I always thought Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were a little un-relatable—if not downright crazy. Every time Sunday Week One comes up in Liturgy of the Hours (or any major feast day, or the season of Christmas) and we pray through the canticle that starts, “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever,” I shake my head in wonder and disbelief; not because “you dolphins and all water creatures” are specifically mentioned, but because
THEY ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A FURNACE OF FIRE!!!!
What an incredibly bold prayer—and how much pure faith these three men needed to pray it! Sometimes I forget that fact; I read Scripture stories like this one and think something along the lines of, “oh, that’s nice. They wanted everything to bless the Lord.” But that’s not the point. The point is, they were blessing God when they had nothing left, when according to all appearances and assumptions they would soon be dead, when everyone thought that there was no hope left for them, no chance, no reason to bless God. That’s gutsy. That’s what saints are made of. The more I started realizing what an amazing act of faith this was, the more I thought it was far beyond my understanding; I would never be able to attain that level of faith and trust.
So I started praying for those things. A word of advice to anyone who is thinking about praying something along the lines of “God, help me to trust you more,” or, “God increase my faith”: MEAN IT. Here’s the danger of praying like that: God listens. And He is more than ready to answer. God doesn’t skimp out on answering those prayers, because it’s exactly what He wants for and from us—for us to trust Him completely, to unite ourselves to Him—but it’s not going to look like anything you expected or hoped for. The reason I say it’s dangerous is because of how God answers; He doesn’t just give you faith or trust or love or hope (well, I’m sure He might for some people. I should say, He doesn’t just give those things to me). Instead, God gives an opportunity to love more, or to have more faith, or to trust more in Him. And that is something infinitely more blessed, but incredibly harder.
The real fire, the real furnace, that Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were in the middle of was the fire of God’s love; of Him presenting them with an opportunity to prove their trust in Him, to make a ridiculously bold act of faith, to love God no matter what happened externally, to hope in His promises even when everyone else and all their circumstances were telling them not to. That calls to mind the chorus of a song by Shane and Shane:
“Burn us up, burn us up, burn us up; oh King, oh won’t you burn us in the furnace of your desire? We give up, we give up, we give up; oh King, oh won’t you burn us in the furnace of your desire? Won’t you throw us in the fire?”
In the song, that chorus is sung by the 3 young men in address to King Nebuchadnezzar; and while that’s really powerful, even more amazing is that those words are really a prayer crying out to God—the King. And I have (strangely, amazingly) found myself praying that same prayer lately. I think I’m beginning to understand Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael a little bit more (never thought I would say that, but there it is…). I’m by no means faced with the choice to jump in an actual furnace as a test of my faith in God; but every day God does ask me to make another act of faith, a conscious choice to trust in His plans for me, even as I don’t understand them. I can’t say I like it (fire burns!) but I know that with each minute I stay within that purifying flame of God’s love, He is melting away all in me that is not of Him:
“For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord…” (Malachi 3:2-4).
That’s where the joy of being in the furnace of fire comes from—the reason those 3 holy young men are able to call upon everything in Heaven, on Earth, and under the earth to bless the Lord. There is joy in being tested in the fire of God’s love, in knowing that He is working at getting rid of all the obstacles that stand in the way of me having a deeper relationship with Him, that He is strengthening me and calling me to something infinitely greater than I can imagine or do by myself. It is painfully beautiful. It is bittersweet. It is a sacrificial blessing. And I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Through the struggle, through the questions, through the doubt, through the immense effort it takes to be able to keep on praying, “Lord, I trust you and your will for my life,” I am being made more pure and beautiful—a sacrifice worthy of the Lord—more strong and sure and confident every day of my need for Him and His provision for me.
So burn me up, oh King; won’t you throw me in the fire?