After some time hiking through the mountains, a man finds before him a beautiful valley—the most beautiful valley he has ever seen, in fact. Lush, green vegetation spreads out before him, dotted with bright little flowers of various different colors and shapes, sending out aromas that immediately fill his nostrils with a fragrance so sweet he must stand totally still and silent purely to cherish it, to savor it. Tall trees reach high towards the bright blue sky above and he cannot help but just stare in awe at the beauty that surrounds him, his mouth agape at the wonder of it all. Surely no picture could capture the beauty of this place, he thinks to himself.
As the man stands there in bewildered stupefaction, a ranger appears and stands beside him, smiling up at the trees. “Sure is a beautiful place, eh?” the ranger asks, the smile never leaving his face.
“I have no words,” the man replies. “How did this come to be? It’s so…breathtaking. Heck, breathtaking doesn’t even do it justice.”
“I’ll tell you how,” the ranger said as he looked over at the man, the smile moving from his lips into his eyes. “Ten years ago, this place was nothing but a mess of underbrush, nothing you’d bother to even bat an eyelash at.” He paused as if waiting for the man to respond, but when the wearisome hiker offered no response, he continued on: “But all of a sudden, a forest fire came through and ravaged the entire valley. That fire cleansed the valley and made way for new growth that resulted in the current awe-inspiring beauty.” He paused once again, then: “I guess sometimes, the things we think will destroy us actually give birth to something beautiful that takes our breath away.” After making this paradoxical statement, the ranger smiled once more and the two parted ways.
You see, this story is a metaphor for life, a metaphor that, like the “Tiger and the Strawberries” analogy I mentioned previously, provides us with a profound truth that will help consistently remind us that there is nothing to fear in life.
And whereas the “Tiger and the Strawberries” told us to no longer fear the struggles of everyday life by instead shifting our focus to the wonderful things God has provided us with—the strawberries—this story takes a different approach that manages to further the same notion: not only do we have no reason to fear the struggles, but we should in fact take comfort in them. For here is the truth: you are the valley of this story, and with each fire you encounter in life—each struggle you face—you are being cleansed of all you thought was true about yourself to make way for a more beautiful and lovely creation that more directly mirrors the image of the Father above. The chaff and the underbrush burn away, yet like a phoenix rising from the ashes, how beautiful is the new you!
But here’s the thing: like the woman running from the tigers, standing in the heat of the fire is no pleasant pastime. The flames lick your body, the heat stings your skin, and you feel as though the devil himself has dropped by for a visit to provide you with your own hell here on earth—and sometimes, admittedly, the hell feels as big as earth itself, yet you are stuck in the midst of it! So where is the courage in that? Where is this beauty I speak of?
This beauty is known as transformation, and there is plenty of courage to be found in transformation.
You see, each time you face a struggle in life—those break-ups, illnesses, financial crises, instabilities, etc.—they are placed there by God in His sovereign power to help shape you and mold you into the person you are meant to be. Does not Isaiah 64:8 tell us that we are the clay and God is the potter, and that we are all the work of His hands? Does Psalm 139:13 not tell us that He knit us together in our mother’s very womb? God created us with a specific plan in mind, so rather than question His intentions and be angered by the pain we feel—that fire that burns—instead we should be like Job, who despite all his afflictions stayed devout in his faith and continued to worship God, even through the suffering. Though we walk through the darkest of valleys, we have no reason to fear evil, for God is with us (Psalm 23:4). And from those flames will come beauty, for the lessons He teaches us amidst that strife have no bounds.
If you don’t find courage in that, take courage in the fact that God not only shapes you through the pain, but He personally knows the pain that you face! He experienced it firsthand, just as you and I do every day. Think of the struggle He felt as He was tempted in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11). Think of the fear that tore at His very soul that night in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-46). Think of the challenges—the rejection, the abuse, the mockery, the scorn—that He experienced throughout all of His life here on earth. He knows your pain on a personal level because that pain was turned upon Him. He struggled in every way, having no advantage over you or I on this earth.
Yet He endured. He overcame sin despite the pain wrought upon Him. And despite His perfection, He took on the torture we deserved and died so that we would not have to. Did Jesus want to be tortured? Of course not! His human will obviously would push Him to avoid such a brutal and lengthened death. Yet He did it anyways, not because He had too—He was and is God, who owes us absolutely nothing—but because He wanted to. He knew that by surrendering Himself to the hell He faced—by welcoming the fire that blazed before Him—He would give birth to true beauty, which is the reconciliation we have earned through His death on that cross and His subsequent resurrection three days later. Whereas Adam and all of humanity since him have said, Not Your will but mine, Jesus was the one person with enough courage and comfort amidst the fire to say Not my will but Yours (Matt. 26:39).
Through tears and anguish and fervent cries and petitions, Jesus learned to obey the Father through the surrendering of His own will (Heb. 5:7-9), an action we are all called to do. And by surrendering His own will and aligning His will with that of the Father, Jesus also aligned our will with the Father’s since our true selves are found as one with Christ (John 17:21, 1 Cor. 6:17). If we are one with the Lord, then we must share His will, but we can only accomplish that will by surrendering our own, which is earthen and finite and flawed, just like the selves that we typically align with. But instead we are called to surrender amidst the suffering, so that rather than fearing the pain and wallowing in our own misery, we should maintain a happy countenance and an optimistic outlook, because it is all for our own growth! God is forming is, molding us, turning us into the people He wants us to be!
So why be stressed? Why fear the ways of this world? Why not take comfort in the persecution, knowing that it will do nothing but help you grow and become a better person in the end? Not only should you appreciate the strawberries in your life—all the good things God has provided—but you should appreciate the fires just as well, because while the strawberries are there to comfort you and bring you happiness, the fire is there to mold you into a wiser, stronger, more mature person than you could have ever been without it…without them. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of the fools is in the house of pleasure” (Ecc. 7:4).
NOW LET'S BE HONEST...more is learned from adversity than pleasure, so not only should you stop fearing the fire, but you should embrace it, welcome it! This is the day that God has made, so rejoice and be glad in that day (Psalm 118:24), for there is “nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad” (Ecc. 8:15).
So remember this when you face that fire in your life: Jesus endured the greatest fire known to man, yet you are the one who reaps the benefits of the valley that was left behind—and what a beautiful valley it is. You get to swim in its lakes, run through its fields, taste of its fruit. You are no longer condemned to death because Jesus has already taken on that death and defeated it, so now only the lies within you have to die as you embrace who you truly are thanks to Jesus and what He has done. So amidst the fire, take comfort, for He is there with you (Dan. 3:25), He is holding you (Isaiah 41:13), and He will never forsake you (Deut. 31:6).
So as a lasting challenge to you, I say this: As you find yourself in the midst of the fire, go to God in prayer, surrender yourself through obedience to His will, and enjoy the beauty that is born from the ashes.