Sometimes we wonder why things don’t always work out perfectly and go the way we want them to go. Even after you become a Christian, you still have problems. What’s fascinating is some of the trials we face are the very answers to our own prayers. We ask for some of these things and don’t even know it. We may pray that we want everything God has for us, we want to be more Christlike, we don’t want our life to look like the world, we want our finances to be biblical and our jobs to be fulfilling. And this is God’s goal for our life too, so he lays out the pathway.
God’s number one goal for your life is to make you like his son, Jesus. He wants to grow you creating a strong faith and character. He knows the best way to get us to that point, whether we like it or not. Just like a good parent doesn’t bail their kid out every time, God is a good parent and wants to grow us up. We’ll have all of heaven someday to be perfectly happy, today we are in the training ground. The primary way God grows you up is by testing you. When you work out in a gym you test your muscles by lifting weights. The more weight you can life the more it tests your muscle the more it grows your muscle.
God grows your character the same way, through a series of tests. Those tests build your faith, character, patience and all kinds of other things in your life. The problems are not pointless. Rather, they are there to test your faith and to grow you into the man or woman God wants you to be.
“Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your FAITH IS TESTED, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when it is fully developed you will be strong in character and ready for anything!” James 1:2-4 NLT
Tucked in that financial despair, that mean neighbor or coworker, that marital problem, or that issue with your kids, there is an opportunity for your faith to grow. Some of us are trying to run from the very situation that God gave us as a gift.
How God Tests Your Faith
There is a section of the Bible that deals with this specific thing. It’s in the book of Hebrews. The author is not listed, we’re not sure who wrote it, but it was written or preached to a group of people who were considering abandoning the faith because it was getting difficult and they weren’t strong in character enough to handle it.
In chapter 11 the author or speaker just begins passionately listing out the people of their heritage and how they lived by faith. One of the men mentioned in this chapter is Noah. The Bible tells us that when God created the earth it was perfect, but the longer man went along we started having problems, conflicts and wars, injustice, racism, and sexual problems.
God was so grieved that He had even made the earth because it was going in the wrong direction so He decided it was time to start over. The world was so evil there was only one man and his family who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This man was Noah.
Now, imagine that you’re Noah or his wife or one of his kids and you know the world is a pretty evil place and God comes He is going to start over and wipe out everything. He says that He is going to flood the Earth and He wants Noah to build an ark. The world is going to start over with this one family and the animals God will bring to the ark. This is the first test and we will all go through tests like this.
1ST TEST: A NEW TASK
God asks us to do a new task or to dream a new dream that seems so big that it’s impossible. This is the WHAT test. God comes and asks you to do it and our response is often, “What?!” You’ve got the wrong guy!”
“It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about something that had never happened before.” Hebrews 11:7 NLT
Up until this time it had never rained on earth, that’s why they’d never seen a rainbow. A mist came up from the ground that would water all of the vegetables and plants. Before the flood people lived a whole lot longer, but after the flood the age of life expectancy starts going down because something in the environment and atmosphere changed. It says it never happened before.
- Faith is facing the future without knowing “WHAT?”
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 NIV
2ND TEST: A MAJOR CHANGE
You have a major change in your life. This is the WHERE test. “Where are we going with this one Lord?” This example comes from another person in the Bible, Abraham.
“It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8-10 NLT
Abraham lived in a city called Er which was in the Iraq area. God told Abraham He was going to make Him into a great nation, but not where he was currently located. This is an especially difficult move for Abraham. He’s 75 years old and that’s not really when you want to start the greatest adventure in life. He’s ready to retire, but God says He is ready to inspire.
Abraham had a lot to move because he was a very wealthy guy. He had a lot of livestock and people working for him. God was moving him to a new country in the Palestine area, but God didn’t tell him that. He just told Abraham to move and He would let him know when he got where He wanted him to be.
Some of you are in this test because you’re experiencing a major change. This might be a job change, a school change, moving to a new home or city, or family dynamics are changing.
- Faith is following God’s leading without knowing “WHERE?”
Abraham does this. He packs up all his herds and employees and heads off following God’s leading. Eventually, he gets to Canaan but when he gets to the land he doesn’t settle down, he lives in tents.
3RD TEST: A DELAYED PROMISE
God has thousands of promises in the Bible for you. They are guarantees. However, God has not guaranteed to fulfill them instantly. They aren’t vending machine promises. They are promises that require faith. God doesn’t work for you, you work for God. He has made the promises but He has all of eternity to fulfill them. Some of the promises won’t be fulfilled in this lifetime, but in heaven.
The delayed promise is called the WHEN test.
“Even after Abraham reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent and so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise. Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” Hebrews 11:8-10 NLT
Promise is used twice here. God wants us to base our life on promises not explanations. If you ever understand that you’ll take a giant leap in your character. God is not going to explain everything, He doesn’t owe us an explanation. He wants us to trust His promises.
There’s a delay in transfer of ownership after Abraham gets to the land. He lives in tents for three generations. God calls him a stranger in his own country. You may be in this test right now.
- Faith is waiting for God’s timing without knowing “WHEN?”
4TH TEST: AN UNSOLVABLE PROBLEM
As mentioned earlier, Abraham is 75 years when God told him He would start a great nation from his family. He moves to the land of Canaan that will become Israel. He’s waiting for his wife to be pregnant, but by age 99 he still doesn’t have a son.
Now it is physically impossible for he and his wife to have a child. They laughed when God told them they would still have a baby. They ended up naming the baby Isaac because that name means laughter.
This is the HOW test. It seems like an unsolvable problem.
“It was by faith that Sarah together with Abraham was able to have a child, even though they were too old and Sarah was barren. Abraham believed that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man, Abraham, who was too old to have any children—a nation with so many people that, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.” Hebrews 11:11-12 NLT
- Faith is expecting a miracle without knowing “HOW?”
