Why Does God Test Us?

As followers of Jesus, we have become citizens of a new kingdom. Paul wrote, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

It’s important to realize, this kingdom operates very differently than the earthly realm in which we also live. When we approach life in God’s kingdom like we do life in the earthly realm, we will experience frustration and confusion. One very major difference between God’s kingdom and the earthly realm has to do with seeing and believing.

In the Kingdom of God, we believe then we see. Our faith perceives what is unseen and then we wait for God to bring it to pass. But the world system doesn’t operate that way; it says, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” To experience success in God’s kingdom, we must operate according to His values. And that requires intentional effort, because He has said…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

As we grow in our understanding of God’s kingdom-priorities, we can align ourselves with Him and experience the life He has for us. His thoughts and ways begin to take precedence over ours. Now we might not always like the way God does things, but that’s besides the point. This is His universe and His kingdom and He gets to decide what the priorities will be and how things will be done.

One of God’s major priorities for our lives is growing our faith, our ability to trust Him completely regardless of our circumstances or feelings. Hebrews 11:17-19 says:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

God tested Abraham. And it was a big one. He told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. I can only imagine what Abraham must have been feeling. He and Sarah had waited all their lives to have a son. And finally in their old age, Isaac was born. And now it looks like God is going to take him from them.

“Sacrifice my son, Lord? But why? How will I explain this to his mother? I don’t understand. You promised You were going to bless the world through him. There must be another way.”

God had no intention of letting Abraham go through with it. It was only a test of his faith. And Abraham passed. So how did he do it?

He “embraced the promises.” He knew what God had told him about Isaac. It would be through him that God would bless the world. Isaac would eventually become the father of Jacob. And Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had his own sons who became the nation of Israel.

Abraham also reasoned that even if Isaac was sacrificed, God could raise him from the dead. The Hebrew word for “reasoned” means: to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over. In other words, Abraham took into account what God had said previously. He thought it all through very carefully. And he embraced God’s promises. The end result of his reasoning was that he knew he could trust God to come through for him. And God did.

Since God never changes, it means He will test us too. I’ve seen it in my life this summer. As God has been at work in me, teaching me and strengthening my faith, I’ve noticed He has also been testing me. Something will happen that seems to contradict what God has said in His word. My tendency has been to focus on the circumstances and doubt God. And that only leads to discouragement. But once I realized God was testing my faith, I chose to embrace His promises and reason that I could continue to trust Him.

So what are you facing today? What circumstances seem overwhelming right now?

Could it be God is testing you? Maybe He wants you to know He really will come through for you, just as He did for Abraham. But if your faith is never tested…how will you know? If you never feel the need to see God come through, how will your faith ever grow?

Maybe the challenges you’re facing today are the tests that are preparing you for what God has in store for you in this next season. What if He has great plans to bless you and use you in ways you’ve never experienced before, but first your ability to trust Him must grow?

Like Abraham, take some time to reason. Don’t focus on what you can see. That will only lead to discouragement and hopelessness. Keep your eyes on God’s character and His promises. You’ll pass the test, see your faith grow and move into a new season of fruitfulness.

What If This Isn’t Where I Wanted to Be?

About a week ago, Robyn and I were driving home to Arkansas after a wonderful time in New Jersey visiting family and friends. The plan was to stop for the night in Terre Haute, Indiana, so I made reservations at a hotel, entered the address into my phone and off we went.

Thirteen hours later, we exited the interstate as we followed the voice instructions to get to our hotel. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the middle of a cornfield with no hotel in sight. It’s not what you want after an all-day drive.

Robyn entered the address into a different map program on her phone and we soon found our hotel, which was miles from where we were.

Have you ever found yourself somewhere you didn’t want to be and weren’t even sure how you got there? Maybe you had a vision for your life. A passion. Something you believed God put in your heart to do. And you began to follow His instructions. Along the way, there were some setbacks, but you persevered, you continued doing your best to follow where He was leading.

“Turn left here. Go straight ahead. Make your next right. Make another left. Arrive at your destination.”

Huh? You look around feeling confused. This isn’t where you wanted to be.

So what happened?

Twice in the past few weeks, I have prayed for some very specific things. Later those same days, God answered me very specifically. Only here’s the thing, I didn’t even remember I’d prayed for those things until I went back later and read what I’d written in my journal those mornings.

I’ll be honest, it’s been mind blowing. I don’t even remember my own prayers sometimes, but God does. And He answers them.

One of the things I often prayed for in my young adult years was that God would make me the man He wanted me to be. Through the years, I’ve also asked God many times to do anything He wanted with me.

And…I sorta forgot I prayed for those things.

But God didn’t.

