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.

Partakers of His Holiness

“God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten.” Hebrews 12:7

The men and women of the Old Testament have parts of their lives recorded for us as witnesses to us of God’s ways and the sinful nature within us. This is for our benefit not amusement. The key phrase in chapter eleven is “By faith.” Their experiences were as diverse as ours will be. We should never expect that God will take us along the same disciplinary path as someone else or that they will travel the same disciplinary path as us.

God’s grace may also be revealed in quite different ways. For some the grace of God in response to their believing His word brought about wonderful and miraculous miracles (11:33-35a). For others God’s grace in response to their believing His word brought horrendous trials, suffering and persecution (11:35b-38) but He delivered them out of them all. Under threat of fiery furnace Daniel’s three friends said, “… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand” (Daniel 3:16-18). Whether by burning or preservation they knew they would be delivered from the King’s hand.

The writer exhorts us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us. Anything that drags us back from realising God’s purpose, revealed in 12:10, should be cast off. The sin that so easily ensnares us is no mystery. This whole part of Hebrews deals with it. If believing God’s word is faith then unbelief is the sin that turns us from faith. The fact is that we become ensnared in the sin of unbelief all too easily and may thereby invoke a disciplinary action from God. This action demonstrates that we have a special Father – son relationship with Him. The absence of it may seem good but it may also reveal that we are not sons of God.

There is a huge consequence to us individually and corporately (church) when we do not take God at His word and act upon it. Matthew tells us this consequence: “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).

Ignorance of God’s word will produce the same effect but love for Jesus will compel us to study the Bible for ourselves. No one enjoys discipline even though the outcome is good. We also know that discipline can be avoided if we study God’s word, believe it and act upon it (the evidence that we believe it).

God’s wonderful purpose in this is that His holy Divine Nature given to us (2 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 12:10) may be worked out in our experience for His glory. The O.T. record shows us many examples of God achieving this in the lives of men and women just like us.

Count it all Joy

“Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Ruth 1:20

This lament came from Naomi soon after she had said to her daughters-in-law, “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (v 13). Naomi understood that her husband should not have taken her and their sons out of the Promised Land and neither should he have permitted his sons to marry Gentile women. Her husband and both her sons had now died so she had no one to provide for her. She interpreted this to mean that the Lord was punishing her.

When trials come our way we may think that they are because we have offended God in some way but that is an unbiblical way of viewing our walk with Jesus. We are not told why or under what circumstances Naomi’s husband and sons died. People do die for a multitude of reasons but it would be wrong to believe that any death was for a specific reason unless God makes it clear that such is the case.

Naomi could not see at that time that her bereavement was preparation for, and would lead to, a most wonderful blessing. She wrongly believed that the Lord was against her and was punishing her. How wrong we are when we make the same error. The very trial we are experiencing today may be preparation for the outpouring of a blessing tomorrow. Many have found it so.

Read the book of Ruth through and ponder on the blessings that came Naomi’s way. She received a most loyal daughter-in-law who abandoned her gods for the one true God. Through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, all the lands of Naomi’s husband were returned and his heritage restored. She was now provided for all her days. A further blessing was that her heritage included the lineage to Israel’s Kings David and Solomon. Further down that family line came Israel’s Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) who is Jesus Christ the Lord.

Naomi would not have known all this at the time but even just seeing her husband’s lands and heritage restored opened her eyes to see that the Lord was not angry or bitter toward her (2:20). The leading people of the town blessed her without realising the extent to which it would be fulfilled (4:11-12). The women also blessed Naomi without knowing the wonderful way that too would be fulfilled.

Because she wrongly interpreted her trial Naomi thought the Lord was punishing her when all along he was preparing the way for wonderful blessing. Surely this is at least part of the reason that James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

The trial you are enduring today may be preparation for blessing tomorrow.

God at Work

“Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” Philippians 2:12-13

Having been given the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ we are to work at bringing that new life into actual daily experience. That is impossible for us to achieve of ourselves and, fortunately, Paul tells us that God is the main Person in achieving our maturity in Christ. This has to be one of the greatest pieces of news that a believer could receive; God is at work in us to bring our wills into line with His and to achieve His goal.

