I was baking cupcakes with my granddaughters recently when we got stuck. We needed to figure out how to divide two thirds of a cup in half. I turned to my daughter and she instantly shot me back one of those looks and said, “Mom, don’t ask me, you know I hated fractions.”
I knew her shame. Math was never my strong suit in school, especially those tricky word problems. No matter how much I thought I understood specific concepts, working them out in the practical applications presented by word problems was a different story. Those word problems revealed what I didn’t know or couldn’t apply.
As Christians, many of us know a great deal about the things of God. We have read our Bible and many other good books about living the Christian life. Yet when we try to put those biblical concepts into practice we stumble. Like my trouble with measuring the ingredients for cupcakes, what we find that we know on one level we can’t necessarily apply on another.
James 1:12 says that when we have passed the test God gives us, we will receive the crown of life. What is the test? I find it often comes in the daily troubles and trials in life that expose the realness of my faith.
For many of us, the big trials of life such as being diagnosed with cancer, or the loss of our marriage shakes us to the core and we know we must trust God. But the every day kinds of tests God allows in our lives may reveal something far different.
For example, what happens to you when you get stuck in traffic on your way to the airport and miss your flight for vacation? What happens in you and to you when your teenager gives you a smart response, or you can’t find your keys and you’re already late for work, or your dinner gets burned and your dinner guests are knocking at the door? Just today I started to fall apart because my automatic bill paying process submitted my payments twice and I didn’t know how to cancel it.
These moments of testing reveal whether we are applying the things we say we believe to the real life troubles that come our way. Is God good? Can we trust Him? Is there a bigger picture here even if we can’t find it?
When we pay attention to how we respond or react during these testing moments, we will also see areas of weakness in our flesh and our faith. And we’ll also have a clearer idea of the things God wants us to work on and change (for our good).
Take some time to pay attention to these three areas when you are in the middle of a “test”:
Your Feelings: The next time life throws you a curve ball, pay attention to the emotions you feel in the midst of it. You may begin to see a pattern in your emotional responses to life’s trials. Do you typically respond with irritation, frustration and anger? Or perhaps you feel more anxious, worried, nervous, or scared in the mist of your trials. Either way, your feelings are telling you something about what’s going on in your heart. Pay attention.
Your Thoughts: God says our thought life is important. Our thoughts act as a filter or lens by which we view the world and make sense of our circumstances. If you haven’t realized it by now, you talk to yourself and the way you talk to yourself will determine whether you pass or fail God’s test. Do you speak only your “truth” or does God’s truth shine forth in the midst of your test?
The apostle Paul speaks honestly of his temporal pain (feelings) when in the midst of suffering. He says he is hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet, he did not become crushed, despairing, abandoned or destroyed. Why not? Because he learned to firmly fix the eternal perspective on his spiritual eyes. He says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. …So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:8-18).
Paul never minimized the pain of the temporal, yet discouragement didn’t win because he knew that God’s purposes were at work. (See Philippians 1:12-14 for another example).
Your Actions: Our decision-maker (will) is an amazingly powerful gift from God. Did you know that even when our feelings are contrary, we can still choose to trust God and do his will?
Jesus showed us how do pass the test in the Garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t feel like going to the cross. He wanted there to be some other way of saving humankind. Yet, in the end, he submitted his will to God and he said, “not my will but yours be done.”
Submission to God in the moment of negative emotions may feel like hypocrisy but in reality, it’s obedience. Job said, “Though he slay me, I will trust him.” (Job 13:15). Trusting God in the midst of negative emotions is not hypocrisy but obedience, which pleases and glorifies God.
Life is hard, people disappoint and hurt us and we don’t always understand God or his ways. The prophet Nahum talks about a day of trouble and reminds us “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he knows those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)