The Point of a Test
Imagine that you are in high school. Try to ignore the embarrassing stories you may have, or the teenage angst that permeates those years. Instead, think through your typical class schedule. In high school you have a variety of classes and subjects. You have your math classes, your science classes, your physical education classes. You have weeks upon weeks of homework assignments, projects, assigned readings. Some classes may have come very easy to you, but others it is truly a miracle you even made it through.
No matter what class you are in, there comes a point that you had to prove what you had learned in that class. How do you know and understand what the classes had been trying to teach you and train you in? When it was test time. Tests were necessary to show where we stood in a class, and where we still needed to grow.
Tests can be hard and challenging, but they are necessary before we move to the next grade level and before we can graduate. The whole point of a test us what has stuck, where we stand in the class, and needs to still be shaped.
A question that often comes up is how to I grow in my relationship with God? How do I get closer to God? How do I know my faith is real? Well, the answer that the Bible gives to that question is an answer that our culture and world we live in has taught us to reject. The main way the New Testament tells us how we grow close to God and strengthen our faith is by trials (tests) and disciplines. As we look at what the Bible has to say about trials or testings, we begin to see how those tests and trials aren’t meant to ruin us, but actually bring us life and closer to God
Consider It Pure Joy
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:2-4
So here James says whenever we face trials of any kind, consider it a great joy. The world used there for “trial” literally means a “putting to the test”. Have you ever heard the phrase “proof is in the pudding”? . How do you know if a chair was made correctly? You sit in it. If it holds up to the test of sitting in it, it was correctly assembled. It was put to the test, and it passed. If it topples over, then clearly it didn’t hold up to the test.
That is the meaning of that word for trial or test. A trial is something that is meant to prove the condition and character of our faith. It can manifest in several ways in our lives. It can be a temptation to sin outwardly or an internal temptation to sin. A trial can be adversity or trouble coming your way like losing your job or having someone in your family struck ill.
But no matter what or how the trial arises, James tells us to consider it great joy or pure joy. The text there is describing a fullness of joy. An excited and expectant joy. It isn’t just an acknowledgement that we are in a trial. And it isn’t a tolerating of a trial. But it is a call for joy and expectancy from God. The book of James calls us to recognize that when a test comes, or a trial comes, this is an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord. It is a time for our faith to shine through the darkness. It is a time to prove our faith not only to the world around, but also to us.
We often get stuck though because trials and tests are difficult. And they are also uncomfortable. We live in a culture that celebrates comfort, and easiness. We often hear messages that says if you are experiencing discomfort or trying times, then you aren’t where you are supposed to be. Or perhaps we need to change what we are doing. So we typically respond in a couple ways:
Avoiding a trial: So we see a trial much like an obstacle to avoid. We would rather just go around the trial. Do we really have to experience the trial? The wisdom of the world would tell us to just avoid the obstacle and go around it. Don’t worry about dealing with it, just find another way.
But could you imagine what would have happened if Jesus would have chosen this method. If Jesus would have chosen to avoid the cross instead of embracing it and enduring that hardship? If Jesus would have avoided the trial and test coming, then we would be without hope. We would be without salvation.
Ignore a trial: Another method that is pretty common is to just ignore it. Have you ever taken this approach to a noise you hear you car making? You may hear a grinding or whining noise being omitted by you car, but you choose to ignore it. “That problem is probably going to cost me money, so I’ll just ignore it and hope it goes away”. Inevitably the problem doesn’t go away, and maybe even leads to a bigger problem.
We treat adversity and hardship this way at times. I don’t want to deal with that, so I’m just going to pretend its ok. I’m just going to ignore it and hope it gets better.
How Do I Grow Close to God?
The Bible actually calls us to embrace trials, tests, and hardships. But why? Why does the Bible call us to that? Read James again:
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
The way to be closer to God is not avoiding hardship or ignoring, but rather through it. The way to God is through. By allowing ourselves and our faith to be tested by God, it gives endurance. But it says that endurance must complete its work, so that we may mature and be complete, lacking nothing. We allow ourselves to be tested and tried so that our endurance can be made complete. As we grow in our endurance, we begin to grow stronger in faith and maturity.
A passage we hear as Christians often is “God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). But what is interesting about that passage is that Paul says that in the context of enduring suffering. Look at what Paul says just before Romans 8:28 just a few verses before:
“I consider that our present suffering are not worth comparing with glory that will be revealed to us” -Romans 8:18
The good news of the Gospel is that our sufferings have purpose, and that there is hope beyond that suffering and hardship. God is working all things for our good, even that hard things. Even the tests and trials. And we have a glory coming from the Lord that will cause all of our hardships and sorrow to pale in comparison to that glory that is coming to us.
So that calls us naturally to submit to disciplines that will cause us grow closer to the Lord and grow stronger in faith. I remember when I was running track and cross country in high school. I was a distance runner, and it took endurance to run in a way that I could win. I wasn’t interested in just being present in the race, as an athlete, I wanted to be at a place that I could win. But that took discipline. I had to run mile after mile training my body to endure tiredness. I had to run sprints to increase my speed. I had to run in all temperatures in order to not be affected by adverse weather. Why did I submit to that discipline? Because I knew a test was coming.
In a similar fashion, we must develop disciplines in our lives such as prayer, reading Scripture, meditating on God and His ways because we have been instructed in God’s Word that tests and trials are coming.
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” -Hebrews 12:7-11
It was painful and unenjoyable to train my body to run long distances, but after I had done it, I was in a physical shape that could compete to win those races. I knew that the glory of winning a race would outweigh the hardship of running long, cold miles.
There are times that our faith will be tested. And it will be painful. It will be hard. But if we submit to the Lords discipline at those times, Scripture promises us a harvest of righteousness. We read Scripture even in the midst of hardship. We pray to God in the middle of a confusing times. We surround ourselves with God’s people, even when we don’t feel like being around people.
So when we find ourselves in a hard season, or a time of testing, God calls us to rejoice. God has allowed that season and testing to produce more faith, endurance, and strength to live for Him in this current life. Let us respond to God in thankfulness that He has allowed adversity in our life so that we may know Him more. This perspective is key to walking in life with hope and submitting to this truth will help us rely on the Lord continually.