Ever have this happen in school? You study most of the night for your 8:00 history class. You’re ready with the names, dates, big themes and theories. You show up loaded for historic bear… only to discover your history exam isn’t until next week.
Meanwhile, in your 9:00 chemistry class…
Oh… crap… Tell me I didn’t just study for the wrong test.
I did. And maybe you have, too.
You see, for years I’ve been studying for the Midterm Patience Exam. It’s become something of a byword in Christian circles, if not a bad joke:
“Lord, give me patience, and give it now.”
“Beware of asking God for humility or patience… he just might give you plenty of opportunities to practice.”
And my favorite: “The Lord is testing my patience.”
No, He isn’t. And if that’s what you believe, you (and I) have been studying for the wrong exam.
Your three-year-old? SHE is testing your patience. Your spouse, boss, or frustrated drill-sergeant teacher may be testing your patience. Your friend with the annoying habit of [pick one] may certainly be stretching your patience.
So What’s All This About Trials?
But doesn’t the New Testament talk about Christians going through trials and tribulations?
Doesn’t the Bible talk about the need for us to show the fruit of the Spirit, part of which is patience and endurance?
Doesn’t the New Testament point us toward gentleness, meekness, goodness, and self-control?
Yes. Also part of the fruit of the Spirit.
So see? When we go through trials, God is testing our patience, right?
Aren’t you just splitting hairs?
I don’t have any left to split.
Rereading the Finer Print
During the early church’s first midlife crisis, waves of believers scattered out across Israel into Asia Minor, trying to stay a step ahead of the persecution. They faced the loss of homes, property, income, freedom, and in some cases, life itself. It was a hellish time.
To encourage them, the two pillars of the church – James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter – wrote letters to these hurting people. Both talked about the trials they were facing. Both said essentially the same thing:
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3, NET).
This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7, NET).
Do you see the distinction? It’s your faith that is being tested. Patience is just the byproduct.
More Than Just Irritation
Give these trials their due. This is more than a headache or a hangnail. When Peter talks about “suffering for a short time,” the word literally means to “make heavy,” or sad. We’re into the zone of the brokenhearted, friends. Can you relate?
These trials have multiple versions. Both writers use words like “various kinds” of trials. Swell. Just when you think you’re done with one issue, a completely different kind arrives from a different angle.
Peter uses the language of necessity to describe these beasts. He calls them temporary – here for a short season.
Short season! Mine feel like forever! But compared to the eternal results, they are working what Paul calls an “exceeding weight of glory.”
Ever wonder why sometimes your trials feel more like temptations?
Because they are.
Did you know that the Greek word translated “test” is the same word used for “temptation?” That’s why it’s irrelevant to ask, “Who is behind this – God or the devil?”
While God is testing, the enemy is luring. That’s what the front part of the book of Job is about. Here is a man who encounters unspeakable pain – a demonstration or proof from God’s perspective, and an enticement to “curse God and die” from the devil. All that matters in the end is how Job responds. And that’s determined by what he believes. And that’s why he argues with is friends for chapter after chapter. He’s hashing out what he believes.
And so are you.
In the test of your faith, God is gambling on you. He’s waiting on an outcome of circumstances that involve burdening, risk, uncertainty and even danger. It’s a gamble because He knows you can blow it in a myriad of ways. But it’s necessary that your faith be tested.
Faith as the Defendant
Your faith is being sued. Or, it’s under arrest. And in the courtroom of circumstances, you have an accuser – Satan – and a trial Advocate – the Lord Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your you-know-what.
Exhibits A-Z? Your response to the trials you face.
Your response to every circumstance is a declaration of what you believe about God and His Son, the Lord Jesus.
In other words, your response to every circumstance is a declaration of what you believe about God and His Son, the Lord Jesus.
Let me put it another way: Your response to every circumstance is a declaration of what you believe about God and His Son, the Lord Jesus.
The enemy is accusing you of being a fraud. Of claiming to believe God, but being an impostor.
Is he right? Is his claim valid? I don’t know. Let’s put it to the test.
Any first-century Jewish believer would completely understand Peter’s reference to the proof of faith being like proving the quality of gold. The goldsmith demonstrates the purity of the gold by melting it down under intense heat. In the process, the impurities in the gold – the dross – rise to the top, where they are scraped off and the gold is made more pure. This process is repeated until all that is left is the purest of the gold.
Here’s what Charles Spurgeon says about it:
No flowers wear so lovely a blue as those which grow at the foot of the frozen glacier; no stars gleam so brightly as those which glisten in the polar sky; no water tastes so sweet as that which springs amid the desert sand; and no faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs in adversity. Tried faith brings experience. You could not have believed your own weakness had you not been compelled to pass through the rivers; and you would never have known God’s strength had you not been supported amid the water-floods. Faith increases in solidity, assurance, and intensity, the more it is exercised with tribulation. Faith is precious, and its trial is precious too.
For reasons that we cannot fully comprehend, your faith is eternal gold to God. It’s all about how you trust Him, receive Him, believe Him, LOVE Him.
Lose your patience, if you must. James says that’ll work itself out anyway.
But hold on, hold on, hold on… to your confidence in Jesus. In the heat of the fire, it’s the one thing you have that is of any value to Him.