Testing Our Faith

“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:26

Fear and anxiety are in direct opposition to faith in Jesus Christ. Oswald Chambers writes, “There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely.” When all is well we may think our faith is strong but then the Lord allows a test to come. Usually it will be unexpected and sudden. That is when we discover in what or whom we trust. Fear or anxiety may lead to panic and worry. Faith and trust in Jesus will keep us at peace through the test or trial even though it may mean a measure of suffering.

Jesus and His disciples had boarded a boat to travel across the sea. Having followed Jesus on to the boat the disciples would have felt safe and confident of reaching their destination. “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves. But He was asleep” (v 24). The disciples had followed Jesus into the boat; He was with them in the boat but asleep and they panicked thinking they were going to die (v 25). This sudden and unexpected life-threatening experience tested their faith in Jesus and found it lacking. However, they still had a measure of faith on which they acted by going to Him.

When we are in a situation that has the potential to provoke panic through fear or anxiety we must immediately turn to Jesus. He is the only One who can truly deliver us. When He does, as He did the disciples, our faith will be rewarded by a stronger faith and peace in our heart. Notice that the whole experience caused the disciples to ponder more deeply who Jesus is. That is what such experiences are meant to do. It would be very sad if they turned us away from Jesus. During our lives there will frequently be times when our faith is tested. Sometimes it may seem that Jesus is asleep or not caring but nothing could be further from the truth. Had Jesus been awake the disciples may not have panicked but only been fearful. That Jesus may seem asleep or uncaring is itself a test of whether we believe what He has said. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 11:6). “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). When the test comes reach out to Jesus who alone can save and keep us. He rewards faith with more faith (Hebrews 11:6).

Various Trials

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials”

James 1:2

James is writing to Christians who are suffering “various trials.” He doesn’t identify what those trials may be because what he is about to write applies to all kinds of trials. If we want a list we could start with Hebrews 11 or 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 but there are many more examples in the Bible. We should expect to experience tests and trials throughout our lives. In school we had regular tests to prove we had learned something and were ready to move on to the next level. The same is true in our walk of faith. Our heavenly Father allows us to experience various trials so that we might know our progression of faith in Jesus and be ready to move on.

In this chapter James gives the reasons why we may pass or fall short in any trial or test. Those who come through successfully, as God considers success, do so because, at foundational level, they have a genuine love for Jesus (v 12). Those who fall short do so because they love themselves and sin more than they love Jesus (v 14).

The evidence of love for Jesus is in doing His word (v 22). A person may profess to love Jesus but their works will give evidence for or against this profession. Love for Jesus is evidenced by love for His people. 1 John has many confirmations of this truth such as “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (3:14) and he tells us what kind of love this is, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (v 16). Jesus said the key evidence that we are His disciples is the expression of God’s kind of love for one another (John 13:35).

How we treat other Christians is how we treat Jesus. Saul persecuted Christians but Jesus said he was persecuting Him (Acts 9:4). Peter says that lying to Christians is lying to God (Acts 5:4). Jesus says that how we are treating His people is how we are treating Him (Matthew 25:31-46). In Hebrews 10:24-25 He says that our reason for meeting together is love expressed through serving one another, mutual encouragement and edification. If we forsake meeting together it is an indication we don’t meet with Him either.

It is sobering to realise that how I am treating my fellow Christians is how I treat Jesus – but He says it is so.

Warning Every Person

“We speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts”

1 Thessalonians 2:4

When Paul wrote that God tests the hearts of His people he was not writing anything new. In Psalm 66 we find the same revelation. “You, O God have tested us” (v 10) with the result that they were refined as silver is refined. God not only allows but purposely creates or provokes circumstances by which what we think we believe is tested. The purpose is to expose what is really in our heart. The heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) so we are very glad that God reveals those areas where we are deceived or in error that He wishes to correct. He also reinforces areas where our hearts are right.

In this letter Paul wants us to allow the Holy Spirit to test our hearts. Tests will reveal where we are right and where we are not right. Allowing the Holy Spirit to test our hearts will reveal the extent to which the Holy Spirit has us. All true Christians have the Holy Spirit indwelling but to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) means that the Holy Spirit has us. At its root this means a humble and teachable spirit toward God.

