Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Does It Mean - My Faith Is Tested?

In the YMCA locker room, I chatted with Judy, a woman I see frequently. She has custody of her eight-year-old granddaughter. Admiring Judy's stamina to raise a young child, I frequently ask what her granddaughter is doing. We talked recently about summer vacation, Judy explaining how she  challenged her grandchild to read and complete math and English workbooks two levels above her grade.

"You certainly value education."

"Education is key," Judy replied. She mentioned a 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," Judy said.

We talked a few minutes longer 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 unfortunate  circumstances 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 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" can we say our faith is strong or tested? When something unexpected 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 offering money, 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.

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 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? 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 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 decided to ask some of my own friends, what they thought and 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 explained, "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 wrote: "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 seem 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 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 anymore?"

A long-time friend remembered a time when her faith was tested. "In March, 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 could 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."

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, with deepest honesty, are "I can't get through this (name the trial or situation) without you. Increase my faith and trust so 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 your prayer with, "Affirm my belief despite not seeing."

Reflection Questions:

1. How do I describe my faith?
2. What is a test of my faith?
3. How do I respond when I feel my faith tested?

Prayer: God, we do have moments and circumstances that test our faith. We wonder how to respond when life brings disappointments and hard times. Steady us, with comfort and the awareness that you are with us always. Amen.

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