Now I wish that everything always going my way would be a good path to becoming the man God wants me to be as well as being someone He can use, but it’s not. My friend, Doug Daily, once said, “Growth is always preceded by pain or confusion.” He was right.

God has been about answering my prayers for the past 30 years. And that has meant things not always going my way. My pastor, Jody Farrell, says, “If things always go our way, then we’ll always go our way.” He’s right, too.

Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years after God promised them a child before Isaac was born. Moses had to run to Midian and hide out there for 40 years before God called him to lead Israel out of their captivity in Egypt. David was anointed king, but then ran for his life from Saul for years before he took the throne.

That’s not how they saw things going. It’s not where they wanted to be.

It may feel like God has led you into the middle of cornfield when all you really wanted to do was find your hotel. The truth is that God is at work making you the man or woman He created you to be. He’s making you into someone He can use to accomplish His purposes. He’s building your faith and your character to prepare you for the blessings and assignments ahead.

That’s what He’s up to, whether you prayed for it (and forgot) or not. Know this…if you’re surrendered to Him today, then you are not off course.

So now we get to choose how we will respond. We can grumble and complain about where we are and how unfair we think God is. We can get angry and bitter. We can accuse God of not being good or faithful. I’ve done all that. I can tell you it’s not helpful.

Or we can choose to believe God’s character is perfect. That He’s good. That He’ll never let us down. We can be grateful for the things He’s done for us and stop focusing on the things He hasn’t. We can commit to seek Him and trust Him. And we can anticipate the good He has planned for us.

And what we choose will determine our destiny.

What we choose will also determine our feelings today. You and I get to decide the emotions that will dominate us today. Focusing on our circumstances will often lead to fear, anxiety, worry, insecurity, doubt and any number of negative emotions. I don’t mean to make light of your circumstances, but if you’re in a panic today, it’s because you chose to be. I know. I’ve been there.

If we’ll get our eyes off what we see and focus on the Father who loves us, we’ll experience His joy, peace and confidence. And we can know that no matter where we find ourselves today, God is at work doing immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

 

Why Our Faith Doesn’t Work

My youngest daughter and son-in-law moved to South Korea a couple weeks ago. He serves as an Air Force officer and she will serve with Young Life on the base.

While on a temporary assignment, their vehicle had been in storage for six months before being shipped to Korea. They picked it up a few days ago and immediately discovered problems. It was smoking and squealing and getting bad gas mileage.

What they discovered was that for it to be shipped, the brakes needed to be tightened. Apparently, they were tightened a little too much. They were essentially driving with the brakes on.

Many of us, myself included, are trying to live by faith with the brakes on. That happens when we focus on what we see rather than on what God says. When we do that, our walk with God starts smoking and squealing and getting bad gas mileage. Then we get frustrated, angry and discouraged. We’re tempted to give up. And some of us do.

But what if the answer isn’t to give up, but to get our foot off the brake and press hard on the accelerator?

Living by faith means we believe God, not our circumstances, not our feelings and not the opinions of others. It means believing something is true even though we can’t yet see it. It means choosing to see things from God’s perspective, where nothing is impossible.

In Mark 3, Jesus has begun His ministry and already has a large crowed following Him. Verse 14 says, Jesus “appointed twelve that they might be with Him…” Jesus hand picks the guys He wants to stay close to Him, so they can learn to do life like He does.

Later, Jesus enters a house and there are so many people around that His disciples can’t even get a meal. Verse 21 says, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”

In other words, Jesus’ family thinks He’s crazy. He’s gone too far. Things have gotten out of hand. It’s time to bring Him home and talk some sense into Him. But Jesus has His foot off the brake and is pressing down on the accelerator. He is living right in the center of the Father’s will, doing and saying what pleases Him.

Jesus then goes down to the lake. He is followed by a large crowd and in Mark 4 tells the parable about the four types of soils. We’ll just look at the seed that falls on the rocky places and among the thorns.

The seed that falls on rocky places is when people receive God’s word, but “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

Don’t miss two very key words there: “because of.” Choosing to walk by faith will bring trouble. Our enemy and the world system do not want us to walk by faith, to fully trust God and experience the life He has for us. So we will experience trouble that we would not have experienced were we not trying to walk by faith.

I don’t know what trouble will look like for you. It could be car trouble, conflict in a relationship, a health issue, a problem at work, a leaky roof or any number of things. Once you decide to truly walk by faith, trouble will come. Don’t be surprised by it.

Then we have the seed that falls among the thorns. This is when the word takes root in us and begins to grow, but our hearts are more concerned with other things. “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” When other things consume our thoughts and desires, we have our foot on the brake.

After Jesus has finished teaching, He says to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Mark 4:36 says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat.”

