“To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
As we enter into the season of fall, it’s hard not to look forward to cooler weather and its significant other…cool weather food. I know, I know, the turning of leaves is a sight to behold as are the whitening of cotton fields and the blooming of mums. All around colors will soon explode and our eyes will feast upon the colors of fall. But, our eyes aren’t the only things that will enjoy an autumnal buffet; so too will our taste buds as we pull out our recipes for soups, stews, and “never serve chili without it” cornbread. I realize cornbread is a dish that can be made year-round, but it becomes a must alongside a hearty pot of soup or a heaping bowl of pinto beans. And these dishes, to me, are the taste of fall.
And that leads me to my present topic: the iron skillet. Surely, there is not a cornbread worthy of its name (or of its crustiness) that’s baked in a pan or, heaven forbid, in a muffin tin. No, cornbread is only truly cornbread when it’s baked in an iron skillet. And not just any iron skillet…it must be an aged, well-seasoned iron skillet. If you don’t have one of these, then not only do you have a conundrum, but you also have my condolences. No iron skillet, no cornbread; no cornbread, no chili; no chili, no point in fall…except for the beautiful colors, cooler temperatures, and incredible blue skies…but other than that, it’s a wash.
So, if I have now deflated your positivity toward autumn and your prolificacy toward making cornbread, let me now proclaim that, “I bring you good tidings of great joy! For unto you is purchasable this day, in the realm of flea markets or (if need be) kitchen catalogs, an iron skillet that has been crafted for you!” Yes, iron skillets are still around and, whether you buy one new or used, it can still herald the triumphal entry of fall and of chili…and vegetable soup…and pinto beans…and (one of my favorites) Mexican cornbread. Ah, to know that there is hope; it is with great delight that I now share this news! And, lest I fail to see these tidings through, I will also announce the “secret of the skillet”. For to have an iron skillet is but the beginning…its true power and potential lies in its being properly seasoned. The quality that makes the iron skillet so amazing is that it absorbs the oils from the foods it prepares. The oils remain in the skillet and, with each additional use, the skillet creates a polished surface that prevents foods from sticking and creates a crustiness that cannot be duplicated by any man-made, non-stick surface of a pan. It is, truly, (though unknown, unproven, and undocumented) the eighth wonder of the world.
And so, you whose attention I now hold, you whose foot is already tapping with anticipation to dart out the door, you whose mind is only halfway reading this as the other half mentally maps out your flea market route, just how does one season an iron skillet? Well, thankfully, it’s quite simple. You simply scour the skillet with a little soap and, if necessary, a metal/copper scrubby; if bought at a flea market, you might need to scrub a little harder to remove dirt, rust, and unknown (because you don’t want to know) debris. Then, dry the skillet and rub it down with some vegetable oil or shortening and bake it for an hour at 350-400 degrees. After you have done this, it’s ready to use and with each additional use, the oils from the foods will enter into the iron and form a non-stick surface. In time, you will have a well-seasoned, naturally non-stick, iron skillet…and the best corn bread this side of….well, of my house.
Yes, that’s how you season an iron skillet, and, as it turns out, that’s how you season your own surface as well. As I thought about iron skillets and the process through which they are seasoned, I thought about myself and my need to be seasoned. While I’m not a skillet, I too share similarities with the composition and characteristics of an iron skillet. After all, I was created for a purpose, I need to be oiled and heated, and I need to be used frequently so that my surface absorbs the oils of experience and develops its own non-stick surface. And then there’s the whole analogy between sprayed on Teflon surfaces and transformed iron surfaces! Oh my, I had no idea how much I had in common with an iron skillet…other than our shared ACT scores.
To connect the dots, let’s look at each similarity we have with an iron skillet. First, we must start with the obvious: iron skillets were made for cooking. While they have undoubtedly been used in other ways over the years (door stops, plant holders, Cracker Barrel décor), their original purpose, their created purpose, was to cook. We too were created for a purpose and, in a way, it’s a type of cooking too. We were made to produce something that is beneficial…truly edible…for others. Our design is specific for our use…and our use is to produce! God’s word tells us we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared (seasoned) beforehand that we might walk (cook/bake) in them. (Ephesians 2:10, slightly paraphrased.) And so we make ourselves available to God; we allow Him to fill us with whatever ingredients He chooses for the dish He is currently preparing and when the baking is complete, we offer up the finished product for…others. That’s right, though God may use us in the baking process, the outcome is intended for someone else. And, in like manner, that which God prepares in the skillets of others, He offers up for our nourishment, for our good. But the readily available skillet, having been used for the benefit of others, is rewarded as well for it is through the baking process that seasoning occurs. Every time a saint allows himself to be used for his intended purpose, the oils of the encounter settle into his surface and he becomes more seasoned. As time goes by, his surface becomes so well-oiled that nothing can stick to him; not accusations or allegations, not impunities or impatience, not selfishness or pride. The believer soon learns that an available skillet is a used skillet and a used skillet is a seasoned skillet.
The third correlation between skillets and saints is the means through which the baking and seasoning occur: the heat of the oven. No skillet can turn out hot, crusty batches of cornbread without enduring the heat of the oven, nor can they absorb any oils unless the temperature in which they are placed is hot enough to cause expansion. Yes, heat is necessary for delicious cornbread and heat is necessary for developing Christians. It is through exposure to difficult circumstances and “I can’t do it on my own” situations that God produces the finest, crustiest products in us and, once they have been turned out for the benefit of others, the oils that remain from their time in our (skillet) life forever change our surface and our non-stickiness. Soon, we will become more acclimated to the inside of the oven than to the outside of the oven because we will have learned that transformation only takes place in us and through us when we surrender to the heat.
Finally, there is one last connection to make. And that is in regard to the iron skillet’s nemesis…the Teflon skillet. It too boasts of a non-stick surface…sometimes with as many as seven layers of a sprayed-on substance that is supposed to last up to twenty years. Often times these skillets are shiny and colorful; they may even come with a lid to show they can multi-task. But be not deceived…Teflon skillets can no more replace iron skillets than baked fries can replace French fries! It’s all in the oil…and the grease. It’s through the repeated process of oiling, heating, and using a skillet that a seasoned, non-stick surface emerges…not sprayed on, painted on, or coated on; but rubbed in, heated in, and baked in. With the iron skillet, it’s not just a surface change, it’s a substance change; it’s not simply a recoating but it’s a recreation and a regeneration. For the Christian, there aren’t any shortcuts to the seasoned life; there’s nothing we can put on or hide under that will bring about the same surface results, or desired taste, of a well-seasoned iron skillet. If we want a transformation, then we must allow it to happen over time…and with the right amount of heat, for we can trust the words of the Master Chef when He promised to make all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17), by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5); the change will be internal, not external; we will be seasoned, not sprayed. So what do we do with the Teflon skillet? We use it for what it was intended for: quiche…and maybe crepes…it would probably come in handy for these. But who wants a crepe alongside their bowl of chili? Truly, for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and when the season is fall, the purpose is cornbread…not quiche and not crepes!
So fellow saint, how blackened is your skillet? How seasoned is your surface? Are you headed to the oven or have you just been taken out? And, to whom will your most recent dish be served? My prayer for you, as well as for myself, is that as a new season unfolds we will not only delight in the tastes of fall (prepared in a well-seasoned iron skillet), but we will offer up ourselves to be used by God so that, through repeated use, we too may become seasoned skillets in the hands of our Master Chef…for His glory and for our good. May others say, because of what God bakes in us, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)