This dates me, but I remember when shop class was a thing. Just so you know, “shop class” is not a course on how to order merchandise from Amazon. Shop class was a mandatory part of school curriculum introducing boys to woodworking, metalsmithing, and graphic arts. High school auto mechanic shop was popular too. One of my memories from 8th grade metal shop is about the crafting of a tool. The teacher handed us all our own length of rolled steel bar stock and gave us our assignment: turn that unrefined and ordinary piece of metal into something beautiful and useful. Then he showed us an example of what we were going to make out of that stock: a gleaming but tough cold chisel.
Making a chisel by hand involves several processes, which included filing and burnishing. But the most memorable part of the project for me was using heat in the shaping and hardening process. Placing the workpiece into a forge full of fiercely hot fire was awesome and exciting. The workpiece must lie in the forge until it glows; only then is it ready for the hammer and anvil. Metal becomes malleable when red hot, and it gives way when something heavy and hard squashes it down on an equally hard and unrelenting surface: fire plus force equals change. Who knew?
Have you ever felt like you were like that piece of metal, heated red hot in some fiery trial, gripped by tongs of depression or disillusionment, and taking blows upon the anvil of suffering? Peter wrote about this very thing:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:3–7
When my metalworking teacher held up that example tool for the class to examine, it seemed impossible to me that this simple, unrefined, and dull metal rod could become anything resembling the example. But I didn’t yet understand all the processes and working time that would be required to produce the finished product.
When we enter suffering, it seems impossible that any good can come of it. It isn’t pleasant to grieve or feel pain. It certainly seems like we are being destroyed rather than being shaped and molded by those hammer blows. But Peter’s preaching is nonetheless true. Our faith is of far greater value than the most precious of known metals because no earthly metal can last forever. Tested and true faith never perishes even though it be forge-tested seven times hotter than usual (Daniel 3:19). Tested and true faith is for displaying Christ’s everlasting glory.
How does God prove faith to be genuine? He uses trials like a forge through which He brings praise, glory, and honor for Christ. The early Church experienced this immediately: flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, the Apostles rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Rejoicing despite suffering? They rejoiced, and Jesus was glorified.
A cold chisel is not a useful tool just because it has a hexagonal shape and a tapered tip. It must be hardened. After we 8th grade apprentice blacksmiths had spent many weeks filing and pounding, we were not finished with our project just because the workpiece outwardly resembled the example chisel. No, inwardly it was still relatively soft. The next step was to super heat the whole thing and then plunge it into cool water. Sounding like the crack of a belly flop into a diving well, the frying metal hissed and sizzled. Quick cooling generates the hardening process in which atoms are rearranged into a tetragonal or crystalline structure — the wimpy becomes strong. My cold chisel wasn’t a cold chisel until its core makeup was radically altered.
Sometimes it takes radical circumstances to rearrange our heart structure. I can’t think of anything more radical than God becoming incarnate and taking human nature for the very purpose of laying down His precious life to the power of the dogs, the mouth of lions, and the horns of wild oxen (Psalm 22:20,21). Jesus came, however, not to be transformed. Perfection needs no rearranging. He went through the fire so we could be transformed. Being born again, a radical event indeed, is only possible for human beings because on our behalf Jesus accepted radical suffering (1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 52:14).
Change isn’t easy, but because Jesus took the heat and payed the price for our sin in full, we should be honored and eager to accept the heat that goes with being His follower (John 15:20). Indeed, difficult circumstances are hard to bear, but those very circumstances can serve as opportunities for believers to worship God, bowing before Him with crushed and cut souls, looking for approval in His eyes, listening for His comforting voice, and yearning for the touch of His grace-filled hand on bowed heads.
Our God knows how to produce perfection. We won’t know how much fire and anvil time it will take, but He knows our mettle. He is the Master Blacksmith who is conforming you and me into His Son’s likeness, making us to shine in His sight, crafting us to become tools useful for His righteous purpose (Romans 6:13, 8:28).
I kept my shiny 8th grade cold chisel in a drawer for a while, but I finally pressed it into service when I had a tough nut to crack open. Not just a paperweight after all, I used that chisel for years until I wrecked it through lots of use. If you want to be useful for God’s purpose by being more than just a piece of soft raw bar stock, think about asking God to take you to the forge with hammer and tongs. He knows how to prove faith to be genuine, and He has plans for how He will use you to give praise, honor, and glory to His Son.
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Jack Gross is a graduate of Advanced Leadership Training at Grace Polaris Church. He and his wife, Evon, came to Grace in the fall of 2008. Jack enjoys working with his hands and is employed by the facilities department at Worthington Christian Schools. He worked with the warehouse crew at Grace helping to build Living Christmas Tree sets. He has recently joined the nursing home ministry as a speaker at Friendship Village. He also enjoys the wonders of creation by tending his perennial garden. Jack and Evon have two teenage sons and have lived in Columbus all their lives.