Since this is the case, and we have gladly accepted God’s role in our lives, we have no cause to complain about the circumstances of life that He allows or orchestrates to achieve His good pleasure. That is why Paul then wrote in the next verse, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” If we have truly received the truth that God is working in us for His good pleasure we will rather rejoice in all things regardless of whether they bring some form of pain or pleasure. It is good for us to take note of the words “all things.”

For the same reason James writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2) and Paul writes, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Any complaint that we have is ultimately against God because He is the One working in us according to His good pleasure.

What is His “good pleasure? The short answer is to make us into Christ’s image. God created man in His image. That image was corrupted by sin. Jesus Christ is the perfect man in God’s image. A similar aspect of this is mentioned by Paul in his letter to the believers in Galatia, “But when it pleased God … to reveal His Son in me …” (1:15-16). This is what God is working in us to achieve – to reveal His Son in us. Any complaining or arguing with God about His work is essentially saying that we do not trust Him or we do not want to be like Christ or want Him revealed in us.

Paul understood this as any study of his life will reveal. It also explains why he would write to the believers in Rome, “we glory in tribulations” (5:3). Taken with the other passages cited and its context this means all tribulations because they are part of the “all things.” Paul considered suffering a necessary part of knowing Jesus Christ which is why he wrote “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

When we accept that it is God at work in all things in our lives to achieve His goal then we will “count it all joy” no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Worthy to Suffer

“… Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41)

Peter and the other apostles had been preaching the Gospel and many Israelites believed that Jesus is the Christ who died for their sin and rose again in accord with their own Scriptures. This brought a rough response from the religious leaders of the day with the result that Peter and the others were imprisoned and beaten before being let go.  Instead of complaining that Jesus had not protected them from such people and action they rejoiced that their Saviour had judged them worthy to join Him in His suffering. They had done nothing wrong and they most certainly did not seek or provoke such treatment.

Job was not asked if he would consent to go through the fiery trial that we can read in the book bearing his name. We read his account from the perspective of knowing the outcome but why don’t you put yourself in his place next time you read Job? He did not know why these terrible events had come his way and neither did he know the outcome.

His property and livelihood were stripped from him; his children were killed until he had just his life and his wife. Then his body became covered in boils, his friends falsely accused him and his wife turned against him until there was just himself and God. This was where God had wanted him.

At no time did Job change his view of God even though he did not know why God had allowed him to suffer in the extreme. Neither did he accuse God of dealing in an unrighteous or unloving way.

As it was for Peter and the apostles, and for Job, the Lord knew their faith would withstand the extreme ordeals they experienced. It wasn’t a test to determine if they had faith but rather a revelation of the great faith they had. This revelation brought glory to God. The experience thrust them more on God’s grace with the result their faith was strengthened further by the experience.

To seek suffering would be lunacy and some suffering may be because of our own sin and wickedness but when the Lord allows His precious saints to suffer it is to reveal and strengthen their faith.

When we get to the end of ourselves we are in the best possible place. Blessed are the poor in spirit.The danger is that we will yield to Satan’s temptation to accuse and turn from God and become bitter and angry with Him. Job’s wife encouraged him to take that path because she had already done so. She had lost all her children as well but instead of revealing faith in the Divine Nature she revealed a distinct lack of faith and bitterness toward God.

However, by God’s grace trials and suffering can turn to the sweetest revelation of Jesus Christ to us as it did for Job, Peter and the apostles. They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer.

Enduring Suffering

“In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong?” Job 1:22

It appears that some people think of Job as one who had great patience. This seems to underestimate by quite a long way what he actually endured. Theodore Epp’s book on Job is entitled “Job: A man tried as gold.” In this title he expresses the fact that Job suffered not because of sin but in order to draw him more intimately into fellowship with God. Having the benefit of hindsight in the revelation of God we know why he suffered but Job didn’t know why at the time.