If we are trying to please men we will not share the Gospel with them. This may be because we fear what they may think of us, say about us or do to us. If we are trying to please God we will share the Gospel and let Him deal with their responses. This is the context of Paul’s letter, especially chapter two verses one to twelve. If we are seeking the praise of men we are not seeking the praise of God (v 6). The two are mutually exclusive.

From time to time I reflect on what this will mean when all the unsaved appear before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15) with Christ on that throne and myself and all believers with Him. How many unsaved will look over to me questioning why I didn’t warn them?

The Lord declared Ezekiel a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:17-19). Ezekiel didn’t ask for it. It came with the Lord setting him apart as a prophet to Israel. The church has been set apart to warn all peoples of the world of the wrath to come and of God’s wonderful Gift of life in Jesus Christ that is able to deliver them from that wrath. In Colossians 1:28 Paul writes, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

Regular Tests

“Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them.” Judges 3:1

With each generation of Israel, the Lord sent a test to see “whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them …, or not” (Judges 2:22, cf. 3:4). Ever since God breathed life into Adam this has been the way of the Lord. No generation, Jew or Gentile, may live by the faith of their parents (although there are great advantages in having believing parents). Each person, each nation, each generation will be tested. The book of Judges records various groups in Israel being tested.

Chapter one of Judges reveals Israel’s failure to perform all that the Lord had commanded. It would appear that they failed because they lacked faith in the Lord and did not persevere in the task given. From God’s perspective we discover in Judges 2:20-3:4 that the Lord left the ungodly nations in order to test Israel.

The professing church is facing a similar test today. We are being tested by the ungodly to reveal whether we will hold fast to and obey the word of the Lord, or not (3:4). Testing is a good thing; without it many might go through life believing their eternal destiny was heaven when in fact it was not. I have heard many testimonies of people who had believed they were Christians but on hearing a faithful Gospel presentation discovered that they had been “Christian” in name only.

This current test is revealing a division among professing Christians; between those who believe God’s word and those who do not. The tares and the wheat are being exposed by their fruit in preparation for the harvest when a complete separation will be effected. Following that separation the Lord will remove His true Church from the earth in readiness for the outpouring of His wrath on the whole earth.

In His prayer the Lord prayed to the Father, “They were yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word,” “I have given them Your word” and “Sanctify them by Your Word” (John 17:6, 14, 17). That which separates true believers from merely professing believers is their faith in the words of Jesus expressed in their own words and actions. Those who deny the words of Jesus, and thereby call Him a liar, cannot possibly be His disciples.

Each generation must be tested to expose false profession and reveal the truly born of God. That is what we are observing today.

Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”

Joshua 1:9

After forty years of being second in command to Moses, Joshua has now been delegated the leadership position, under the Lord, to lead Israel. Four times in this chapter the Lord tells him to “to be strong and courageous” which tells us two things: 1) He was facing the humanly impossible; and 2) he was feeling the weight of responsibility. What could possibly allay his fears and uncertainty?

The Lord had the answer to that question and it is given in verse eight, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.” The Book of the Law, the first five books of our Bible, includes the covenant promises that the Lord had made with Israel. The previous generation had faltered at the promises of God and failed to enter the land. Of the twelve spies who spied out the land Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who recommended going forward. Forty years later Joshua was facing the same circumstance but this time as leader and with a new generation. Each generation must face a test as to whether they will believe and act on God’s word.

Our generation is facing such a test. Satan has desired to sift the church, as he did Peter (Luke 22:31-34), but equally Jesus has prayed for His church as He did for Peter. Peter would come through strong and of good courage. The professing church is being sifted. Out of this sifting a divide will become clear between those who are faithful to the Lord and His word and those who are not. As the Lord said to Joshua, strength and courage come from trusting in the word of God and God’s faithfulness to it and His people.

Testing the professing church will reveal the true church and expose false professors. This will have the effect of removing much of the haze around the true Gospel. One cannot honestly claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and reject His teaching.

As we face this test, and it may well become severe very soon, we will remain strong and very courageous only as we meditate on and observe to do according to God’s word (Joshua 1:7). After the testing and separation the Lord will remove His own and then judge the nations as He has done on previous occasions (e.g. Noah & Lot).

