"Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…"
I don't know about you, but to me one of the most annoying things is people testing audio systems. It seems like they repeat this little mantra over and over again.
After the umpteenth time, I'm ready to shout, "Enough already!! It's working!"
Another annoying phrase?
"Can you hear me now?"
OK, yes, I'll admit that this made for a pretty clever catchphrase for one particular wireless company. But honestly, sometimes I feel like shouting back:
"YES! I HEAR YOU!"
Now, if I've got to be perfectly honest, I sometimes feel like God is doing the same thing. Sometimes it feels like God is saying to me, "Testing, testing, 85, 86, 87…Can you hear Me now?"
And I am sorely tempted to reply:
"Enough already!! It's working! I HEAR YOU!"
Sometimes I just get tired of feeling like my life is a series of spiritual tests. Meted-out situations that try my faith, and make me feel like I'm constantly being evaluated.
Sometimes the tests are pop quizzes – and sometimes, they're hand-written, lengthy essay, this-will-determine-your-whole-grade final exams.
Can I get an amen?!
And sometimes I just get weary. Overwhelmed. Discouraged.
And honestly, maybe just a tad resentful at times??
So, this is what's on my mind today.
I'm in contact with a lot of you out there in Blog Land – some personally, and others through your writing. And, I've got to admit, there's an awful lot of testing going on. I have often found myself turning to the Lord and saying, "Lord, why? This person has certainly had enough."
OK, now I’m remembering another irritating little phrase:
"Things come in threes."
Well, truthfully, in my life and in many of your lives, it seems like things come in batches of 103!
Like the incessant waves of the ocean, one thing after another seems to crash upon the already storm-churned shores of our lives. And we are left breathless and gasping for air.
So, today I want to probe this subject a bit. I want to start by dissecting another phrase that bothers me. It really bugs me when you're in the middle of some trial (or twenty) and people say something to the effect:
"Don't worry. God won't give you more than you can handle."
Yes, sometimes people mean it sincerely, and it is a genuine way of expressing heartfelt sympathy. But sometimes, hearing that makes me feel dismissed, invalidated, belittled. Like I've received a very "nice" spiritual pat on the head and kick in the you-know-where.
"OK, I've done my duty…buh bye."
And more often than not, if I'm feeling like I am NOT handling the *it* – then I get to pile on a bunch of internal judgments. Now I'm a crummy Christian, I have no faith, I'm caving in to the enemy, I'm weak…
So, first of all, I'd like to point out that this phrase is not an accurate quote. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God won't give us more than we can handle. I believe this thought comes from a misinterpretation of this verse:
"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)
You see, this verse is not talking about overwhelming circumstances or daunting situations. It is talking about temptation. And the promise is that God will not allow temptation to overtake us without Him providing a way to escape it. Certainly our free will comes into play. We can choose to fall into temptation. But if we turn to Him, He will always give us an *escape route.*
The danger of believing the misquote is that if we are faced with trials that severely test us, and if we feel that we honestly cannot handle them – well, it's not a big leap to then think that God has somehow let us down by allowing this to happen.
"But Lord, You promised not to give me more than I can handle…and I can't handle this!"
Well, actually, the Lord did not promise that in Scripture.
But, He did promise something else.
He promised to be with us in the testing, to give us His grace, strength, and faith to endure.
"For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again." (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, ESV)
I think God allows things in our lives that we can't handle all the time.
ALL. THE. TIME.
Think about it. Moses' speech impediment was never cured. Jacob's hip was never repaired. Paul's "thorn" was never relieved. Over and over God allows His people to experience situations that are humanly impossible so that He receives the glory.
Life brings *stuff* that is much more than we can handle and that is the whole point!
God's power shows up to see us through. And, in every moment that we are tested, we are promised Someone who cares.
Now, yes, sometimes God allows tempting to come into our lives. He even allowed Jesus to be tempted by Satan himself. But, God is never the tempter.
"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one."
(James 1:13, ESV)
So, testing can involve temptation, but more often than not, it's just the trials and travails of living that become crushing.
