With handy journaling prompts to help you dig deeper
I’ve read a lot about what people think this global pandemic means. I am sure you have too. We swerve all over the map, wondering if this is a judgment, grappling with God’s sovereignty, forwarding prophesies and Bible verses and any relevant podcast to friends and family. On the other side, we challenge ourselves and our friends to “make this count”, i.e get a six-pack, run a marathon, learn another language, do a masterclass, and the list goes on. I think maybe we’ve all emotionally positioned ourselves in all of these responses at some point? I know I have. And I believe the reason is this: We are meaning-makers, and whether we know it or not, we want to understand, what does this mean? Why is this happening?
I don’t know. Most of the time I am as confused as a monkey with a maths problem. But I do know 2 things:
- God is involved. It never just “is what it is”. There is always more going on than just what you can see. We are holistic beings and our experiences and our walk through this world always have physical, emotional and spiritual components. God is uniquely involved in the lives of his children so nothing that happens to us just “is what it is”. We walk by a different light and it is because of that that we are called to walk circumspectly (Eph 5 v 15 – 21), always looking for and trying to understand the will of God, because the times we live in call for it.
- We as believers, right now,in the midsts of this, are being tested. How do I know that? Because I can feel myself stretched. I can feel myself grappling for answers and understanding. I can feel myself failing. I can feel pressure. And isn’t that what being tested feels like? Regardless of what else this is, this is test for us as believers. A test that calls us to look a little deeper at every area and part of our life and our world.
Understanding that this is a time of testing is really helping me right now, because it means I can position myself to gain the benefits that tests and trials are supposed to bring about. If that sounds like something that will help you too, keep reading:
A test is only useful and meaningful if we allow it to do what tests are intended to do. Otherwise, it’s just a stressful season we must “white-knuckle” through. So, what is the purpose of a test?
The purpose of a test is to assess our ability to apply what we’ve learned:
Almost as though our time with God, under good teaching, in studying His word, is like being in the classroom. The knowledge is only useful to us if we are able to apply it outside of the classroom. Once we leave church and go into our week, once we get up from that quiet time, once we put our bible, that resource, that devotional down. That is where the test lies because that is where our ability to apply what we have learned is revealed. Until then, it’s all just theory isn’t it? We are all just sitting around postulating. Looking like Christians but not necessarily living like them. That is why James says we will be matured, because biblestudy might grow us, but a test will mature us.
The purpose of a test is to examine our foundations and reveal cracks:
Do you know how concrete is tested? By something called a compressive strength test – which is a mechanical test measuring the maximum amount of compressive load a material can bear before fracturing. It’s basically a pressure test.
When the lockdown came about, and its impact on me and my family’s life, in the immediate and in the future, became more and more apparent, I came apart at the seams. I won’t lie. The pressure of the situation revealed to me how much trust, how much faith I had placed in:
- My financial security
- My ability to plan and control the present and the future
Suddenly, neither of these things “worked” anymore. They could not be my source of peace anymore because, in short, they no longer existed. Suddenly they could not save or protect me. The situation I found myself in revealed to me how much I held on to these things as pillars, how foundational they were to my well-being, how much I trusted in them for my future and the future of my family. It revealed how little stability they truly provided, how unable they were to withstand the pressure of the current situation. This crisis had exposed my idols, the things I worshipped and trusted in more than God. And they were crumbling under the pressure.
That is why James says at the end of a test we will be more complete/ more whole, not lacking in anything. Almost always, tests show us where we are lacking, where the gaps exist in our trusting, in our believing and therefore in our thinking and feeling.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord(Jer 17 v 7 – 8)
And whose hope is the Lord.
For He shall be like a tree planted by the waters
Which spreads out it’s roots by the river
And will not fear when heat comes
But it’s leaf will be green
And it will not be ancious in the yea rof drought
Nor will cease from yielding fruit”
The purpose of a test is to refine us:
To refine silver, the refiner would use a delicate process of lead and heat to remove impurities to purify silver. It is a process requiring the refiner’s diligent attention, not a process he sets in motion and then walks away from, only coming back once there is a satisfactory end result. There is so much hope for us in understanding this.
If this feels like a trial by fire for you, this is what I want you to know:
- God’s refining fire is not to destroy, it’s to purify. But why does purity matter? God’s desire for our purity is not because his love depends on that or because our salvation does, Jesus already proved that is not the case. His desire is to walk with us, and the purity of our hearts brings us ever closer to Him (Matt 5 v 8). We are being purified to be drawn into greater intimacy with Him, definitely something we can consider “pure joy”.
- Secondly, our impurities, the things that are hampering us, distortions in our picture of God, incorrect beliefs, sinful patterns of brokenness or behavior, is being burned away, for the sake of our fruitfulness. Our fruitfulness (not our comfort) is always of huge concern to God because of what it (our fruitfulness) declares about Him to the world. We all have areas of rebellion and unbelief, and nothing will reveal to us those attitudes but a test that feels like fire.
- God is paying vigilant attention to you right at this moment and is deeply involved and invested in the outcome of this in your life. He is watching for more of His reflection in you. Take heart!
- Maybe it feels like a discipline, shedding light on areas in our life that we wish God would just leave alone. Our debt and spending habits. Issues of communication with our spouse. Places where we dropped the ball in the raising of our kids. Our neglect of our time with Him. This pandemic and it’s results are forcing us to face those things and more in a myriad of ways. But know this: The Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb 12 v 6 & Prov 3 v 12), and even things that might look like the worst thing, can be used by God for our good.
We cannot “get pure” on our own. That is the message of the Gospel. Of the entire Bible in fact. We all have areas of rebellion and unbelief in our lives, but the beauty of a test allowed by God, is that we don’t have to stay stuck at the place of knowing what the impurities are that hold us back. We have a place we can go to with them. The purpose of a trial (the heating up of our lives) is to accomplish a purer and stronger character and faith. It is in the “heating up” of our lives that our weaknesses, sin, and character flaws come to the surface, so that they may be transformed. And the place of that transformation is always the cross. Forgiveness for sin and triumph over it is found right there.
If the bible is anything to go by, there is something beautiful on the other side of every test or obstacle. The red sea, the Jordan, the furnace and the cross. God’s word reveals, in the most intense trials of the saints that went before us, that there lies a revelation of true peace, true joy and true security for believers right there in the times and trials where these things seem to be most absent. My prayer is that, as you surrender to this test in your life, you will discover that too. For help, I’ve developed some journaling prompts and scriptures you might like to use during your quiet times and times of reflection with God. Be sure to subscribe to receive them in your inbox.