The Lord Tests our Heart

“God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” 2 Chronicles 32:31

King Hezekiah went further than any of the other kings of Judah in turning the people back to worshipping the Lord. “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord” and “he removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it. … He trusted the Lord … he held fast to the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3-6). Hezekiah did all he could to rid Judah of idolatry and return the people to worshipping the Lord. For this reason the Lord was pleased to bless him and preserve Judah for His own name’s sake (19:34).

There came a day when Hezekiah was so sick that he sought a word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah as to whether he would recover or not. He was told that he would not recover. The Lord put this test to him to reveal what was really in his heart. He didn’t know that it was a test or that it was from the Lord.

We should note that this test came after a life that testified of his love and dedication to the Lord. There was still a matter of the heart that the Lord wished to address before Hezekiah came into His presence. Hezekiah asked for more time on earth before he came into the Lord’s presence. His motive is revealed in subsequent events.

After he recovered from the illness he began to boast in the prosperous life the Lord had given him. As an expression of that he displayed all the wealth he had acquired during his reign. In so doing he accepted personal praise for the nation’s peace and prosperity. He was in fact stealing glory that belonged to the Lord.

The test the Lord brought to Hezekiah in the latter part of his life revealed that pride was still alive and well in his heart. His act of pride and boasting was the final straw that led to Judah’s exile. The Lord did delay the exile because Hezekiah gave evidence of repentance when he believed the word of the Lord (2 Kings 20:18, 19).

Just because we have been walking with the Lord many years is no reason to suspect that we will not face more tests to see where our heart really lies. In reality, it is our latter years that our motive for serving the Lord in the earlier years is revealed. That which we have sown we shall reap up to one hundredfold. We may conceal bitterness, anger, envy, jealousy, pride and a host of other secret sins but if they are not dealt with in confession and repentance in our earlier years they will manifest their fruit in our later years. Likewise, genuine faith, trust, humility and submission to the will of God will also bear its fruit.

If we think we can step back from serving the Lord in our latter years it is because we think Jesus owes us something for our years of service. This may reveal that we have a big heap of wood, hay and straw for His fire and not so much gold, silver and precious stones. It may also reveal that we have been serving Him for our benefit and not out of love and gratitude. Let us put it right through confession while we can and before we reap a harvest we do not want.

Good in the End

“… that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end” (Deuteronomy 8:16)

Moses told Israel that God’s purpose in Israel’s wilderness wanderings was twofold: to maintain a humble mind and to test their hearts with specific regard to obedience.

The way in which God maintained a humble heart in Israel was through making their dependence upon Him very obvious. When they hungered and cried out to Him He supplied manna (v 3) and when they thirsted He provided water. Miraculously their garments did not wear out and their footwear was always just the right size (v 4). In addition He maintained humility through chastisement (v 5). This is a model for all parents, especially fathers, to follow. We have the evidence of unrestrained and undisciplined youth all around us. Many are not so youthful age-wise any more but they carry the marks of a lack of training and discipline in their youth. They fit the description Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-5). With each generation humility is not only less evident but being seen as an undesirable trait. We should not be surprised that bullying has become more prevalent among children and that it remains with them into adulthood.

The tests that God presented to Israel were to reveal what was really in their heart. Did they really trust God or just give Him lip service? Obedience to His commands would reveal their heart and ours. If we believe someone who cares about us to be trustworthy we will do as they ask.

Recently a doctor prescribed a medication for me but I have not taken it. He was unable to convince me that he understood or believed what I was saying and I did not understand his words due to his accent. There was a period of a minute or two when he spoke that I did not recognise any English word. I have not obeyed his instructions because I do not believe they were necessarily in my best interest.

When we choose not to obey the word of the Lord we are saying that we do not understand His instruction, don’t trust His wisdom or we do not believe that He has our best interest at heart. He tested Israel and He will test us regularly. At Ai, under Joshua’s leadership, Israel failed this test (Joshua 7) but they learned from it (Joshua 8) and that is the purpose of chastisement.

God is at work to maintain humility in His people and to test us as to our trust in Him and obedience. He states that it is to do you good in the end. If we believe this then we will accept His hand that may sometimes withhold that which seems good to us, and His chastisement, with all grace and joy.

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves, He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11, 12)