Who hasn’t gone through times of testing from the Lord? Regardless of the timing or situation, you can usually tell that you’re in a testing time when your prayers seem to hit the ceiling and rise no further. For some reason, divine intervention seems to be stalled indefinitely. In the meantime, you try everything you know to do, but, inevitably, nothing works. Then, sometimes, entropy sets in, and the situation or problem goes from bad to worse.
No. Our Needs Do Not Trump the Lord’s Needs
During the times when the Lord tests us, we often don’t know why. And usually, there is no early warning system. If your tests are like my tests, the one sure thing is that they come at what seems like the worst times.
So we wait. Surely, we think, our urgent needs trump the Lord’s need to test us. (Of course, at a later juncture, we understand how our thinking was flawed.)
But the Lord's need to transform us is most important. The Lord tests us so that He can refine us. The Hebrew word for refine, “tsaraph,” paints the picture beautifully. Tsaraph means to cast, refine, melt, purge away. Visualize a metalworker heating metal so that he can separate out the dross—the refuse, or waste—so that only the pure silver or gold remains.
Additionally, think of refining as reducing to a pure state, cleansing. These definitions and insights make sense. When we sign on as Christians, we sign on to become more like the Lord, and that process necessarily entails ongoing refinement.
But that doesn't mean the refinement process is easy.
Silent Screaming and Wringing of Hands
I just spent the past two months in a time of testing—and the testing came at exactly the time that I needed new work, and needed it quickly. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t planned in advance for ongoing work. But suddenly, previous verbal promises of work were inexplicably stalled. I couldn’t change the situation with any amount of trying. I realized that I was in a time of testing.
Of course, I knew that there are both lessons and blessings in every test; but as the days and weeks ticked by, I began to wonder, was I the world’s slowest learner? There were days when I felt like running around the house alternately screaming and wringing my hands.
But screaming wasn’t helpful since it scares the dog, so I settled for silent screaming. And since nothing I did made any difference, I was forced to look past my needs and concentrate on how the Lord wanted to refine me.
He taught me what needed to be refined. I learned, and the learning changed everything.
Check Your Motives 101
In a nutshell for my trial, I learned that I must examine my motives for everything that I ask the Lord to supply to me. I learned that the Lord’s top priority is not my income, but it is building His Kingdom. And I learned that whatever work I do, I must do it ‘as unto the Lord.’
Many times during the two months, the Lord reminded me that He didn't put me on this earth just to 'survive.' He put me, and all Christians here to serve Him.
He assured me that work would come "soon." With stunning insight, every time I'd ask, "When?" the Lord would ask, 'What's your hurry? Are you looking for income, or are you looking to do My will?'
When I answered honestly that my motive was money to pay the bills, He'd remind me that was the wrong motive. Rather, I should be looking to do His will, and then the rest would be added to me. I pondered that long and hard. It's not as if I am a pastor or missionary. I write, teach, and do professional photography in secular venues. But I learned that every kind of work is an opportunity to touch people with His love and light. In other words, every single thing counts to and for Him.
We had these conversations more times than I can count. And in every conversation, He told me check my motives. It's not as if I didn't consider all work as an opportunity to serve Him, but this lesson refined that thinking by fire. I was no longer in my own little sphere directing events and asking the Lord for help. Now, He is in charge, and I am in Him—same sphere, totally different concept.
I knew that He had brought me to a new place. While I had no landmarks, no directions, and I didn't know my way, I knew that this was His place, and that was both comforting and reassuring. I learned what it means to wait on the Lord.
Eventually though, I had to ask, "How long is soon?" He reminded me that "soon" is when He says.
Finally, I understood. Only after these lessons were permanently engraved in my head and on my heart did the work come. And I looked at the work opportunities much differently from the way I would have looked at them two months earlier. After all, this was not just another in a string of income-producing projects, this was the Lord’s work. He supplied it. And regardless of whom I work for technically, ultimately, I work for the Lord.
Tests are marvelous opportunities to know the Lord in all kinds of life events and in all circumstances. And in knowing Him better, we learn that He is faithful to bless us in more ways than we could imagine.
If you asked me about the test today, I’d tell you that I am just as thankful for the test as I am for the work that He provides me.