Lord tests us for purity:
The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, so a person is tested by being praised.
Proverbs 27:21 NRSV
So it’s not the oncoming stress of Christmas that’s going to test your heart in the crucible; or people yelling at you over the things you did or forgot to do; or grumpy teenagers, or any of the many genuinely difficult things you face.
It will be the praise of men: the pats on the back, the applause, the people telling you what a great mum, cook, crafter, house-decorator, work colleague, singer, teacher, father, pastor _________ (fill in the blank) you are, that will be the heat that drives the impurities to the surface and shows you up for who you really are.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s bad to give or receive encouragement or praise, I think it’s great. But just be aware that it will test you. When people praise you, notice what rises to the surface, how you react and feel. It may be an opportunity for revelation!
The other thing I felt God say when I looked at this picture is:
“Don’t think you’re always the silver, sometimes I am calling you to be the crucible“.
So I looked it up. A crucible is a container made of a material that is able to withstand very high temperatures. It can be used to melt metals to make tools or beautiful jewellery, and also to create alloys – a combination of metals that can’t be reversed – like bronze or steel. The reaction that needs to take place to create these strong, important, useful materials can only happen in a container able to cope with very high heat.
Some changes, some miracles, can’t take place without a crucible, a person willing to carry the miracle, a person willing to take the heat
And at this time of year, when I’m thinking of the ultimate miracle of the incarnation, this reminds me of the extraordinary faith and courage of a very young woman who looked into the heat ahead of her and said: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)
This Advent, may you each have the faith and courage of young Mary, and if God calls you to be a crucible for your miracle, or someone else’s, may you be able to say with her, “Yes, let it be as you have said”.