Before you read any further into today’s message, I’d like to begin by asking you a question. Do you think that God tests us, or do you think that God allows us to be tested? Take a couple of minutes to think about that.
When we think of being tested, it is something that we can view in either of two ways:
- In a positive light
For example as an opportunity for growth (we wouldn’t want life to always be easy because we would become complacent and it is good to have a target to aim for), or as a means to demonstrate competency (you would after all certainly hope that a doctor was qualified and had passed all tests to demonstrate competency).
- In a negative light
We may have experienced times when people have ‘tested us’ out of some perverse pleasure in seeing us challenged and struggling. I once provided pastoral support to an extremely insecure person. She openly admitted that she found it comforting to test people’s boundaries and frequently tried to push people away, even good people. They passed her test if they stuck around and failed if they gave up. This testing was incredibly destructive and unhealthy, to say the least.
Returning to the question I began with, I think the answer is both, i.e. I do believe God tests us and I also believe that God allows us to be tested. Both of these have something in common which I will pick up later.
How do we know God tests us?
Let’s take a look at some passages from Scripture:
1 Thessalonians 2:1-4
“You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
I think it is fair to conclude from Scripture that God does indeed test us. When God tests us, though, I do believe without exception this is something we should consider in a positive light. Being tested by God helps develop the “muscle of our faith”, producing perseverance, a deeper trust and reliance on God and brings us to a place of blessing.
How do we know that God allows us to be tested?
The key book which speaks into this is the book of Job, which tells us how God gives permission to the ‘accuser’ (or Satan) to test Job with the severest of afflictions, hardship and trauma (Job 1:12; Job 2:6).
What does this mean for our faith?
There is a big difference between being tempted and being tested. I would suggest that the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t ‘test’ Jesus; they tempted him. So did the devil in the wilderness. This is clear from the context; temptation implies enticement to do evil and turning away from God, whereas testing is an event or process that proves one’s character, reveals integrity and brings us into a deeper relationship with God. God would never entice us to do evil; that is abhorrent to him. So let’s be clear here – God will never tempt us, although he may test us or allow us to be tested.
The Bible is also clear that although we may face temptation, not only is there a way out (if we choose to take it) but also God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities.
So what about Abraham?
I think it is helpful to consider that God knows all things. In asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, God already knew what the outcome would be. He knew Abraham’s heart. It was always God’s intention to provide a lamb to be sacrificed. He wanted Abraham to come to that place of obedience, deep faith and reliance on God. I believe that God also wanted to lead Abraham away from the prevailing custom and practice of human sacrifice. We see that emerging when Abraham declares “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8) Once again Abraham “believed the Lord, and God credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
And so we see that “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
In the same way, God knows our hearts too. He does not need to test us to find out what we’re made of… He already knows. God sees how we are and he sees how we can and will be in faith. God may test us or allow us to be tested for our sake. Whether He tests us or allows us to be tested it is always for a GOOD or beneficial reason. Can you imagine the deepening of faith in Abraham as a result of this event, especially when you consider subsequent events that unfolded in his life? What about Isaac? This event certainly would have produced an unshakable faith in his life!
Spiritual testing then has a tendency of bringing us closer to God and revealing more to us of his nature, character and faithfulness. It is for our benefit. That’s why James exhortation was to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
A key reason God allows us to be tested is to demonstrate His power in our life so that we will not only build strength and endurance, but we will know just how strong we are in Him. Often in our times of testing, we can so easily lose sight of the bigger picture. Let’s try and remember that God is a God who is in control and who provides – “Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.””