“If God would only test my faith…”
Will you finish the sentence out loud or underneath your breath? Those words have a scary feel don’t they? Get ready for the hammer, chisel and shop vac., part of me is about to end up on the garage floor.
But not necessarily, refinement comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s difficult to imagine the type of testing encountered by Abraham raising the dagger to Isaac, or Joseph’s generation of undeserved imprisonment. We much prefer our tonic in small doses, a kind of “diet discipline” or “refinement lite”. And what about that family we all know apparently living a flawless and untested life? What gives? Perhaps some of the lessons have to unfold gently to keep us from being devoured. But as I recall diet anything has a pretty bad aftertaste – Something you can’t see might still be ugly.
Ultimately, faith only grows in the space once occupied by the carnal mind. So whether God splits us like a log or prunes us by a thousand tiny cuts, less of us make room for more of Him. To be a pilgrim of progress is to be found lacking, to suffer the fire of refinement, and to grow through it toward our potential. It’s an inescapable and exclusive process for those who want real faith.
But there is comfort in learning what to expect from the lives depicted in scripture. We can draw hope from their failures and encouragement from their growth. It’s a well of living water and every believer has a place there to draw from it. Although, lately its pond water that keeps showing up in my bucket.
Familiarity breeds contempt (and stagnates living water)
I remember hearing that phrase years ago and repeating it without ever understanding the powerful truth behind it. Even now, fully comprehending it I fall asleep under its spell – we all do. The concept is easy to grasp but avoiding it requires careful calculation. I’m not suggesting the characters in scripture have become stagnant but rather my view of them has. They’ve grown too familiar like the members of my family, drenched in my affection but somehow barnacled and tinted by the murkiness of my contempt. If familiarity breeds that, then I need to be picked up by the seat of my pants and thrown into the pond. Maybe then I will appreciate how clean that well water really is.
Unfamiliarity also breeds contempt
The other side of the equation is an equally dangerous mill of perceptions –especially among young believers. The well water is considered unfit for drinking because it’s irrelevant – stagnant by antiquity. Bible characters are seen as mythological and not relatable. Context is micro extracted in the name of plausibility and youthful exuberance tosses the truth straight into the pond. Can you imagine Aaron and Hur desperately holding up Moses arms in the heat of battle? But instead of victory, their chief aim is to get a text message sent because the Amalekites are in a dead zone. Or Daniel tweeting a play by play from the lion’s den? Sure life is different for the modern believer but at the core our vanity is the same. And these great figures if allowed will address our every foible and aptitude for screwing-up, without fail – no adjustments necessary.
Whether we overlook the familiar or disregard the implausible, the remedy is to jump head first into faith by asking for it and not looking back. If we take courage and ask God to test our faith we will be stepping directly onto a mine field. It seems a little nutty, but I’ve learned that the explosives typically injure things we don’t need: pride, un-forgiveness, impatience, etc.; making it well worth every painful blow. I call these explosions “faith grenades” and they will altogether short circuit an auto pilot faith and restore the engine of a “get out and push it myself” style of faith. So don’t drink pond water – dive head first in the well by asking God to test your faith!
A personal example may help (Familiarity breeds contempt… for my spouse?)
If familiarity breeds contempt and the enemy is taking aim, then marriage is a target so big we could move in and still forklift the pallets of unlearned lesson behind us. I have been asking God to test me and make me a better husband, help me understand more of His view of marriage so I can grow into it.
Sunday we sat our daughters at the kitchen table for a talk. They had been fighting with each other for weeks, maybe months, continuously. At ages 12 and 13, with opposite personalities, the rule is conflict and the exception is quiet conflict. Peace isn’t on the radar at all but occasionally occurs if a bribe is offered. We said all of the obvious things, they need a change of heart, they’re too old for it, etc. Then the bomb was dropped by my wife, “You never see us fighting like that. How would you feel if we spoke to each other that way?” It wasn’t the first time but it may have actually been the first time they took notice. They both gave the expected answer with remorsefully poked-out lower lips and downcast faces. Wow! Maybe they really get it now – I thought. What a great thing to say!
Unfortunately, the kids were not the only ones who took notice. Our marriage immediately became the side of a barn for the enemy and his anti-marriage core of sharpshooters.
I’ll spare the details, but here is what I learned. After 24 hours, a few prayers and time to listen, God spoke to me in a big way. “Marriage is preparation for intimacy with Me”. He directed my thoughts to 1 Tim and really caused me to focus on the idea of marriage as a training ground for eternity.
