If I’m hiking and camping out for several days, campfires are vital. And the most important thing I carry with me as I begin each day is a handful of charred sticks from the previous night’s fire. They’re the very best fire starters—no need to find tinder or other sticks. I just spark the charred ends, blow on them, and pile on a few fresh logs.

The charred sticks are dirty, smelly, and appear to be worthless. The reason they’re so useful, however, is that they’ve already been through a fire and the flames prepared them for future use.

Speaking of fire and smoke, why did God allow Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to face what appeared to be death in an inferno? (Daniel 3:19-21). Why weren’t they afraid of the flames? How could they stand in the fire without being seared as the guards near them died from the intense heat? (Daniel 3:22-24). God was glorified in this amazing story, but perhaps He also used the experience to grow and deepen the trio’s faith. It would be hard to go through an experience like that without being refined and tempered!

There’s no shortcut to being prepared to serve God, and it almost invariably means going through a fire (though thankfully it’s not usually a literal one). Look at how “fire” produces endurance and maturity in James 1:3: “When your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”

Just as only a hiker sees the true value in his charred sticks of the night before, the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 had all been through trials that God used to perfect their faith. He sees the fires of life for what they are: active agents that cause our faith to be burnished, tempered, and fortified for Him.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Genesis 37:1-36