His friends came to comfort him with their well intentioned exhortations and their insistence that Job confess his grievous sin and repent of it. Instead of comforting their friend they made his misery and agony all the greater because there was no sin of which to repent. They attempted to counsel Job but because their theology was incorrect they were giving very unhelpful counsel.

All Job’s children had died along with their families – possibly including grandchildren. Now his “friends” were accusing him of being responsible due to some sin of which they had no knowledge but they were sure Job was hiding. Job was also accused of not allowing God to search his heart when in fact he had sat silently before God for seven days just for that purpose. No one stood with him. Even his wife told him to give up and drop dead.

The theology of Job’s friends seems to suggest that they thought that God only allows evil doers to suffer. Such is not the case and we need to be careful that we don’t even inadvertently think so. After all, what wrong did Jesus do? What wrong did the prophets of the Old Testament do? What wrong did John the Baptist do? What wrong did Paul and the other apostles do?

It is possible that we might use that way of thinking to justify our inaction in helping others who are in poverty, pain or some other kind of suffering. It eases our conscience if we think that they must in some way deserve it – except when it us ourselves who are suffering. One of Job’s friends told him that even the severe agony that he was experiencing was less than he deserved. That is of course true for him and all of us but thanks to the cross of Jesus we have been forgiven and we will not receive the judgment we deserve.

The opposite is true as well. We must not accuse God of being unfair or that His motives in allowing pain and suffering are wrong. No one suffered more or experienced pain and agony more than the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and that was for our benefit, not His. Anything we may suffer is only a taste of what He endured.

The book of Job gives us a reason why righteous people go through suffering, trials and tribulations, some very severe, and it also goes some way to answering the question of why evil seems to prosper. We must always keep the eternal perspective before us. We won’t see total justice in this world but we can be assured by God’s own word that justice will be done for everyone. Calvary’s cross screams that fact out.

Darkness Turns to Dawning

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5, 6

When Job spoke these words to the Lord he was coming out of the darkest place. He had lost all his material possessions and all ten children. He lost his bodily health and was destitute. His wife turned against him and his friends falsely accused him. The young men who had previously looked up to him now mocked him.

Job had always done what he believed was right before the Lord and that is attested to in the first verse of the book. He doesn’t claim to be without sin but blameless because he confessed known sin and offered the appropriate offerings for himself and his family. God also attests to Job’s godly living (1:8).

Job had spent seven days in silence allowing God to search his heart. His friends insisted that he must have done some great sin. Job expresses his frustration at not understanding why he should be enduring such a horrific episode in his life but he still sticks with his faith in the Lord. Even if he should die in the present circumstance he knows that he will rise again and see God his Redeemer face to face (19:25, 26).

All Christians will suffer tribulation at various times during their lives (John 16:33) but some will experience this place of greater darkness at least once in their lives. It is darkness because all knowledge seems futile and all understanding seems empty. It is a time of extreme aloneness when no one else but Jesus can comfort and He seems distant. We will either come out sweeter in fellowship with the Lord or bitter against Him. How we come out of the dark place is determined by how we go in. The dark period will reveal what was already there and multiply it. Sweet will be sweeter; the self righteous will be more bitter.

We can only see as much of God as He chooses to reveal and only when He so chooses. Job had heard of God and His ways and, as a result put his trust in Him to deliver and keep him. For many Christians this is a similar experience. They have been born of God, know and trust the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done for them on the cross. Then they are taken into a dark place where that faith is sorely tested.

For Job and for Christians who endure the dark place, they will see God in an indescribable and inexplicable way. They will know they have seen God. The evidence that follows such a revelation of God is a greater realisation of the sinfulness of their fallen nature. This will produce confession and repentance. This is the sweet place where Job came and so will Christians who truly trust the Lord. For them the light that follows the darkness is glorious indeed; “now my eyes see You.”

It is evident that some Christians do end up bitter with God after such testing. This is seen in their attitude to serving the Lord Jesus and is a revelation of what was already in their heart before the test but is now multiplied.

We cannot engineer the dark place in timing or manner. The Lord will do so without warning, at the right time, in the right way and individually tailored. Whether we come out more bitter or sweeter will depend on the sweetness of our fellowship with Him before the darkness came.