Here's my second train of thought.
Sometimes I am sorely tempted (!) to ask the Lord to stop testing me. To maybe just cut me some slack. To perhaps just leave me alone for a while so I can catch my spiritual breath.
Sometimes I can identify with Jonah. Buy me a ticket on the next boat to Tarshish so I can run away from it all for a *life vacation.*
"…hoping to escape from the LORD..." (Jonah 1:3, NLT)
I remember years ago when I returned to the Lord after a period of not following Him very closely. I remember the great sense of forgiveness and redemption. I remember the precious sense of renewed intimacy.
And I remember the underlying fear.
I felt like I had a target on my back. For, when we desire to follow Jesus closely, we will find ourselves on the enemy's radar. We become a threat, and he comes after us.
I knew that my renewed commitment to discipleship was going to come at a cost. There would be testing.
Jesus knew this:
"'And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don't begin until you count the cost.'" (Luke 14:27-28, NLT)
And though I feared the testing, I desired to follow Him more.
One thing that I have found greatly encouraging in the middle of everything is that testing is not without purpose. God is not malicious, frivolous, or mean. He does not derive vicarious enjoyment from our suffering. He is not a bully. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I believe that He grieves with our grief, cries at our tears, suffers our suffering, feels our pain, and empathizes with every weary bone in our bodies, every exhausting thought in our minds, and every sigh of discouragement in our souls.
He knows what we feel – for He listened to the cries of His Son.
Take this cup.
Why have You forsaken me?
And yet, there was something greater that God had in mind.
So, what are some things that testing accomplishes – what is its purpose in our lives?
To develop perseverance and spiritual endurance.
To increase the virtue of patience.
To prove our character.
To teach us trusting obedience.
To demonstrate His power.
To infuse us with His strength.
To impart His peace.
To transform us into the image of His Son.
To teach us, instruct us, guide us.
To discipline us with love.
To deepen our faith.
To increase intimacy with us.
To open new channels of communication.
To experience His presence.
To comfort others in their suffering.
To allow us to identify with the suffering of Jesus.
To make us long for our eternal home.
So sure, sometimes I want to tell God, "Please stop testing me."
And yes, sometimes I turn to the skies and cry out from the depths of my heart:
"Enough already!! It's working! I HEAR YOU!"
And sometimes I think I desperately want God to leave me alone.
But at the same moment that my wearily-tested soul mutters, "Leave me be" – it is quickly followed by the deeper truth, "Please don't leave me."
And I realize once again that when I am tempted to tell God to leave me alone, I hear His unmistakable response:
"No, I love you too much."
In the fire,
I am refined...
And when He tests me,
I will come out
as pure as gold.
(LOTS OF SCRIPTURE THIS WEEK! But it's all soooo good! Be sure to check out the quote at the end):
"Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands." (Deuteronomy 8:2, NLT)
"The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart." (Proverbs 17:3, NIV)
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts…and lead me along the path of everlasting life."
(Psalm 139:23-24, NLT)
"Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness." (Psalm 26:2-3, NIV)
"'I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.'" (Jeremiah 17:10, ESV)
"'Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.'" (Isaiah 48:10, NASB)
"'I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'These are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" (Zechariah 13:9, NLT)
"…he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold. For I have stayed on God's paths; I have followed his ways and not turned aside. I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food." (Job 23:10-12, NLT)
"But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…" (1 Peter 2:20-21, NASB)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ."
(2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NASB)
"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us..." (Romans 5:3-5, NLT)
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4, NASB)
"These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." (1 Peter 1:7, NLT)
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)
"We tend to interpret God's love by looking at our circumstances...Instead, we must allow the strong and secure love of God to become the lens through which we interpret everything that happens in our lives. When we see our suffering through the lens of God's love, we see that our suffering has meaning and purpose. And while we may never label the suffering as good, we have the consoling confidence that God is going to use it for our good and his glory. The love of God supports us and sustains us."
-- Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of HOPE
Are you being severely tested? What truths are you holding on to?
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