Sunday, July 24, 2016
What Does It Mean - My Faith Is Tested?
In the YMCA locker room, I chatted with Judy, a woman I see there frequently. She has custody of her eight-year-old granddaughter. Admiring Judy's stamina to raise a youngster, I always ask what her granddaughter is doing. We talked that day about summer vacation, Judy explaining how she is challenging her granddaughter to read and complete math and English workbooks two levels above her grade.
"You certainly value education,"
"Education is key," Judy replied. She told about her friend whose full-time job at a local hospital was recently reduced to part-time, putting a financial hardship on the family consisting of four children.
"This job situation has really tested my faith," her friend commented.
We talked a few minutes loner before I went to dry my hair.
Reflecting on Judy's words about her friend, made me wonder: How is our faith tested?
Thoughts on Faith
We can assume or hope all who believe in God have faith that is foundational, an anchor that grounds our interactions and responses to all events.
But what does it mean to have our faith tested? Is our faith only tested when bad things come our way?
Do we ask questions of God when we are confronted with an unpleasant challenge, emotionally, personally, professionally? When unexpected illness or other medical uncertainties come our way, is our faith tested by asking God, "Why is this happening to me? How can this be?"
When "life is good" and things go our way, can we say our faith is strong or tested? When something unpleasant happens to us or to someone we care about, do we automatically say, "my faith is being tested?" Or, is our faith tested when we see a homeless person and question how to respond with some change, purchasing a hamburger or cup of coffee, or walking by?
Whatever trial or test comes our way - life brings those things. We aren't immune to them. It's our response that either brings us closer to God or takes us further away.
1. How do I describe my faith?
2. What is a test of my faith?
3. What does this test reveal?
4. How do I respond? Is questioning God appropriate?
Examples from the Bible about Testing Faith
Looking at Genesis chapter 22, we hear God speaking to Abraham: "Sometime later, God tested Abraham. 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.'"
God continued with specific instructions for Abraham to follow. Can you imagine how difficult this test was for Abraham? Abraham, however, complied with faithful obedience. Just in the moment when his knife was raised to slay his son, God intervened.
An angel of God called to Abraham from heaven: "Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now I know that you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him."
In the New Testament, I wonder if Mary's faith was tested when the angel delivered the news that she was pregnant with Jesus? Her astonished response, "How can this be?" (Luke 1:34) might suggest a momentary waver in faith.
How do others answer the question - What does it mean to have your faith tested?
After I found examples from the Bible of people whose faith was tested, I decide to ask some of my own friends what they thought. I asked, "What does it mean to have your faith tested?"
One person answered: "My faith was tested when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So many thoughts ran through my head when given that news among which was 'why me?' I was more afraid than anything, but I fairly quickly realized I was in God's hands and prayed for mercy that He would see me through whatever happened."
Another friend replied: "My faith was tested when my life plans didn't go along with God's plan for me. I could have walked away, but I chose to stay with the Lord and accept the life He has blessed upon me. It has taken many years to fully accept my new situation, but by putting my trust in Him despite my frustration and heartbreak for this path, my faith has strengthened."
Another person shared these thoughts: "What does it mean to have your faith tested? Good question. It seems tied to trials in 1 Peter and in James 1:2-4. 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.' Trials seems to be the testing of our faith. When I talk about trusting in God or having hope and then life falls apart do I still believe? Do I still trust? Do I still have hope? The trial stretches me to see if I will stick it out and hold to what I said I believed."
I spoke with my neighbor who shared these thoughts: "My faith is tested when I see a world that hates God, and it seems like evil is winning. If God is just, why doesn't he right some wrongs now? Why do miracles not happen any more?"
A long-time friend remembered a time when her faith was tested: "In March of 2015, our adult daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Our family was in shock and shut down with fear. I was angry - how could this possibly be? My own mother died of a brain tumor when I was six. My daughter lost her mother-in-law to a brain tumor in 2012. How would my son-in-law handle all of this with two small daughters? This did not seem fair, and I was quick to tell that to God. When my faith was tested, I was surrounded by my family, friends and church - they took care of us and got us through. They were the hands and feet of Christ. This is what helped me to keep my faith during this difficult time."
As for me, my faith is tested when I don't feel the flow of God's presence through my soul. Usually I feel God's presence when I write or complete art. When art and words stop, I am perplexed. "Where are you God? I believe, but I don't see signs of your presence?"
How to Respond When Our Faith is Tested
When our faith is tested, however we perceive these times, it seems the only words to say to God are, "I can't get through this (name the trial or situation) without you. Increase my faith and trust in you so that I can receive the care you will offer." Have we failed whatever trial or test by asking or questioning God? I think not, especially if you still believe in God's presence at all times. You can end with, "Affirm my belief despite not seeing."
1. When do you feel your faith tested?
2. How does that feel?
3. How do you respond?
Prayer: God, we do have moments and circumstances that test our faith. We wonder how to respond when life brings events that shake our foundations. Steady us during these times with comfort and the knowledge that you are with us always. Amen.