5TH TEST: A SENSELESS LOSS
This was the ultimate test in Abraham’s life and it will be yours too. A senseless loss will be the ultimate test in your life. So much of what happens in life, it just doesn’t make sense. When we look for an explanation we’re not going to find one. We spend our entire lives thinking if we could just get an explanation we would feel better about the loss. But, explanations never offer comfort.
In pain and major loss, you need the presence of God, not the explanation of God.
One day after Abraham had this miracle baby named Isaac, God told him to sacrifice his son. It seems so brutal and nonsensical. Why would God ask to sacrifice a son he gave in a miracle? Abraham knew his faith was being tested. God is not a mean God, and Abraham knew that. He decides he is going to obey knowing that God will do something about it. But this was the ultimate test, Isaac represented everything God promised Abraham. If his son were to die there will be no future nation.
“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had promised him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Hebrews 11:17-18 NLT
This is one of the most gripping stories of how God would find a way. This will be the most gut wrenching test in our life when God asks us if we love the dream more than we love Him. If so, then we’ve made the dream an idol. There are many layers to this story, but at the last second God stops Abraham and provides a lamb for the sacrifice to replace Isaac.
In a few thousand years he would offer the lamb of God, his son for you. For those who trust and put their faith in Him, He provides a lamb, a way out. Abraham passed the test. If you can explain everything in your life, you’re not living by faith. Some things are not explainable.
“Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death!” Hebrews 11:19 NIV
- Faith is trusting God’s purpose without knowing “WHY?”
6TH TEST: PROLONGED PAIN
This could be a chronic physical, emotional or spiritual pain. It is extended suffering that you just have to live with, maybe even for your entire life. It is the HOW LONG test.
Many of the prophets in the Bible asked this question. And there is another person who is used as an example in Hebrews 11 – Moses. Moses had incredible persistence and put up with enormous pain. His life is divided up into three phases: 40 years in Pharaoh’s court learning to be a somebody, 40 years in the desert learning to be a nobody and 40 years leading a million griping people across the desert.
He put up with criticism, conflict, misunderstanding and pain. He has every right to say, how long Lord? He gave up everything we spend our whole lives trying to achieve: pleasure, possessions and position. He was the son of pharaoh’s daughter and the grandson of the most powerful man in the world, but he gave it all up.
“It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26 NLT
Our culture tells us to base our decisions on our feelings, that the truth is found inside yourself. Your feelings lie to you all the time. They tell you things are better or worse than they actually are. We’re manipulated by our moods.
I don’t always like to read my Bible, but I know it helps. When I don’t feel like praying, I need it the most. I don’t always feel like encouraging people who are down or need faith. I don’t always feel like being faithful, but thank God faith is not only a feeling.
- Faith is continuing to persist without knowing “HOW LONG?”
“By faith Moses left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; He persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” Hebrews 11:27 NIV
When life doesn’t make sense we fix our eyes on Jesus. He ran the ultimate race with perseverance, a race that didn’t make sense at the time. It didn’t make sense that when he began his ministry to serve people for the glory of God that He’d be tempted by the devil for 40 days in the wilderness. It didn’t seem right that the Pharisees could get away with lying about Him, and the Sadducee’s could succeed in conspiring against Him. It didn’t seem right when Judas was allowed to betray Him and the disciples abandoned Him. It seemed absurd that God would have Jesus stand silent as Pilot handed Him over to the crowd. And it seemed absurd when the crowd called for Jesus to be crucified. It didn’t seem right that this man who lived a perfect life would take on the guilt and the shame of every murder, rape, lie, abortion, and sin. And it didn’t make sense that God would forsake him in Jesus’ moment of need. God’s ways seemed horrible as Jesus was in the grave for three days. But then, He got up out of that grave and received His reward for enduring His race to the end. And so will you.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV
Check back on your discussion from last week. Any more thoughts or conclusions on the message about what unites us and what distinguishes us from the Catholic church?
Hear the Word
Spend some time in the word. Read Hebrews Chapter 11. Sometime this week, read through each of these stories. Noah (Genesis 6-9), Abraham (Genesis 12-22), Moses (Exodus 1-3).
Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your FAITH IS TESTED, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when it is fully developed you will be strong in character and ready for anything! James 1:2-4 (NLT)
God uses tests in your life to grow your character and strengthen your faith. As long as you’re on Earth, you’ll be in constant growth and development to become more like Jesus. In this message we looked at six tests from Hebrews 11.
1ST TEST: A NEW TASK (Faith is facing the future without knowing “WHAT?”)
2ND TEST: A MAJOR CHANGE (Faith is following God’s leading without knowing “WHERE?”)
3RD TEST: A DELAYED PROMISE (Faith is waiting for God’s timing without knowing “WHEN?”)
4TH TEST: AN UNSOLVABLE PROBLEM (Faith is expecting a miracle without knowing “HOW?”)
5TH TEST: A SENSELESS LOSS (Faith is trusting God’s purpose without knowing “WHY?”)
6TH TEST: PROLONGED PAIN (Faith is continuing to persist without knowing “HOW LONG?”)
- How do you view your troubles, problems and trials? As a opportunity for joy? As an opportunity for your faith to grow?
- What stood out to you in this message?
- Which of these six tests have you seen most in your life?
- Which of the six tests are you enduring right now?
- What is a senseless loss you’ve had to endure in your life?
- How can looking ahead to a great reward help you to persevere?
Tell Someone Else
Who is going through a similar loss you’ve already suffered? Call or text them with an invitation to grab coffee or a lunch. If you are hurting, who could you reach out to in God’s family and ask for help?