I didn't want to get married. But I knew I was turning away a gift from God. Fear was gripping my heart as I resisted the gift of marriage. I knew it would be hard work and I would get hurt in the process. I thought thinking about marriage in terms of a gift meant adopting a sentimental view: a dozen red roses, date nights, dinner and wine, romantic picnics, and late night pillow talk. Maybe the romanticized view of marriage would elevate my negativity? After five years in my marriage I'm just now learning what that gift actually means.
The gift God gives us through marriage can be sentimental and romantic at times – marriage can bring much joy to our lives – but ultimately it's a gift given to aid in our sanctification. God's thoughts about gifts are different than ours; he doesn't think about balloons and teddy bears like we do. His gifts are tools designed to lead us to the greatest gift of himself. Because ultimately marriage is about God, not us. God's gifts – whether prosperity or pain – should drive us to delight in him.
God gave me the gift of marriage so that, through adversity in my marriage, I would draw nearer to Jesus as my true joy and satisfaction in life. I'm realizing now my fear of marriage was actually fear of adversity. I would enjoy life a lot more if it wasn't so hard, and it's hard because I'm a sinner married to a sinner living in a fallen world. We all go through times (or lifetimes) of pain and hardship, and as Christians we are guaranteed suffering and adversity. Jesus told us to pick up our cross and follow him; we are called to follow in his footsteps through whatever means he chooses.
In Daniel 3:25-27, the means God chose for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was a fiery furnace. These three men refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar and their punishment was to be burned alive. Yet, the flame did not hurt them. You see, a fourth man appeared with them in the fire: one who was "like the son of the gods" (Daniel 3:25). The King calls them to come out of the furnace and the passage says their hair was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and they didn't even smell of fire and smoke. Verse 27 says, "And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men." Fire is powerful, but the more powerful creator of fire was the fourth man in the furnace: Jesus Christ.
This account is attested to prophetically in Isaiah 43:1-2:
"But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
How could God promise his people, the Israelites, that fire would not burn nor consume them? Because of the fourth man in the fiery furnace. Through faith in the atoning work of Jesus the people of Israel would not need to fear spiritual harm. The same is true for us today. Whatever fiery furnace God is calling us to, Jesus is with us telling us not to fear, because he has already saved us from the eternal flame of hell. Our earthly adversity will never compare to the agony of being eternally burned by fire in hell. Jesus went through hell for us on the cross, so we would not be consumed by fire.
Adversity will hurt and will not be easy, it could even take our life, but it will never take away the eternal life redeemed for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because we are eternally secure in Christ we don't have to fear adversity, we can see it as the gift God intends for us. It is a gift that works to turn our affections away from the world and towards Jesus who gives us the ultimate gift of salvation.
The hymn, How firm a Foundation, says this well:
"The flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine."
Jesus waged war with fear in the Garden of Gethsemane by pleading with the Father to take away his cup of adversity. But in the end Jesus waved the white flag of surrender to God's will, by saying, "Not my will, but yours be done." We are called to follow Christ's example, through whatever fiery furnace he takes us, and he promises to be with us.