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Refining

By Minister Phillip Israelson

Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. James 1:2-3 AMPC

Now is the season of winter. Winter can be a time for trimming and pruning trees, shrubs, and plants with overgrowth or dead branches; cutting back rose bushes; putting down the last fertilizer for lawns and plants; then waiting for spring to bring new life and growth to all vegetation. So it is with our spiritual life in Christ.

All of Jesus’ disciples went through spiritual changes during seasons with various trials and tribulations, pressures and sufferings. All of Scripture tells of, or refers to, the trials and tribulations of the nation of Israel. The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”  1 Corinthians 10:11 NKJV

Today, both the nation of Israel and the true body of Christ are being refined: Israel through war and antisemitism; and the true body of Messiah through its stand with the Lord for His chosen land and people, as well as personal refinement for purity of spirit, soul, and body.

Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. James 1:2-3 AMPC

The word refiner has been defined as “one who refines the precious metals, as silver or gold, by causing them to pass repeatedly through the furnace till their dross is taken away.” The goal of the Lord is to make all His servants pure and mature. This cannot be done without the testing of our faith and repenting of any dead works in our lives.

Can this stump live again?

In my book The Smallest Step of Obedience I relate a vision that the Lord gave me when I was struggling to know if He wanted me to be in full-time ministry or not. I had always been active in church work since the time I was born again and filled with the Holy Spirit at age sixteen – speaking on the street corners of downtown Seattle, Washington, praying for men at a city mission, or visiting seniors in a retirement home. After my wife Carolyn and I were married, we were active in teaching Sunday school, singing, or helping with youth activities after work during the week. We raised our children in church as much as in our Christian home. Our lives were full of church activities.

The Lord began to increase the desire in my heart to be used of Him in a greater way. I was beginning to have more fellowship with businessmen and laymen that God was using to pray for the sick and see them healed. These ordinary men were praying for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues, and it was happening. I desired to be used of God like that.

In prayer one day, I was given a vision of a tree standing in front of me. A tall and beautiful tree with broad green leaves, like an Israeli fig tree. The Spirit spoke to me and said, “Go and pick the fruit on the tree.” I went over and pushed the leaves apart to find the fruit. As I went around the tree, I could not find any. I looked higher and still did not see any. Finally, I looked up to the very top, way above my head, and saw three or four pieces of fruit. I could not reach them and said so to the Lord.

It was silent for a while, and then the Spirit revealed to me that this tree represented my Christian life. My life was full of good church works and other Christian service, but it had not produced fruit that had come from the life of God, fruit that would remain. This was a revelation to me! Then the Lord asked, “Would you be willing to let Me cut down that tree?”

The next picture in front of me was of a stump in the ground. It was excruciating because I understood that the Lord wanted to cut down everything that I had tried to do for Him for seventeen years. I saw the disappearance of my reputation, my way of doing things for God, and, basically, having to start over in the light of this revelation.

Could I trust that the Lord would make something happen with this stump in the ground? The thought scared me! Was He able and willing to cause this stump to be a tree again and bear fruits of righteousness His way? At this time, I chose to believe that God was able to do it. With all my heart, I wanted to be a fruitful life in God’s hand.

And though a tenth [of the people] remain in the land, it will be for them destruction [eaten up and burned] like a terebinth tree or like an oak whose stump and substance remain when they are felled or have cast their leaves. The holy seed [the elect remnant] is the stump and substance [of Israel]. Isaiah 6:13 AMPC

A warning to the Hebrews and God’s chosen people

In the book of Hebrews, the writer emphasizes the need for messianic believers to separate themselves from the old Mosaic covenant of works for righteousness and to have a clear understanding that there is now a new and better covenant in Messiah Jesus: ‘Jesus is our righteousness. Works for salvation will not get you saved. There is now a new and living way to daily live unto God, through faith in the work that Jesus did on the cross once for all.’ In the fifth chapter, the writer is alarmed and stops his continuance of this wonderful revelation, realizing by the Spirit that the readers are “dull of hearing.” He must go back and remind them of elementary doctrine in the sixth chapter.

The first elementary teaching there is “repentance from dead works.” This is a good reminder today for all servants of God. Take time and reflect on your whole journey with the Lord. In all seriousness, how much of your life is filled with righteous fruit that remains? Are you satisfied that you have fulfilled what the Lord called and chosen you for? Are you daily leaning on Him to live by the Spirit?

The biblical definition of a “dead work” is anything that does not have the life of God in it. We are living in a time of refining within the true believer in Jesus. As the Hebrew writer exclaimed, “We have much to say about this but…many are slow to learn” (5:11). At present, many of God’s people and churches are filled with dead works like those mentioned in the book of Revelation’s letters to the churches. Any program or decision should be birthed in prayer, by praying in the Holy Spirit. In local churches and organizations, whenever appointments are to be made, leaders should select only Godly men and women full of the Holy Spirit – not just with speaking in tongues, but full of the Spirit.

Look at the life of Jesus. His works were not His own. His words were not His own. The only way to live a life without dead works is to live a life filled with the Holy Spirit. “…and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.”  (Acts 5:32 KJV) The Holy Spirit will not allow Himself to be mixed with sin and fleshly desires.

Let’s look at our own individual lives and see what is not working. Survey your life in honesty: Is there anything not working in my life? In my marriage? In my business? In my service with God? In my relationship with others?

Repent from dead works and live with faith toward God.

Let’s pray: “Father, I come to you in Jesus’ name and ask that you show me any dead works in my life. I submit to the refining fire to burn out any dross in my heart and life, so that there will be life in all I do and say! Amen.”

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