What Comes to the Surface

God’s refining work in our lives

Apr 10, 2023

God Transformation Change Christianity Surrender
woman’s face statue looking out of window

Photo by Greg Rosenke

I left the laser and skin spa holding an ice pack against my left cheekbone to reduce the burning. It was about to thunderstorm, so I rushed to my car. The lead aesthetician told me it might sting more than last time since she cranked up the heat on my IPL service. I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted after two treatments, so she suggested we try a more intense level. The sunburned sensation post-treatment was normal, as was the darkening of the skin. It was only in one spot, but it still looked worse than it actually was. When I came home, my husband was mildly shocked at seeing it on my face. I must admit, it did slightly look like I got punched, or like a big bug got smashed into pieces on the left side of my face. Now, three days later, it has reduced in size, flaking off as anticipated.

IPL is a way to improve the color and texture of your skin without surgery and undo some of the visible damage caused by sun exposure. It is a photofacial treatment process that uses pulses of concentrated light to target a certain color in your skin. It penetrates down to the second layer of the skin, where pigment cells absorb the light energy, which is converted into heat. The heat destroys the unwanted pigment and clears up spots. Essentially, the light from the machine brings to the surface the part you’re trying to get rid of so it can burn off.

As I stood inspecting the area in the mirror last night before bed, it occurred to me what a stark metaphor this was for the refining work God does in our lives to grow us. Whatever it is we have been surrendering to Him to be rid of—anger, jealousy, resentment, pettiness, greed, lust—He must first bring to the surface with the penetrating light of His truth. These parts of us sit there, underneath the “second layer” of our skin, and dictate our thought life, our behavior, our attitudes. They become engrained in our daily actions and begin to seep into the words we speak. Before we realize their destructive nature, they have wreaked havoc in our relationships, causing immeasurable pain.

As humans we’re pretty fragile and hardheaded; not the best combination. We fall into sin repeatedly, like the Israelites. It seems God doesn’t have a choice but to have us face the ugliness of the sin we’re engaging in so that we finally desire to change it. He targets the areas that need purification, enabling us to see the consequences of our self-centered tendencies. Sadly, we often must suffer in order to learn the lesson. We must experience heartbreak before we learn how to love unconditionally.

How easily the enemy can lead us astray. How easily we, too, can be tempted to eat from the apple. This Christian walk is riddled with potholes and debris, clouding our judgment, causing us to trip and fall face down. On our own, we don’t have the tools needed for this journey. Our eyes cannot see in the darkness. We need God’s Word, which is a lamp for our feet, a light on our path (Psalm 119:105). And it is this light that illuminates our dark spots and shows us where it is we need cleansing. With each imperfection that is lifted, we become lightened from a load that was harmful to our spirit.

What we surrender to Him, He converts into holiness.

Maybe as often as we visit a skin spa, we need to visit a “spirit spa.” A place where we meet the ultimate healer to be given a “heart lift.” And instead of a reduction in wrinkles, we receive a reduction in sinful behavior. Because God is not interested in our outward appearance; He is invested in our inner world—our desires, our thoughts, our heart. He knows that our outside is a reflection of our inside, so He works with the deeper parts of us that we may glorify Him outwardly. His process is from the inside out.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

~Psalm 139:23-24

The refining work of God can be painful. It is unpleasant at best and excruciating at worst. What comes to the surface might sometimes surprise us, leaving us questioning our heart’s motives. Our “offensive ways” can sneak into our lives, unseen, unwelcome, and stay too long. The damage they cause, however, is very much visible. Broken homes, broken relationships, broken hearts. This is why the refining is necessary. God can see beneath any amount of layers. There aren’t enough of them we can use to cover up our offenses. Yet we still try, hoping if we increase the distance between them and our skin, the harder it will be to pull them out. But God, in His loving mercy, wants to free us of any spiritual thorns. He knows that the pain of exposing and eradicating our sin is not as great as the pain of living with it. And so begins His work of uprooting our “unwanted pigments.”

I know I have dark spots I need to surrender. There are offensive ways in me that need weeding out. I cannot do this work in my own strength. I need God’s supernatural power to penetrate below the surface of my character and refine me. Slowly transform me into the likeness of Christ. My part is to consistently surrender, persist in laying my faults before Him. And then, get the ice pack ready, because it will sting.