1 Tim 4:7-10
“Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.”
I had been praying for some time that God would refine me as a husband – sincerely! But my mind remained focused on the familiar, common responsibilities – the leadership role, the servant role and the provider role. Sunday evening was ugly but Monday God redirected those thoughts and reframed my view of marriage as a training ground. And after reading the scripture He gave me, it all made sense and it seemed appropriate to share.
One of the greatest and most common battles of faith we have is marriage – not likely news to anyone. But marriage is not just meant for us to enjoy each other’s company and raise children, it is also meant to teach us how to become intimate with God. It is practice for our relationship with Him. If we overlook that in the name of seeking worldly happiness, then we miss the blessing God provides within those terribly dark and difficult moments.
Look at it this way, everything God uses or gives is meant to bring us closer to Him by making us more like Jesus. How is a tough marriage any different than a physical challenge or financial struggle? It humbles you and either wakes up your faith or buries it in the mud. And mud is a poor camouflage for our worldly rationalizations. It fails miserably to stick when washed in living water. The enemy throws the first mud ball and we blame each other. Then he sits back and laughs in victory while we keep throwing it. Let’s throw the mud back where it came from because that is the only place it will stick. Marriage is a training ground, not a happiness resort. I’ve been indulging in the worldly- believer’s definition of marriage with its biblically sweet and earthly sour cleverness. But it’s not Chinese food, more like poo in a birthday cake. Please pardon me for that one!
It IS about having a partner and faithful companion. It is about the joys of physical and emotional pleasure and intimacy. It is about children and raising an army for God. But above all it is not about me being happy, but about God testing, training and refining me for what’s next! If you doubt this please refer to Matthew 6:33 and lay your marriage down over it. What you end up with is God’s promise of meeting ALL your needs if you place Him first, above yourself, your spouse, your children, your brethren, your gifting, your calling – on and on and on! Marriage is a training ground for our future with God. If we give up because it hurts, then we miss the benefit of His blessed intention and the promise of Matt. 6:33. I’m astonished by God’s revelation in this area of my life. He is the groom and we are the bride, forever x forever. We certainly need training for that – agreed?
Listen, we know that there are exceptions so don’t tar and feather me yet. I‘m not speaking to anyone’s past. God made me aware that marriage is meant to train us and prepare us for an eternal life of intimacy with Him. In a world where the majority of Christian marriages end in divorce, all I’m relaying is that we all need to fight for it out of love for Him. He rewards the faithful and marriage is the main stage of a 3 act show. We are friends, heirs &children, and we are His spouse. In my own marriage, I have to go back to square one and put Him first, not us, not the kids – just Him. Okay break out the tar, I’m ready.
For those who are hurting in this area remember that even Jesus learned obedience by suffering. Does that mean He was disobedient before He suffered? No, it means that anything of “mankind” is imperfect. Jesus was sinless, that doesn’t mean he never twisted his ankle or missed an answer on a test. Learning obedience is not a purging of sinful behavior, but the willingness to follow the truth as it is revealed – and often we don’t realize what we’re looking at until it’s too late. When we misstep, it hurts and we learn from it –it doesn’t have to be about sin. Repentance is another issue. My point is that there are great struggles in the name of growing our faith as well as many micro trials that pass almost painlessly before our eyes. But our call to action is the same. Marriage is a gift God uses to train and refine us for our future with Him. Let’s begin this instant and thank Him for it and seek Him the way we once sought our spouse. God wants our minds on eternity first and only on the world so much as it affects eternity. Are we willing to start and end there? If you have become too familiar with God and your spouse – get ready to be picked up by the seat of the pants. Don’t get mad about it just grow from it.
On a personal note:
We have been richly blessed the last few weeks with enough work to last a while – Praise God! I haven’t written in a while because my financial pain has lost some of its sting and I have not heard from God much in that regard. I have also been working almost every day for the past two weeks. As for my marriage, well, it’s just not easy for any of us – is it? But my wife is my best friend and most forgiving adversary. I blame the enemy for strife and myself for not seeking God first – earlier. Waking up our faith is tough business. Goliath is already in your garage but David is not coming – God has appointed you instead! David ran toward Goliath, now it’s your turn (mine too).
Isaiah 48:10 Meditation Verse
Thanks for your continued prayers. Please alert me if you need prayer or encouragement.
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