While in college, I worked in a department store. One of my co-workers was an attractive young lady and we began to develop a bit of a friendship. Late night phone calls, movies together, dinner with friends, and shared memories all allowed this friendship to continue for over a year. While I was happy to be her “friend,” I didn’t want our friendship to turn into the “friendship trap.” My heart wanted more. After a year, I began to talk to her about how I was really feeling and my desire for more than just friendship. She was reluctant. I was patient. Finally, my charm and chiseled good looks won her over and we became “official.” I thought great things were lying ahead for us ... until our first Valentine’s Day four months later. Since this was going to be our first Valentine’s Day together, I wanted to go big. I purchased some special gifts, ordered some roses, and then had it all delivered to her house so it would be waiting for her when she got home from work. I could not wait to hear from her about how good of a boyfriend I was.
That night, I received a phone call from her that went something like this: “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rich. Thanks so much for the gifts. That was really nice. By the way … I don’t think we should date any more.” She broke up with me … over the phone … on VALENTINE’S DAY! It felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the world as well as all of the sunshine. Ugh!
What does that have to do with Christmas? Well, I think that’s about as close as I can come to feeling what Joseph must have felt when Mary told him that she was expecting. They were engaged to be married and had saved themselves for each other … or so Joseph thought. The next thing you know, Mary is telling him some story about an angel, the Holy Spirit, and a prophecy that says “and the virgin will conceive,” and she just happened to be the virgin. Put yourself in Joseph’s place. I’m sure it was all a bit much for Joseph to believe and I can only imagine the hurt and betrayal he must have initially felt. Yet we are told that “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
How does one respond in that way? To be shamed and yet still be unwilling to put Mary to shame says a lot about who Joseph was as a man. Some say that troubles build character. While that’s not untrue, I’m not sure it’s completely true. While troubles do help build character, they reveal character as well and, in this case, we discover that Joseph was a “just man.” This type of character is not forged overnight. No doubt, God had been refining Joseph’s character for a long time.
What my very own “Valentine’s Day Massacre” revealed was that my character was anything but “just.” I was hurt. I was angry. And, I, unfortunately, was more than happy to put her to shame. I would say very unkind things about her behind her back and THINK even more unkind things about her in the silence of my own mind.
Her actions against me never justified my actions against her, though. If anything, what her actions did was reveal the true condition of my heart. The cruel words I would say about her, and the even more cruel thoughts I would think about her, all revealed what had been lying dormant in my heart. Her treatment of me was simply the opportunity those things needed to rise to the surface.
We can think of our hearts like a snow globe. If someone had never seen a snow globe before, they would not know that there is all of this flaky white stuff lying dormant on the bottom of the globe. But, once the globe gets shaken, it’s then that we see all of the flakes start to swirl around. It’s the same with our hearts. We often do not know what is lying underneath until life begins to shake us a bit. If and when that happens, we often begin to see the ugliness of sin lying underneath the surface. When we do, I think it’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit reveals those things not to condemn us, but rather to refine us. Circumstances, people, events, longings unfulfilled, desires unmet … they’re all often used to bring to the surface what God longs to transform because making us holy is God’s unwavering agenda for His children.
We all need to be refined. Proverbs 17:3 reminds us that: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.” Because we know that God is with us and for us, we can also know that the “fires” of life are meant to refine us and not consume us. As God continues His work in us, we can be confident that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:3 - 4 NIV)
If Joseph was anything like us, I’m pretty confident that the first time … probably even the second, third, and fourth time he faced a “fire” in his life, he didn’t respond the way he did in Matthew 1:19. Being refined into the image of Christ is a process and we’re all at different points in that process. And, as we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, we’ll discover that “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3 – 5 NLT)
We know that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6 ESV) One day we will be refined perfectly. One day we will all be able to say, “At last I am completely free of sin!” One day our lives will fully reflect the final and completed work of God and we know that “when he appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2) For now, though, we are being refined and we can trust that God is working inside of us. As one person has said: “God will take you where you haven't intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.” As we walk with God, we can trust that He is before us, that He is behind us, and that He is with us. He will make sure we are heading in the right direction as long as we keep our eyes on Him.
Verses to Consider: 2 Corinthians 6:3 – 10, James 1:2 – 4, 2 Peter 1:5 – 9