May 04, 2009

Facing the Tests of Life

“Life is a test, it is only a test. Had this been a real life, you would have been instructed where to go and what to do.” I'd read this spoof about the “emergency broadcasting system” somewhere and it is funny because there is a lot of poignant truth to it. Much of our lives are spent in tests and trials. It’s been said, “If you aren’t in a trial, you are either just coming out of one or just about to enter one.” The truth is, though, the scriptures do show us where to go and what to do, if we are interested in looking into it.

The book of Judges offers a unique perspective on tests and trials. The book of Joshua outlines the path to victory, but Judges shows the track record of the nation of Israel, and it wasn’t so great. But each situation offers valuable lessons. If leaving Egypt is a picture of spiritual salvation, occupying the Promised Land portrays some of the struggles of the Christian life. The book shows how our fallen human nature is prone to failure but also shows how God is prone to faithfulness and grace, in spite of our failures.

The word “judge” in this book means more of a gifted “heroic” leader than someone who oversees a judicial courtroom. Israel operated as a theocracy, with no King. The idea was that God was guiding the nation through leaders He would raise up. There was a total of 14 judges in this book. They were not elected but were raised up by God. Their calling was generally recognized by the people. The time period of the book is about 340 years. It runs from the death of Joshua to the establishing of the first king of Israel.

The Main Test

When Moses was the leader of the Israelites in the desert, he had plenty of time to disciple other people, such as Joshua. But as soon as Joshua became a leader, he was on the go and didn’t disciple a successor. So when Joshua died they had to totally rely on God. This was the main test for the Israelites. It was during these periods when there was no human leader to look to, that they really failed big time.

This is similar to God’s big test for Hezekiah: “God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.” (II Chronicles 32.31b NKJV) We can also face this kind of test where we may not feel God’s presence for a while. Or we may not have the kind of spiritual support or leadership in life that we desire. It is in these times when we do not understand God’s plan practically or feel God’s presence personally, that we need to trust in God simply and wait on Him faithfully. If we do look at these periods as temporary tests, it will help us to see these periods are for our own good to develop our character and help us grow in faith. The main purpose of God in our lives is to make us more like Him and develop our relationship with Him.

Three Familiar Enemies

In the book of Judges, there are seven cycles of backsliding and repentance, from generation to generation, as different Judges were raised up. Though it was a different age and different circumstances, we fight the same kind of enemies today. Judges Chapter 2 shows one of these cycles showing the areas of weakness that led to the failures:

At first, they begin to forget all that God had done for them and they began to worship idols. (verses 10-13) 2) God disciplines them as a nation (V12 and 14). 3) God is moved to pity for them because of their repentance. i.e. “groaning” and prayers (v18). 4) God raises up a judge to deliver them (v16, 18). 5) The judge dies and the people rebel against God.

The tests of Israel showed what was inside their hearts. Because there were rebellion and idolatry in their hearts, they were led astray. For the believer today, this represents our daily battles with the flesh nature (Eph 6.12) and with the temptations of the world (Mar 4.19). Martin Luther once wrote, “I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.”

The beginning of chapter 3 shows a different kind of testing. Judges 3.1-2 states: “Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly)” (NASB) In addition to our battles with the lusts of the flesh and the cares of the world, we also have a spiritual battles which requires knowledge and training. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual {forces} of wickedness in the heavenly {places.}” (Ephesians 6.12 KJV).

When Jesus first began His ministry work, Satan came against him with three temptations in the wilderness (probably more, but these were recorded). Likewise, when we get serious about fulfilling the plan God has for us, we will be attacked by the enemy. Jesus resisted Satan with the word of God as we should also today. But this takes training. Ephesians describes the word of God as the “sword of the spirit” (Ephesians 6.17) and if we’re “unskilful in the word of righteousness” then we will not have our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5.13,14)

Other Reasons for Trials

There are many different purposes for testing in our lives. James 1.2-4 shows how we can have joy in trials when we look for the benefits of them: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Even if we can see no other reasons for tests and trials, we know that these experiences help us to become more patient and content in Christ.

Sometimes we wrongly believe that happiness is based on an easy life. Helen Keller, the first blind-deaf person to achieve a Bachelor of Arts degree, made this comment: “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships. When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

It seems, after reading her biography, that she probably wasn’t a Christian. If she could have so much optimism, how much more should believers have? “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

II Corinthians 1.4 shows how God comforts us in our tribulations that we may be able to comfort others. John Bunyan, who spent 12 years in prison for his refusal to stop preaching, confirmed the unique comfort he felt in his trials: "In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God."

Paul was shown by God how he was given a thorn in his flesh to make him more humble and to help him rely on God's grace (II Corinthians 12.7-10).

One of the main purposes of trials is to sanctify us and conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. Malachi 3.3 shows how God sits as a refiner that purifies silver. The refiner sits patiently and looks into the molten silver and sifts off the slag that forms on the surface. Eventually, when all the slag has been removed, the refiner sees his own image in the shining smooth liquid. What a great image of how God prepares His children through trials. Zechariah 13.9 elaborates:

"And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"
When you look at the list of benefits that trials bring, you're almost tempted to say "man, I wish I had more trials in life!" But the best, of course, is to learn and grow spiritually without the need for tests and trials!

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are welcome to post on-topic comments but, please, no uncivilized blog abuse or spamming. Thank you!