Now Jesus is the one who called the twelve disciples. And it’s His idea to go to the other side of the lake. But it says, “they took Him along.” Some of the disciples were experienced fishermen. They knew their way around a boat. They made their living on that lake. So maybe they thought they were taking Jesus along with them. But that’s not how it works.

We don’t take Jesus along. He’s not an add-on to our activities. He’s not interested in being just a part of our life. He’s taking us with Him. Just like He called the twelve to “be with Him,” He calls us to be with Him to learn how to do life His way. Walking by faith is a radically different way of living. To learn it, it requires being with Jesus.

Once they get out on the lake, “a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” The disciples freak out and have to wake Jesus up from a nap. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus calms the storm, then says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples had the brakes on. Their faith was smoking and squealing. Trouble had come and they weren’t ready, because their eyes were fixed on what they could see, not on Jesus. The truth was that they were never in any danger, because Jesus had said, “Let us go over to the other side.” When Jesus says it, we can believe it. That’s what it means to walk by faith.

What might Jesus be saying to you?

Is there somewhere He wants to take you?

How might He want to use you? Or bless you?

Are you spending enough time with Him to find out?

If you have other priorities or your eyes on your troubles and circumstances, then your faith is smoking and squealing. You might even be ready to give up. It’s time to take your foot off the brake and stomp on the gas. Go all in. Spend time with Jesus to find out what He wants to do in your life, then choose to believe Him, not the impossibility of your circumstances.

Maybe it’s time for us to start believing God so completely that people would think we’re crazy. We’d be in pretty good company if they did.

God’s Part and Our Part

If God said you could ask Him for anything you wanted…what would you ask for?

Healing?

A big pile of money?

A spouse? Or a baby?

World peace?

God gave King Solomon that choice.

“…God appeared to Solomon and said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.'” (2 Chronicles 1:7)

So what did Solomon ask for?

“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:11)

Solomon wanted God’s wisdom and knowledge, so he could effectively lead God’s people. And God not only granted his request, He also gave him wealth and long-life. In 1 Kings 10:23-25, we get a glimpse of God’s answer:

King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.

Solomon asked. God answered. God did His part. And yet, something went wrong. Something terribly wrong. We see it in 1 Kings 11:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women…from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love...and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

God instructed Israel to not intermarry with the nations around them. Does that mean God is against inter-racial marriage? No, it means He’s against anything that would turn our hearts away from Him. He knew that’s what would happen if Israel joined themselves to people who didn’t know Him.

So what happened to the wisdom and knowledge Solomon had asked for? Why did he act so foolishly? How did he fall so far?

God did His part by giving Solomon wisdom and knowledge. But what if Solomon’s part was to love and seek God with a fully devoted heart to continue enjoying that wisdom he’d been given?

It’s interesting that during Solomon’s reign, he didn’t face any resistance like his father, David, had. No battles to fight. No enemies to overcome.

“During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.” (1 Kings 4:25)

Maybe Solomon didn’t sense any real need for God since he already had everything he wanted. Could it be that unmet needs, unanswered prayers and unfulfilled desires are actually good for us? Maybe without them, we become complacent and stop seeking God. Instead, we turn to other “gods” to fulfill us.

Solomon started strong, but finished poorly, because his heart turned away from God.

If God said you could ask Him for anything you wanted…what would you ask for?

I’m asking for a fully devoted heart. And I trust God to answer, but I have to do my part, too. I must diligently seek Him and turn away from anything that would divide my heart.

God will always be faithful to do His part in our lives. The real question is whether we’ll be faithful to do ours.

The Opposite of Faith

It’s tempting to think that unbelief is the opposite of faith. But it’s not.

Hebrews 11:1 in the Amplified Bible says:

“Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses].

Faith is knowing you already have the title deed. It’s having a divine guarantee. It’s the evidence of things we can’t yet see. It’s comprehending as fact what our feelings and circumstances tell us can’t be true.

Our problem is not a lack of faith. We all have plenty of faith. The problem is misplaced faith.

When we place our faith in our circumstances, often we cannot see any way for things to work out. We feel as if we’re running out of options. Our best efforts aren’t enough. Our anxiety increases. Worry intensifies. Fear multiplies.

Then we find ourselves in full-blown panic mode. And that is the opposite of faith.

Do you want to experience peace of mind? Do you want all that God has in store for you? Hebrews 11:6 in the Amplified version says:

“But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.”

Quit placing your faith in your circumstances. Refuse to listen to the negative voices. Tune out the bad news. Instead, begin to earnestly and diligently seek God by spending time in His Word, talking with Him and choosing to believe Him.

If you do, He promises to reward you.

(If you need some help growing your faith, then check out my 40-day devotional, “I Believe God,” by clicking here.)

 

Photo courtesy of my friend, Joe Goddard.