Seasons of Testing

722ef7429d5bef55b02631684d622cdcA while back, I wrote an article about the different seasons of life. If you didn’t read it, you can here. This morning, my thoughts led me to ponder these seasons a little more deeply. One in particular seemed fitting for the particular season I have been in – the season of testing. As is often the case, a conversation with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while provided the inspiration and hence, this article. After recounting the various trials I’ve been through in the past several months – having major surgery to remove my left hip and the long, painful road to recovery, learning to deal with the difficulties of being in a wheelchair most of the time, losing my dad suddenly and unexpectedly, plus the loss of my husband’s job – she asked me, “How is your faith holding up?”

There is no greater test of our faith than when we are in the midst of the fire. In fact, I have come to believe that you don’t really know where your faith level is at UNTIL it is being tested. Anyone can have faith when things are going smoothly, according to our plans. However, God wants much more from us than being comfortable, while claiming to have great faith. When God was commending Job to the devil, even the devil understood this when he said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11) And we all know what happened next; Job was put to the test. 

So is God mean, or angry, does He enjoy watching us suffer? Every saint mentioned in the Bible underwent some form of testing, some more severe than others. It’s understandable why many who don’t believe use this as an excuse. “If God is good, then why do innocent people suffer?” they ask. I admit to wondering this at times, too. Especially when it comes to children. It is true that much suffering is a result of living in a fallen world, or because of our poor choices. But that’s not the point of this article. Why does God allow His beloved children, His chosen ones to go through such trials and testings, even when they have faithfully served Him? I have wrestled with this question for many years.

To understand God’s ways in our seasons of testing requires that we step back from the moment and take a good, hard look at the big picture. In other words, we must have an eternal perspective. As finite humans, we get confused when we focus in on our little world with all of its difficulties – the things that get in the way of us having or doing what we want. Financial lack, sickness, job losses, relational issues, etc., often consume us and turn our focus inward. We seek the quickest, easiest way to get out of the pain. When that doesn’t work, we cry, moan, and groan. We are not unlike the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness.

But God in His wisdom, allows what He could easily prevent in His power. He does this because He sees and knows the big picture, and what He is trying to accomplish in us. James had this revelation when he wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4, emphasis mine) There it is – the testing of your faith. Faith must be tested. Testing produces perseverance, endurance, patience. These characteristics, found within the nature of God, will bring us to maturity and perfection. In other words, God’s purpose in allowing seasons of testing is to make us more like Him. If we fail to understand that and resist the process, we only prolong the trials and suffering. Israel’s eleven day journey became forty years of wandering. 

God is not mean, angry, or vengeful. He does not enjoy seeing His people suffer. But like a good parent, He knows that we don’t know what is best for us. He understands how to raise us up into mature sons and daughters. Granted, it’s a painful process, as any parent would testify. It often hurts to discipline our children because we feel their pain. Even more so, does our heavenly Father. Though it may seem harsh at times, His goodness is seen as He walks with us through the fire, and doesn’t prolong it beyond what is absolutely necessary to accomplish His perfect will in us. Instead of praying to get out of the test, may He give us grace to cooperate with Him so we may pass the tests and move on to maturity!

 

Finishing Well

finishing race“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

In our instantaneous society of fast food, microwave meals, instant internet, and Amazon Prime, it is easy to miss the importance of endurance. Yet endurance is a virtue that is attributed to God Himself. We see that in the verses above, as well as others like, Acts 13:17-18 where He endured the rebelliousness of the children of Israel. He is said to give us endurance in Romans 15:5. He commended the church of Ephesus for their endurance in Revelation 2:2-3.

Endurance is defined as, “the fact or power of enduring or bearing pain, hardships, etc. The ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue,stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina; lasting quality; duration.” According to the passage in Hebrews, endurance is required to finish our race. In order to learn endurance, we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect model of perseverance.

Not only are we to look to Jesus, who is both the Author, or Pioneer of our faith, but we are to consider those who have gone before us – the great cloud of witnesses. They are called witnesses because they have seen the truth of God’s promises to complete the good work He began in them. Jesus is the Author and Finisher, or Perfecter of our faith. In other words, our faith begins and ends in and with Him. He alone is able to help us endure to the end, and He will, if we are willing.

Jesus endured by focusing on the “joy set before Him.” What was that joy? I believe it was the joy of knowing He would have a bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish, one who loved Him enough to endure whatever came against her. One who wouldn’t give up or quit when the going got tough because His love for her would sustain her. The joy of His future wedding day, I believe, is what enabled Him to endure the pain and shame of the cross. And when He returned to His Father, He sat down at His right hand – the place of authority, favor, and power. He finished His race – the work His Father gave Him to do from before creation – and He finished it well. We are called to do the same.

We are to consider Him, what He went through and endured, so we do not grow weary and lose heart. The more we behold Him, the more we become like Him. Meditating on these truths will enable us, by His grace, to finish our race and to finish it well. We cannot lose if we do not quit. He will be faithful to complete what He began in us if we will trust Him.

The Dreaded “P” Word

…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.  Heb. 6:12

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read or hear the word patience? For patienceme, it is often a sense of dread. It is a subject God has been dealing with me on for a long, long time. Some days it seems I’ve got it down. Other days, I feel like I’m back in kindergarten. Many believers I’ve talked to feel the same way. We all know it’s something we should have. It is a fruit of the Spirit, after all! Yet in our fast-food, instant information, immediate gratification culture, most would agree they really don’t. At least not like we know we should.

In Hebrews 6:12, the writer says that it is through faith and patience that we inherit God’s promises. We’ve probably heard more messages on the importance of faith than we could possibly remember. But when is the last time you heard someone teach on the necessity of patience?  As much as we may dislike or avoid the topic, God’s Word is full of examples. Almost every saint mentioned had to go through a prolonged time of waiting for God to fulfill His promises. Abraham and Sarah waited about twenty-five years for their promised son, Isaac. Joseph waited many years for the fulfillment of his prophetic dreams. David, anointed as king of Israel at a young age, waited years before receiving his crown. These and others are recorded for our benefit, to teach us that God is never in a hurry to fulfill His promises – yet He is always faithful.

He is endlessly patient and committed to cultivating His image in each of His children. When I struggle to be patient, I try to remember how long He has waited to fulfill His own desires. He has longed since eternity past for a family, and a bride that is wholehearted and mature in love. We can’t even comprehend how long that is! So how do we grow in patience? James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (1:2-4) Perseverance is another word for patience, or patient endurance. If you’ve ever prayed for patience and it suddenly seems like all hell breaks loose around you, this is why!

Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Patience develops when we respond properly to our trials and sufferings. It produces mature character in us. On the other hand, impatience is really a lack of faith; it is unbelief. Impatience says that God cannot be trusted to follow through on His promises. It doubts His faithfulness and questions His integrity. In essence, it is calling God a liar… Ouch.  This is why it requires both faith and patience to inherit His promises; the two cannot be separated.

Trials and tribulations are never fun or easy, but if we want to grow in patience we must see them as opportunities instead of problems. By Gods’ grace, we can rejoice and respond with trust that He is working everything together for good in our lives, to bring us to maturity in the image of His Son. Though the fiery furnace is painful, He promises to be with us in it. He walks beside us through the dark valleys and will one day wipe away every tear when pain is removed forever.

How is God working to produce patience in you?