There are several verses in the Bible that use the refining of gold as a metaphor for the changes that God brings about in us. Malachi 3:2b-3a (paraphrased) says that when the Lord comes He will be like a refiner's fire, and that he will purify and refine us like silver and gold.
Many of us have heard this analogy before, but today I heard it in a way that made it seem more real. This is a rough sketch of how gold was purifed a long time ago: In order to purify the gold it was first heated to a molten state. The impurities floated to the top of the gold liquid and were skimmed off. This process was repeated MANY times, until...the refiner could see his face reflected in the liquid gold.
Whenever we go through tests or trials, we can consider them a run through the "refiner's fire." Some of these trials are obviously life-altering, such as living with a chronic illness or experiencing the death of a loved one. However, we also undergo regular testing in our everyday lives. Do you honor your parents? Do you love your enemies, including those who cut you off in traffic? Do you cheerfully give a portion of your income to the church or other charities?
A couple of years ago I was given an uncomfortable look at one of my own "impurities." I spent several months in close quarters with someone who possessed the same personality flaw I did, so it was like staring at my soul in the mirror and seeing a black smudge that I couldn't seem to wipe off. I came away from the experience with a troubled heart, seeing the imperfection in myself, but not knowing how to remove it.
I realize now that one of the ways God works in our lives is by first exposing the impurities, and then slowly skimming them away. So don't be discouraged when you become aware of your flaws. The very fact that you have been made aware of a particular flaw could indicate that God is planning to make some changes in that area of your life. Remember, first the impurities have to be brought to the surface, only then can they be skimmed off.
This process of purification is a lifelong one that will be repeated countless times. The good news is that eventually God will look down at us and be able to see the reflection of His face.