Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Right to Test

Test

by Dennis Pollock

Most people's lives are going to include occasional times of severe pressure. Nearly everyone recognizes that there will be certain seasons worse than others, but these severe times seem almost unfair. If God is good and He controls all things, why should He not keep us from these painful experiences? Many new Christians assume that now that they have surrendered their life to Christ, there should be no more such times. A little moderate unpleasantness is OK, but surely God will shield them from the unbearable, gut-wrenching pain that should more properly go to those who have rejected God and live wicked, rebellious lives!

That may sound like good theology, but it is proven wrong again and again both from the Scriptures and from the life experiences of those who faithfully serve God. The quintessential example of this is the apostle Paul, who was no stranger to pressure. Paul writes:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8,9)

The terms used here don't seem quite right: "beyond measure" and "above strength." Isn't God supposed to give us only what we can bear? Yet Paul speaks of being burdened beyond measure and above strength, which surely sounds like he was getting more than he could bear. How can this be?

It is important to realize that Paul was not being punished for his sins. He was not operating outside of the will of God. He was going about doing what he was called to do, preaching the grace of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. He was on assignment, abiding in Jesus, following His orders, and still he found himself pressed to the very limit. This brings us to the main point of this teaching, which is very simple but very necessary for us to get: God has the right to put his children in high-pressure situations, and He most certainly will do it from time to time. This being pressed "above strength" is not merely an experience for world class apostles; ordinary people like you and me are going to experience this as well. Grapes cannot be made into wine without being pressed, and believers cannot attain maturity without some pressing as well. It is the way of the kingdom.

Unconditional Contract

In the latter years of World War II, Japan held out long after it became evident that they were sure to lose. As the U. S., British, and Russian armies converged upon Germany, it was clear that their turn was next. The thing that kept Japan from laying down her arms was the distasteful idea of "unconditional surrender." They just couldn't stomach the idea of allowing the allies to occupy them and set their own conditions about how their lives would be after the war.

In a similar way many people resist the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. To be born again through faith in Jesus Christ is not only to be saved from hell; it also involves surrendering your life to Him as His disciple and follower. Some may like to think that they can receive Jesus as Savior without receiving Him as Lord, but they are wrong. It is a package deal. If He is not your Lord you can be sure He is not your Savior.

The Bible declares, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19). To belong to Christ is to recognize Him as the Potter and ourselves as His clay. The clay has only one requirement: submit compliantly to the potter's hand. Ask no questions, put up no resistance, and by all means do not criticize His work. And if the clay requires some pounding and stretching and pulling in order to get to the place where it is useful to the potter, it cannot complain. The shapee is not on equal footing with the Shaper. All prerogatives belong to the potter.

"Hard-pressed on Every Side"

In another place Paul speaks of some of the pressures of his life: "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). To be "hard-pressed" is not a fun place to be. In fact we normally do everything we can to avoid such a place, and if unavoidable we use every ounce of creativity and effort we can muster to extract ourselves from there. It hardly feels like the "green pastures" and "still waters" of Psalm 23. But make no mistake about it. The same Shepherd who leads you beside still waters can and sometimes will lead you to some places of heat and pressure. Paul didn't escape it and neither will we.

One aspect of submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the acceptance of the seasons of pressure that must necessarily come our way. This may seem unnecessary. After all, if Jesus is going to lead us there, we don't have much say in it anyway. Why the need for acceptance? The reason our acceptance is so vitally important has to do with our attitude. It is not enough merely to go through difficult times. We must prevail during them by keeping a godly attitude. Peter writes, "Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:13). To go through a season of pressure whining the whole way, accusing God of being unjust, and being disagreeable to all our friends is to miss the point. And this is precisely what we will do as long as we think pressures and trials are strange and intolerable situations that we don't deserve and should not be experiencing.

We must recognize in every situation that God has the right to put us in the position of being hard pressed. When we surrendered our lives to Jesus, we were saying to Him, "Here am I. Do what you will with my life. You lead – I will follow." Nor is our Creator required to explain His actions or purposes to us. The Bible tells us, "He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" (Daniel 4:35). It is enough to know that He loves us, and that He is making all things work together for good toward us.

Expect It!

A second point that must be made is that God not only has the right to bring us to places of pressure – He most surely will do exactly that from time to time in our lives. Peter writes, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12,13). A strange thing is something unusual – something you don't normally see, like a pig studying at the library or an eighty-five year old granny riding with a motorcycle gang. Peter tells us we should not consider fiery trials, situations of extreme pressure unusual; they are usual. If every Christian were to have a biography written about his life, seasons of hardship and pressure would be found in nearly every volume.

James tells us, "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (James 1:2,3). Notice he speaks of the testing of our faith. Every teacher and every student are familiar with tests. Whether short little quizzes or major exams, school life is filled with tests. A test reveals the student's knowledge and progress. Until the test the student may pay attention in class, nod his head wisely at all the teacher says, and give every appearance of soaking in every ounce of teaching the instructor is giving out. But only the test will reveal whether he is truly getting it or merely giving a fine outward show of looking like he knows what he is doing.

The Bible tells us that God will never tempt anyone, but He will definitely test us. We read in Genesis, "Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham… Then He said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…'" (Genesis 22:1,2). Every Bible reader knows that Abraham passed this test with flying colors, and received the promise that in his seed all the nations would be blessed.

As painful as it is to say it, hard times and seasons of pressure are the major way God tests our faith. When the pressure is turned up and the pain becomes intense we will soon reveal just how much of the grace of Christ is operating within us. Of course God already knows this full well. He does not test us for His own sake. Rather He wants us to see, and perhaps sometimes the angels and demons as well, the evidence of His grace in our lives (or the lack thereof).

Basic instructions for tests

When a teacher gives out a major exam, he will usually give some instructions to the students before allowing them to proceed with the test. Likewise, God has given us a few instructions as well. First, know that you are being observed and you will be graded. No teacher gives a test, and then allows the student to go home with it. Tests must be collected, checked, and graded. Heaven is carefully watching you. How you respond to this season of your life is a big deal to God. How we act during times of prosperity and abundance don't mean that much. Anybody can be cheerful and kind when all is going well for them. But how we respond to pressure says volumes about who we are and what Christ has done in our lives.

Watch your attitude. The major thing God is looking for as you go through seasons of pressure is a right attitude. It's OK to complain a bit. When you read the Psalms or Jeremiah you find that even these men did their share of complaining to the Lord. But it was always mixed with praise and thanksgiving. As we descend into those valleys of the shadow of death, God is not looking for cleverness; He is not particularly concerned with brilliant strategies and creative survival plans. He is looking for you to steadfastly maintain your posture of gratefulness toward Him and kindness toward others.

Finally, remind yourself that tests have time limits. There is no such thing as a perpetual test. When we were in school quizzes might last ten minutes, exams might last an hour, and once in a while we would take state tests that would take much of the day. But we never were kept overnight to take a test. We always knew that the time would come when the test would be finished. We would hear those famous words, "Please put your pencils down," and our ordeal would be over. So it is with the testing of our faith. God is far too compassionate and loving to turn our lives into one perpetual test. We will have seasons of testing and seasons of freedom from tests. One of the sweetest things about pressure is the feeling we get when the pressure is lifted. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life." What a surge of life we feel when the test is complete, and God has brought relief!

What we are talking about here is the manifestation of Jesus Christ within His people: the dying and the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus. This will be reproduced in every believer, in various ways and times throughout our lives. In all things we must trust in Jesus as our Good Shepherd. He will lead us through the valleys of the shadow of death, and bring us safely out on the other side. He is faithful.

 

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