In this pilgrimage called life, we often face tests. Usually we think of tests as something we took in school. They were something we crammed for the night before and then prayed hard we would pass them. We take driver’s tests, blood tests before we get married, and the doctors often tell us they need to run some tests. In God’s economy our tests can be divided into three categories.
1) There is the test of the MIRACULOUS.
These are the times when we seem to be moving from one mountain top experience to another. There are seasons when it seems we can overcome anything, that God is working in our lives or in our church in an unhindered way. The test of the miraculous is the test of the incredible moments—the times when it is so incredible, so blessed that you want to build a tabernacle and dwell there forever.
When you are tested by the miraculous, you tend to want to stay in a holy huddle. You can be tempted to start patting yourself on the back about how lucky God is to have you. A church can be tested by the miraculous when it makes a movie that exceeds all expectations…or when doors are open to minister to other churches and pastors…or when other sincere believers brag on us and what we are doing.
If we are not careful we could fall off the mountain, drunk from the wine of victory, in a stupor over our success and tripping over our pride. Certainly we have much to praise God for. His blessings have been poured out on us. But we must not ever come to the conclusion that we are better than anyone else. God has seen nothing in us that makes us worthy. Those who go to the mountain with Jesus and see His glory go because they have longed for a deeper intimacy and desired to live in greater obedience.
The mountain is not for the weak at heart or the casual Christian. Those who are not prepared for the mountain will quickly fall and be crushed by their own success. Pride will slip in. Ego will start to reign. They will start to believe their press clippings. They will assume that God is impressed by what they are doing. He’s not. You can’t impress God.
Beware the spirit of Simon Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. “Let’s just build some tents and have fellowship.” That, at the core, is self-centered. It’s missing the point of seeing the glory of God. There is still work to be done. Ministry is in the valley. We have to deal with the sin that runs rampant in the valley.
2) There is the test of the MONOTONOUS.
The daily grind gets to you; it wears you out and wears you down. It’s a test to survive the moments when God seems to be distant, when our prayers seem to be ineffective, when the altar is empty and when we lose the sense of His presence. In this soul-ish generation, we want to live in the realm of emotions. We want a preacher, a song, or an event to rev us up and get us going. God never does His deepest work in the shallowest part of our being. He never has, and He never will.
God wants us to trust Him in the monotonous. We read In the Scriptures about the miracles, the healings. We read the teachings of Jesus. But what about those nights sleeping with a rock as a pillow, walking up and down the hills of Galilee? There are times when you just have to get up and get going. Discipleship is a long obedience in the right direction. We are not called to live our lives by feelings but by faith. Just because we can’t see God working doesn’t mean He isn’t working.
3) Then there is the test of the MYSTERIOUS.
When things don’t make sense. When we pray for healing and it doesn’t come. When we are thrown a curve ball when we were expecting a fastball. Times when God works in unexpected ways. Joseph certainly never expected to be thrown into a pit or prison. Moses certainly didn’t plan on spending forty years on the backside of the desert. The children of Israel couldn’t understand how God could use pagan nations to judge His chosen people.
There are moments when God seems to change the script. It happened to Job, and God never explained Himself. He never told Job why. Job’s life took a nose dive. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh. God allowed Satan to sift Simon Peter like wheat. The crucible of life is impossible to explain. There are no “three points and a poem” to deal with the adversities of life.
There are mysteries that God will not explain this side of glory. Warren Wiersbe says, “We live by promises, not by explanations.” We would like someone to explain the setbacks. No one can. Trite answers have no power to heal our wounded hearts.
When you think of the Apostle Paul, he had all three tests. He had the incredible experience of a trip to the third heaven. He had monotonous days when he was traveling on his missionary journeys. He had days in prison when he must have felt abandoned and alone. He had the church at Corinth treat him with disrespect. He also had the mysterious thorn in the flesh. If Paul’s prayer life couldn’t deliver him from that thorn, I doubt if we are going to fare any better.
What Paul needed in all three tests is what we need: grace. He needed abounding grace to deal with his heavenly and hellish experiences. He needed grace to deal with God’s people who wouldn’t cooperate with his leadership. He needed grace to accept the fact that God had called him to suffer many things.
We need to remember the ebbs and flows of life. We will not always be on the mountain or in the valley. Nor will we always be in the rut of routine. Days can change like the wind. Seasons change and so does life. The question comes: how are you doing with your tests right now? Pray that God will give you the grace to handle your successes and your failures. Pray you properly handle flattery and flattening. Pray you can handle the monotonous and the mundane. Pray. Pray. Pray. That’s the best preparation, no matter what test you are facing.
(Copyright, Michael C. Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.