I recently bought an electric knife sharpener. It works splendidly, and I regularly demonstrate its worth by accidentally slicing open my finger the first time I use a newly sharpened knife. It’s a quality control assessment: Is there blood? Yes. The knife has been adequately sharpened.
I’m a little odd in that when I get a new appliance I read the instruction book from cover to cover, before I even touch the appliance, and then go online for even more information. That’s how I discovered the fascinating world of forged vs stamped knife blades.
All knife blades are not the same. Some blades are punched or stamped out of a thin sheet of steel, like dough cut out with a cookie cutter. This is the quick way to make a knife, but it doesn’t produce a strong blade. Strong blades are made by heating a bar of steel to a very high temperature, and then hammering to form the blade, sometimes in fifty separate steps. Forged knife blades are superior to stamped blades, and more expensive.
This difference between stamped and forged knives got me thinking about the difference between a stamped, cookie-cutter Christian, and a forged Christian.
Imagine getting this sales pitch from a kiosk employee at the mall. “Good morning, ma’am. I’m offering you the choice of a comfy, cozy life with perfect health, a Good Housekeeping worthy kitchen, a batch of relatives who will think you’re wonderful at all times, and enough money for anything you want. Or you can walk through this blazing fire over here, which may include the flames of devastating illness, a crummy job or no job, unfair treatment, or just the steady smolder of a difficult relationship or chronic illness. It will leave you singed, scarred and in pain. Which would you prefer?”
No sane person would choose the fire. But we actually have no choice. Hard things come to all of us, sooner or later. The actual choice we have is to let the forge destroy us, or to be made strong. The fire shapes our character, gives us insight and sympathy for other sufferers, and prepares us to walk down paths of even greater faith.
This is a basic teaching of the Bible, but Western Christianity has forgotten it. We live in a convenience culture that doesn’t want to suffer, ever. Peter, the disciple who during Jesus’ trial denied even knowing Jesus, because to do so might have earned him his own cross, wrote to persecuted Christians years later:
“… In this [God’s power shielding you] you rejoice, though nowfor a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-8).”
To be forged is a painful, searing, messy process. In the fire you feel the pain, ask why, weep, feel far from God, and hang on anyway. You know people who’ve done this. They’ve been to hell and back, or maybe they’re still there, but the fire is forging them into blades of faith. These are the people you want beside you when you go through your own fire.
Intense suffering is a daily part of life for countless Christians around the world. But here’s a shocker – persecuted Christians seldom ask that we pray for an end to their suffering. They ask us to pray that they remain faithful, because their suffering draws them closer to God.
Not long ago a group of Egyptian Christians were beheaded by ISIS, simply for being followers of Jesus. The grieving brother of one of the martyrs said,
“We had a hope that they would be released. But the will of God was for them to be martyrs of Christ, and that is better than life. They were martyred in the name of Jesus Christ. They kept the faith until the last moment. They didn’t deny the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are proud of them.”
This dear man is no stamped blade. His faith has been forged; his blade is strong. His statement swells in my heart, and I wonder if I would say the same. The good news is that he says it, not in his own strength, but in God’s strength. His God is my God, the God who will forge me and strengthen me if I let him.