Tests

April 2009
Author: 

Steve CoxI’m one of those people who gets “test anxiety.” I can’t sleep the night before a big test and I can’t eat breakfast the morning of the test. I don’t like tests. My guess is that you don’t like them very much either. Thankfully, most of us over twenty five, or way over twenty five, (I think I remember being twenty five at one point way back in my life) don’t have school-type tests anymore. But, if you stop to think about it, do you still feel like you’re still being tested, and that you still really don’t like it very much?
 
The Bible makes it clear, that as God’s people, He will lead each one of us through an ongoing process of testing, also described as trying, proving, or trials, depending on where you look in the Bible. The Hebrew and Greek words most commonly used to instruct us that the Lord is testing us, are related to the English word ‘assay.’ We don’t use this word very much in common language. But, in the days of the gold rush, the ‘assay office’ was a very important place. To assay means to measure what is inside something, to determine what it is worth. When a prospector digs up gold ore, it is usually mixed with other relatively worthless metals. To determine its worth, and to increase its value, the gold ore is taken through “fire assay”. The ore is heated in a crucible until the metals melt, causing the worthless parts of the ore to rise to the top. The ore is cooled and some of the useless parts are banged off with a hammer. In the refining process, the ore is heated and hammered repeatedly until most of the impurities are removed. Then, to obtain the highest purity gold, the ore undergoes “acid assay,” being dipped in caustic acid to remove the remaining impurities. 
 
Assay and refining are fairly simple and painless processes to perform, unless you are a piece of gold ore. But that is exactly the analogy Peter uses to describe how the Lord tests us. “For a little while you may have . . . to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). When we are not undergoing tests and trials, an academic discussion of this Biblical truth might be interesting. But, in the midst of the fire, hammering, and acid washing of real testing, we all know life is not very easy, and we start asking the hard questions. Questions such as: “What is the Lord doing in my life and why?” Or, “How am I supposed to respond to this test?”
 
From what I can see as I interact with people, many of us are currently facing a variety of very significant tests, or trials. My purpose in writing today is to encourage us to look to the Lord and his Word for how to respond to and endure these tests. Thankfully, because the Lord loves us so much and he cares about what happens to us, the Bible gives us some very detailed answers to these questions, more detail than I can possibly share in a brief article. My hope is that these brief answers will encourage you to turn to the Lord, his Scriptures, and his people, as you seek how to respond to the tests in your life.
 
Regarding the first question: “What is the Lord doing and why?” James encourages us that trials help us to become “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) Throughout the Bible, we are taught that testing reveals what is inside our hearts, it humbles us, shows us where we fall short, and helps us to see our need to turn to Christ, that he may purify and mature us. Without testing in our lives, we tend to forget our dependence on the Lord, becoming prideful and selfish. This is what happened to the people of Israel after they moved into the Promised Land and had a period of time in which they lived at ease. Times of testing are an important part of deepening our relationship with our Heavenly Father and helping us become the people he wants us to be.
 
The second question: “How am I supposed to respond to this test?” is addressed in some clear yet challenging ways in the Bible. James tells us we are to “consider it pure joy . . .whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2) But how do you rejoice when life is so difficult and some serious things are going wrong? Both James and Peter challenge us that we have to see our tests from God’s perspective, that there is both purpose and hope. Purpose in that tests help us develop character like that of Jesus Christ, who himself learned through suffering (Hebrews 5:8) that God will be glorified by our humble, trusting response to hardships, making us “of greater worth than gold” (1 Peter 1:7) and as we “shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15) in his eyes. Hope in that we recognize God is lovingly active in our lives for his purposes, that these tests are temporary and his reward is eternal (II Corinthians 4:17, James 1:12).
 
In closing: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:23-24)
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