“For You, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver….” (Psalm 66:10).
I have no memory where the impetus for that particular Bible study came from that Wednesday night. But my topic was “serving God faithfully even when fatigued.” Perhaps it was John 4 where a very tired Lord rests at Jacob’s well, then encounters the Samaritan woman to whom He delivers a strong witness, and later the disciples remark that someone must have given Him food (4:33).
Anyway, what happened was this.
No sooner had I stepped off the platform to greet a few church members before they scattered for home than Carolyn approached me. She and her small children had begun coming to our church after we gave them some financial assistance, and they seemed to be genuinely appreciative. Carolyn was humble and not demanding, and we wanted to do anything for her we could.
“Brother Joe, I need to move tonight.”
She said, “I live in an apartment that is terrible. And I’ve lined up a new apartment that will be so much better for my children and me. But if I don’t move out of the old apartment tonight, I will lose my deposit.”
How much is your deposit, Carolyn?
Several hundred dollars.
About what she made in two weeks of work. A significant amount.
I asked where she lived now and where the new apartment was, and how much “stuff” she had.
It’s a good thing I did not know the full answers to these questions.
Quickly realizing that if we were going to move Carolyn to the new apartment, it was going to take a number of trucks and willing workers and that I’d better enlist them now–at this moment–before they left the building, I looked around and began calling out.
“Jim, I need to see you. Now! Chuck, can you come here a minute? Johnny and Guy, can you give me a few seconds?”
About six men gathered around me. I told them what was happening. Rather than asking them what we should do, I knew they were looking to me for leadership in this most unpleasant task suddenly thrust upon us.
I said, “Gentlemen, I need you back here at 9 o’clock tonight. That’s one hour and 15 minutes from now. That’ll give us time to go home and put on some work clothes and get our pickup trucks. We’ll meet here in the parking lot and travel together to Carolyn’s house.”
When we arrived at her apartment that night, not one thing had been packed for moving.
We had to do it all.
Thankfully, the two living spaces were no more than 2 miles apart. We each made two trips in our fully-loaded vehicles. Shortly before midnight, I pulled into my driveway, completely exhausted and thoroughly exhilarated.
I knew we had been given a test. The test was not from the church or from Carolyn or those faithful men. It was a test from the Heavenly Father, for me mostly, to see if I really believed what I preached or if this was just so many words.
A test for the preacher.
I find myself wondering if Abraham’s test when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac had any similarities. Did the Father want to see if he really believed what he said? Maybe it was intended to teach Abraham that he loved the Lord just as much as those pagans loved their idols by sacrificing their children. I’m not sure. It’s a thought.
Here are a few tests I’ve enountered over these decades of ministry….
1) The deacon who had devoted himself to harassing the pastor and undermining his effectiveness suddenly found himself stricken with a life-threatening disease and required the loving nurture of a faithful church. Would the pastor rise to the occasion and demonstrate to that man–and the watching world–what Christlikeness means?
2) The pastor who had preached repeatedly how faithfulness means rising from defeat and discouragement to “get back up and get into the game one more time”–2 Corinthians 4:8-10 comes to mind–became the victim of cost-cutting measures at the church. Suddenly, he is without a job and more discouraged than he has ever been in his life. Can he practice what he has been preaching?
3) The pastor who has taken a stern position against divorce learns his son-in-law has been beating his daughter and terrorizing their children. His daughter has the husband arrested and begins divorce proceedings. The pastor begins to see the other side of that sad issue. What will he do, and how will this change his ministry in the future? Will he learn the meaning of grace?
4) The pastor had become best friends with a Hispanic minister and invited him to lead the Spanish mission they had begun. The young ethnic congregation flourished. Then, one day, the pastor learned that his Hispanic friend was in this country illegally. The pastor had always taken a stern position against leniency toward illegal aliens. The question is will he begin to see these “aliens” as human beings (and even “brothers and sisters in Christ”) or as political issues?
5) The pastor loved to preach a particular doctrine which, to his mind, was the heart and soul of the biblical message. “Anyone who disagrees with this ought to question his salvation,” said the pastor to the congregation more than once. Then, one day, over coffee, he discovers the godly pastor of a church of another denomination took a completely different position regarding that doctrine. That day he had to decide whether godly people can disagree over doctrine and go on loving one another.
The pastor teaches tithing and suddenly has a financial setback; will he continue to honor God with the tenth? The pastor who preaches compassion for the poor and needy is asked to get involved in a homeless ministry. The pastor who took a hard line against his denomination’s bureaucracy–“Look at all the money they waste on those big salaries!”–lost his home in a house-fire or his church in a flood and suddenly was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, affection, volunteers, and gifts from the very people he had criticized.
Tests are no fun.
Tests are given to make us think, to see if we can put together what we have been taught into a coherent system.
Tests will reveal our weaknesses.
As I write, yesterday I took my car into the service department at the dealership where I purchased it. The technician drove the car into a service bay where he ran tests. Later, I received a printout detailing twenty aspects of the performance of my vehicle. It’s a great thing to have. It’s good to know my car is road-worthy. Only by testing it would I know.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).