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.

The Dangerous Wrong Voices

If you took an inventory of your thoughts today…how many do you think would be negative and how many would be positive? How many are causing fear and how many are causing your faith to grow stronger?

I rarely watch the news or visit news websites. I also find myself spending a lot less time on social media. And I’ve “unfollowed” a number of people on Facebook.

I just don’t need the negativity. Life is tough enough without being reminded of it day after day.

Thoughts are powerful. I need to decide carefully which voices are bringing them to me.

Hebrews 11:6 says that, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…”

God wants to be believed. It pleases Him.

It’s not easy though. Especially when we get our eyes focused on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices.

God had miraculously led the nation of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. He brought them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His laws. About a year later, they are camped just outside the land God had promised to give them.

He instructs Moses to send 12 men into the land to explore it. They return 40 days later. Ten of them are afraid of what they’ve seen…the fortified cities and how strong they think the people are. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” These men begin to spread a bad report about the land among the people.

Two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, do their best to convince the people they should go in and take the land because God is with them:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

It’s too late though. The people have listened to the wrong voices. They’re convinced God wants to kill them. They talk of stoning Moses and Aaron. They want to appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt where they lived as slaves.

These people experienced miracles. They saw God do things no one had ever seen before. God was providing food for them daily. And yet, ten wrong voices swayed 2 million people away from believing God.

And it cost them.

The adults were not permitted to enter the good land God was giving them. Only their children would inherit it. And even they would have to wait 40 years.

Notice that Joshua and Caleb equate a lack of faith with rebellion against God. That’s what happens when we focus on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices. Fear is the opposite of faith. And it causes us to rebel.

Who are you listening to?

The media? Even “your” station will fill you with fear.

Friends on Facebook? Even your “friends” will fill you with fear.

How about that negative, condemning voice in your head? The voice that reminds you of your failures and endlessly rehearses worst possible outcomes.

Listening to the wrong voices is dangerous. It fills us with fear and dread. It keeps us from experiencing God’s love and faithfulness.

The nation of Israel missed out on the Promised Land for 40 years. What might the wrong voices we’re listening to be keeping us from experiencing?

Today is the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. What if you were to be intentional about believing God and rejecting the negative voices?

Tomorrow and Friday (March 2-3, 2017), I’m offering the eBook version of my 40-day devotional, “I Believe God,” for free on Amazon. What if you and and your spouse or a friend were to go through it together? Believing God is a team sport. It’s really tough to go it alone. You will need each other for prayer and encouragement.

Grab a partner and start believing.

CLICK HERE to get the book. Feel free to share the link with others.

 

Whose Reward Do You Want?

Whose opinion matters most to you? Your spouse? A parent? Your children? Your boss? A coach? Friends?

As I was growing up, I learned how to garner the approval and praise of others whether in the classroom or on the football field. And like a drug, I discovered how good it felt to be thought well of by others.

Approval and praise from others became addictive. And it came with a price.

Being vulnerable is out of the question. Telling someone you’re not doing well or discouraged or you feel like a failure tarnishes the image. And that just won’t do. The image is everything. You can’t always speak the truth. It’s too risky to tell someone what you really think or to challenge the boss. It might cause tension in the relationship and that doesn’t achieve the goal of being liked.

But living to attract the praise and approval of others means forfeiting the greater reward from God. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about several practices the “hypocrites” used to look good to others. He said the praise they got for their righteous acts was all the reward they would get.

Whose reward do we want…the one from people we can see or the one from the God who’s unseen?

We get to choose.

Next, Jesus talked about forgiving others when they sin against us. He said if we forgive them, then we’ll experience God’s forgiveness. If we don’t forgive them, then we won’t be forgiven either. Will we forgive or hold a grudge?

We get to choose.

Jesus goes on to talk about storing up treasure on earth versus storing up treasure in heaven. Treasures on earth can be destroyed or stolen. Treasures heaven can’t be destroyed or stolen. Jesus says plainly, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

We get to choose.

In the last part of the chapter, Jesus goes into a discussion about the material necessities of life, things like food, drink and clothing. He says those who don’t know God naturally run after and worry about all these things.

But for the second time in the chapter, Jesus reminds us that our Father already knows what we need. And so we don’t have to seek hard after material things. Instead, we can live life as it was intended, seeking hard after God. Jesus says it this way:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We can seek material things or we can seek God. When we seek material things, we miss out on God. When we seek God, He promises to also provide “all these things.”

We get to choose.

We can focus on the physical realm and pick up a few rewards along the way. Of course, it means giving up the rewards God gives. Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the unseen and desire God’s greater reward.

We get to choose.