One of my favourite stories in the old testament is the one about Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego - and it's all because of one short little phrase.
While the Israelites were in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue and he wanted all the people to fall down on their knees and worship this said statue whenever horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music played. (Isn't it interesting how we human beings have an inherent desire to worship something - anything.)
But of course Shack, Rack and Benny knew the One True God and refused to bow down and worship the silly statue. Some astrologers then came forward and denounced the Jews telling the King that these three men were not obeying the command to play musical statues.
So they were brought before the furious King Neb and were told there would be grave consequences. And they replied with something remarkable. “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
What faith. And what dedication to God. They knew God would save them, but then even if He did not, they were prepared to die for His name's sake.
Anyway, so then sure enough they were thrown into a blazing furnace and because King Neb was so furious, he made the fire in the furnace seven times hotter! (I'm not exactly sure how he did that, probably adding more fuel I guess, some of those flames could have been as hot as 1000 degrees Celsius. Modern technology can get a flame as hot as 3000 degrees Celsius, but you would need something called oxy acetylene combustion which they might not have had back in ancient Babylon.)
Anyway, as well as making the fire hotter, he had guards also tie up the three stubborn Jews. Then, in all their clothes - robes, trousers and turbans - they were thrown into the fire and the fire was so hot that the soldiers that had to do the throwing-in were killed right there on the spot! King Neb stood by watching (from a safe distance of course) and he suddenly called out, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” His men confirmed that this was true. Then King Neb rubbed his eyes, squinted them, shook his head and squinted again and blinked a few times. In amazement, he said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Then he came a little closer to the furnace and called to them, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
(Yes, King Nebuchadnezzar just said the Most High God.) They came out, the King and all the King's men gathered round, and there they were. The three men of God - Shack, Rack and Benny - their clothes unharmed, their hair unsinged, their bonds unbound...
...And there was no smell of fire on them.
This is the reason I love this story so much. This is the phrase. Where was the smell of fire? The smell of fire is, of course, smoke. Normally, if you're even close to somewhere that is nearly in the vicinity of somewhere near the location of fire... you have to wash your hair and clothes when you get home because the smell of smoke will get on your lounge chair, on your sheets and on your pillow when you go to bed. It gets everywhere. When my husband Joshua cooks a barbecue outside, we're careful to keep the doors closed. And it's one of the only times I don't want a hug from him because then I will also stink of smoke. It sticks, it lingers, it gets into everything.
It's miracle enough that these three chaps came out of this seven-times-hotter furnace unharmed (I mean, the original temperature in there would have done the trick but I guess the King was real angry), but the even more amazing miracle, is that they didn't even smell of smoke!
So often we come out the other end of bad, difficult situations, smelling of its 'smoke'. You can see when someone has had a bad day, you can in a sense 'smell' it on them. When people have had a bad upbringing or a traumatic experience - it usually affects them for the rest of their lives. You can smell the hurt on them, the disappointment, the bitterness, the desire for revenge, the anger, the regret. There are of course good things that come from bad situations - I'm not talking about that side of it. I'm talking about the negative side-effects from being in a 'fire' - whether it was a tough stressful week or a deep family trauma from childhood. There was fire, and where there is fire, there is smoke - if I may switch that little idiom around. The smoke might be those things I mentioned above - bitterness, anger, regret etc. Or it might be having a gloomy outlook on things, or never trusting anyone again, or being short with your close friends, or feeling the world is against you.
Where there is fire, there is smoke - that is a true fact. If a fire is close by, there will be smoke in the air and you will smell it and it will make you smell of smoke too - you can't get around that fact.
That is of course unless there is a miracle in play. And I am telling you that with God, you don't have to smell of smoke from your bad situations and negative experiences. When you trust God and look unto Him like our friends Shack, Rack and Benny did, with complete trust, dedication and love for Him, you can come out of the fire without even smelling of smoke! And perhaps those around you will be able to sense the 'fourth' person in the fire. Whether that was an angel, or Jesus Himself, we don't know for sure, but that fourth person looking like a son of the gods can be beside you. And maybe, just maybe if the people around you sense this presence beside you and they can't for the life of them smell the stench of smoke on you from the fire, maybe they too, like King Nebuchadnezzar, will say “Praise be to the God of (insert your name here), Who has sent His angel and rescued His servant! They trusted in Him and defied (insert your tough situation here that the devil throws at you) and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God."
God was made known to the King and all his people because of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego's faith and commitment. Look unto God through your fires, trust in Him, proclaiming His name along the way and you will come out unharmed, unsinged and not even smelling of smoke.