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Posts Tagged ‘testing’

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. [Matthew 4:1, The Message]

wild placesOnce it’s clear that God has something for you to do, there’s little doubt that a time of testing will come along just to make things interesting. That testing may start quietly, like a little voice in your head, like Eve’s serpent whispering, “Did God really say that?” Maybe you misunderstood. Look around. These circumstances sure don’t support that plan.

Or, maybe the testing is more like the day you decide to clean out the hall closet to get it organized, and what do you get first? The biggest mess ever! That’s right. Before there is order, there is chaos. The job just got bigger than you expected.

Or, maybe you decide to get ready for the test and study hard: read the Book, take notes, create flash cards, memorize key points, arrive early with pencils sharpened and coffee in hand. And still, despite all that preparation, none of the test questions are the ones you expected. [In one of my morning comics, the teenager comes out of class and bemoans, “Why am I never tested on the things I know!”] Doesn’t work that way in the wild.

Artwork by Michael Perchard

Here’s what I know about the wild: it’s rarely what you expect it to be and the timing is usually less than perfect. The wild is called the wild for a reason: untamed, uncultivated, unrestrained, and unchecked. In this particular wild, you are asked to depend on your faith, not your wily smarts or superman strength or clever answers. In this wild, paradox reigns supreme, where less is more and waiting wins.

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prisonThe story of Joseph and how he was sold into slavery by his brothers is a popular Sunday School tale. This, along with his “technicolor dreamcoat,” have been repeated over and over again. Joseph was wonderful; his brother were not so wonderful, but God blessed Joseph and the paybacks were sweet. But is that all of the story?

But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. [Genesis 40:14, NIV]

Despite Joseph’s favor with God and being the favorite of his own birth father, he was sold, enslaved, raised up, imprisoned, and raised up with the prison walls, and forgotten (again and again). Yes, Joseph received favor in his circumstances and yes, apparently Joseph had a great work ethic, but Joseph also knew he was captive to the whims and control of others.

He was not his own man. He was dependent and I believe this is the lesson he needed to learn.

Joseph may have been a man of integrity and all of that, but until he walked the challenges of being in the lowest place could he be elevated to the highest.

Jesus tells a parable with a similar message in Luke 14:7-11.
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Minolta DSC

This is the message of the old Joseph story for me today. Joseph was proud of his many dreams that showed his family bowing down to him. He inadvertently, through a bit of gloating, set a major set of circumstances into motion.

Beware, I say to myself, beware of pride and judgment. God will teach in a variety of ways. In God’s time, there is no time, only the lesson that must be learned.

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Photo by Charles C. Ebbets, 1932

Are there people out there who actually like taking tests? Not me. Conceptually, I understand the reason for them, they inform me and reveal to me what I know. But I have contorted this process into a performance: good score, good girl and vice versa, or worse, pass/fail. That’s not how it works.

I Thessalonians 2:3-4
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, . . . We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

It’s unlikely that God’s intent is to grade Paul on his experiences in Thessalonica in the process testing his heart. Bible translations slightly differ on how they interpret the Greek word, dokimazo. The long definition would be “I put to the test, prove, examine; I distinguish by testing, approve after testing; I am fit.” So, in this context, heart testing is a way to reveal what is really there. It’s an authenticity gauge.

Unfortunately, but most of us don’t really know or understand our hearts. Generally, we get a vague idea based on our behaviors, our decisions, and subsequent fall-out. Sometimes, we create a scenario to see inside. I remember how that turned out a long time ago when Mike and I went to a marriage retreat and were instructed to discuss with each other what we would do if either one of us was trapped on a very high beam that was stretched between two skyscrapers. Would we, despite our fear, go out to the middle of the beam to save the other one. This exercise, I suppose, was to show our sacrificial love for one another. Of course, Mike said he wouldn’t come out. “What ifs” are dangerous games.

Bottom line, heart testing has to be the real thing. It’s the only way to exercise an authentic response to a situation. This is where courage and fear wrestle, where practice becomes second nature, where our progress can be reflected, straight out.

When Captain (pilot) Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully “ditched” U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River with no loss of life, he was sorely tested. And yet, he responded with all the practice and all the experience he had. He assessed his situation, he evaluated all the choices, and he acted.

I must be willing to do the same. I cannot know in advance how I will react in a situation. I can only work on responses and the health of my inner life and relationship with the Christ Spirit within me. I may need to be more conscious now in my choices as a way of building up my heart’s understanding so that I can respond instinctively to the next situation.

Another word for this sanctification.

Test me, O LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth. [Psalm 26:2-3]

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