Growing up, I used to marvel at the fickle nature of the Israelites in the Old Testament. They witnessed the power of God. In a very real way, the Almighty dwelt among them, guided and directed them, loved them and led them. He showed them the way. They went astray. For hundreds of years He gave them warnings and grace, and finally, he had the grace to lead them into captivity: the ultimate payment for their waywardness.
King Solomon puzzled me most of all. After all, he met the Holy One personally – not once but THREE times! He spoke to God. More than that: God spoke to him! God asked Solomon what he wanted – and then gave him that! And so much more. It’s astonishing. But it’s not nearly as breathtakingly astonishing as the fact that Solomon went astray. He was one of the worst, worshipping idols, and leading all of Israel into the same trap.
Solomon’s folly was so great, it ripped the kingdom in two. The devastating effects of his mistake have been felt through the centuries, and still have an effect today.
What I could never wrap my head around was the fact that these people, who had not only a national legacy of walking with God, but who had also had personal encounters – often one-on-one – with the Living God, could ever turn their backs on Him. I couldn’t even begin to conceive of it. How could it happen.
Well, now I know.
All it takes is one bad harvest.
Think about it. You work hard all year. You observe the Sabbaths and the New Moons. You’re faithful in tithes and offerings, and you never miss either a feast or a fast. You’re kind to your neighbours (even when they don’t deserve it), and you raise your children right. You follow the law. You’re good. And you’re blessed. You have enough to eat and drink, a lovely home, healthy kids. What more could you hope for?
But then, for some reason, the crops fail one year. You can’t figure it out. Didn’t the prophet Malachi promise that if you were faithful in your tithes, you’d be blessed? Was he wrong? Was he lying? What’s the story? And even though you know it probably won’t do any good, you take a peak over the mountains to see how the Syrians are doing. To your surprise, they’re doing well. It doesn’t take long for that surprise to boil into anger. You’re disappointed; you’re frustrated; you’re confused.
Why has this happened? Who did what wrong? Who has led me astray? Have I been worshipping the wrong god all this time?
Those deceitful words are the beginning of a steep and slippery slope into despair and apostacy, my friends. The first seeds of doubt quickly take root in the fertile ground of your indignant rage. You wonder where the fault lies. You don’t want to doubt God, of course, but you know you’ve done nothing wrong. The only alternative left to you is the belief that perhaps those self-righteous, power-hungry priests have led you astray for their own selfish ends. Perhaps the Philistines have been right all this time. Or the Babylonians. Or those accursed Syrians. Perhaps the fault was never yours, nor God’s. Because He wasn’t there. And all your well-meant devotion has achieved is to make it impossible to feed your family. For a whole year. A year of effort wasted. A year of poverty and desperation ahead.
You determine to do better. And so you worship the gods of the harvest, the gods of the seasons, the gods of family and health – anyone, anywhere, who promises any hope of a better year next year. You’re desperate, alone and betrayed. What choice do you really have?
And all it took was one harvest.
I know what that’s like. Unlike the faithful Israelite in this story, all it takes for me is a week or two. A late payment from a client; a few panic-stricken days wondering what in the world I’ll conjure for supper – these are all it takes for my weak, faltering faith to be shaken to its core. I’d love to be strong and faithful like Job, but almost invariably I turn out to resemble more closely Job’s wife, with her shameful, infamous, “Curse God and die!”
So, in light of this human condition, I was very encouraged today to receive a study, via email, of the tests we face as God’s ambassadors here on earth, and why it matters so much that we pass them.
Thoughts on the tests we face in life:
Tests will always happen
Regardless of your faith, you will face trials. A life spent questioning this fact is a wasted life. Far more noble to pursue a life of meaning: uncover how you can grow and help others as a result of your personal tests.
Tests keep happening until you learn the lesson
So get on and learn it. Unlke school, where failure to grasp a test the first time around was complete failure with no hope of redemption, the tests we face in life give us second chances. And third. And more, until we’ve grasped what we should be learning from these trials.
At the end of a test – there’s another test!
You may have a break between tests, but it’s little more than a temporary reprieve. Don’t get to comfortable, and don’t expect the calm periods to be your due. They’re not, and that expectation will set you up for disappointment and bitterness, time and time again.
Test can deliver delightful results
Tests give us the opportunity to clarify what we’ve mastered, get rid of “junk” we don’t need in our lives, change our perspective, change us for the better, and equip us to help others. Tests also grants us the unparalleled opportunity to become humble, as we realise we all truly are equal.
There are five kinds of tests we face:
- The Wilderness Test – this is a test of time, in which nothing seems to change for long periods. It’s easy to get discouraged, like Abraham did, and eventually take things into our own hands. The results are pretty much always disastrous.
- The Failure Test – this is a test in which everything we do seems to fail. The trap here is frustration and hopelessness. We need to keep the faith that God keeps His promises, and hang in there.
- The Betrayal Test – this is the test where someone you trust betrays you. It can be the result of misunderstanding, or the malicioousness of others. During this test, bitterness and hardness of heart can destroy us. Guard your heart with all dilligence and don’t let the bitterness take root.
- The Authority Test – we do not understand the power of being under authority. The key to passing this test is submission, and we need to behave with grace and dignity as we accept the authority God has placed in our lives. Remember: there is always something to be learned.
- The Obedience Test – here we battle between God’s will and our own. It’s not wrong to put your request to God – even Jesus did so in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He asked God to take His “cup of suffering” from Him. But when Jesus passed this test, the entire world was given the opportunity to be saved. We too have the opportunity to be part of something phenomenal if we can just pass the test of being obedient to God.
Sometimes, it seems like all five tests strike at once, or a few of them sneak up in combination. Even so, passing the tests will result in a new level of growth, closeness to God, and depth of peace you’ve never experienced before.
Have you faced any of these tests? Or are there some I may have missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.