On Saturday, January 13th, approximately 1.5million Hawaiians and hundreds of thousands of travelers to Hawaii woke up to their smartphones buzzing with this text message:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Hawaii had 14 minutes to find shelter. In just 14 minutes homes would be demolished. Cars and boats, outdoor pools and lounges gone. Schools, stadiums, stores— all those comforts of life— would be unrecognizable. Just 14 minutes to grab personal treasures before leaving everything else behind. That means people had just 14 minutes to weigh what was valuable and what was not.
Forty agonizing minutes passed before another alert went out: < THIS IS ONLY A TEST >. For 40 minutes a false threat was considered a reality. Millions believed a real missile was on its way. Millions had just minutes to decide what items were most important to them.
[Speaking with all respect] I wonder how many have adjusted the way they live as a result of that test. Do they still recognize what objects are important and which ones they can live without? Or, have many returned to loving perishable things? Do they better grasp just how quickly life can end? Are churches a little more full? Have more turned their attention to the forgiveness God offers? Or, have people put off eternal matters for another day?
A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart. When you must determine what holds the number-one spot of your heart, you recognize that you cannot love every aspect of life with the same intensity. You heart can only love one thing the most; it can love only one thing at a time.
In order to make sure that your heart remains anchored on your imperishable treasure of eternal life with God, God Tests You (and me). God Tests You so that you can Purge personal idols and for you to Grasp God’s unchanging promises.
In Genesis 22:1 you read: Some time later God tested Abraham. Let’s understand one chief matter: God tested Abraham; he did not tempt him. Tempting a person is to entice them into improper behavior (definition of the Greek word, πειράζω). God does not daggle juicy, attractive situations in front of you, hoping that you will wander away from him. Rather, the Bible clearly says: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone (James 1:13).
Instead, God tests Abraham. Testing a person is: to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways (definition of the Hebrew word: נָסָה). The purpose of a test is to refine a person. To purge away everything that interferes [stymies] your trusting in God. To make sure God remains the top priority of your entire life.
God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…” God cuts right to Abraham’s heart. “Abraham, take your son, oh yeah, that’s right, your only son, and in case you forgot, it’s Isaac, and yes, this is the son you love.” This test presents Abraham with two choices: (1) Obediently submit to God’s instruction at the risk of losing your dearly loved child or (2) Reject God’s command because you love something else more.
If this feels offensive— that God is doing something wrong— again, I urge you, please, remember the purpose of a test. A test is to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways.
Testing sometimes hurts, not God is at fault, but because we have grown a little too much in love with our world. If God approached you today and said: “Leave everything—your home, car, hobbies, video games, life-comforts, abandon them all and live in a hotel room for the rest of your life,” could you do it? It would be difficult, right? If you’re like me, the instant reaction is to start negotiating with God. “God, you can’t be serious!” “God, no! I need these things!” “God, why can’t I have these comforts?” What’s the purpose of those negotiations? It’s the heart’s way of saying, “God I love my stuff more than I love obeying you.”
Thankfully God has not demanded that you sacrifice those significant blessings, has he? He often instructs you to sacrifice smaller ones (in comparison). God instructs: On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…
(1 Corinthians 16:2). He says, “Consider how you have lacked nothing. Give a portion of portion of what I have given you back to me, demonstrating your undivided love for me.”
That’s his instruction. What does the heart want to say? “God, I can’t give that much to you. I need food, I need entertainment, I need gas. My kids have sports. I need recreation: my hunting, my gardening, my traveling. God, I’ll give you my leftovers, but not my firsts because I just don’t have it.” In reality, the heart is admitting: “God, I love my money more than I love you.”
The purpose of a test is to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways. Another way of saying that is: God Tests You for the purpose of purging personal idols. An idol is an object the heart worships. It does not have to be a little golden statue to which you bow down, sing, and pray. An idol can be any object you worship. Your status/popularity, your self-reliance, your pride. If you love these objects, you will worship them. You will trust them. You will make sure no one steals away your time with them— even if that person is God. Left unchecked, the idols of the heart can drag you away from God.
God knows that. So, He Tests You (and me) so that you (and I) do not turn our backs on him. A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart. With a test, God cuts out a misguided love that will kill. With a test God purges away personal idols.
Yet, testing is not always to drive an idol out; testing may involve strengthening our grasp on God’s unchanging promises. Scripture never implies that Abraham loved Isaac more than God, and God had to intervene. Abraham already trusted the promises of God. With a test, his trust in God’s promises would grow stronger.
Watch Abraham grow by the way he responds. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham trusts that he and Isaac will return from Mount Moriah—someway, somehow. Isaac asks: “[W]here is the lamb for the burnt offering?” and Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Abraham even goes so far as to lay Isaac on the altar and take the knife to slay his son. How does he have the strength to do such a thing?! Abraham grasped God’s unchanging promises.
You see, a year before Isaac is born, God promised: My covenant I will establish with Isaac (Genesis 17:21). First, God names Isaac before he is even born! Second, God promised to bring Jesus through Abraham’s son.
This test is one of those moments when what we see cannot fathom how God will keep his promise. Either (1) Abraham will kill Isaac and the line of Jesus will die out and God will prove himself a liar, or (2) God will keep his promise, let Isaac live, and Jesus will enter the world. That’s really what the test boils down to and Abraham grasps God’s unchanging promises.
The book of Hebrews says: Abraham [even] reasoned that God could raise the dead (11:19). Even if Isaac died, Abraham was so sure God would keep his promise of a Savior that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead [in order to keep it].
God kept his promise. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants numerous… and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Abraham and Isaac walked down Mount Moriah alive. Later on, Isaac had two boys— Esau and Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons. Those 12 sons had 70 sons. Those 70 sons had many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, (etc.). God allowed Abraham’s physical descendants to be as numerous as sand on the seashore—but that does not compare to God’s greater promise. The Bible says: Those who believe are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Romans 9:7). Think of all the believers who have ever lived— from Abraham to now— the billions and billions of Christians, people who shared Abraham’s faith; they stand as numerous as the stars in the sky. God kept his Word: Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.
Abraham and Isaac’s great Descendant, Jesus, is your (and my) eternal blessing. A blessing because does what we could not. He fights Satan and wins.
For forty days and nights the devil launched one temptation after another against Jesus—trying to convince him that God does not have his best interests in mind. “Look, Jesus, you’re starving. God will not help you.” “Jump off the temple. See if God will really save you.” “Jesus, worship me, and you can have all the wealth and fame in the world— the kind of life your Father should already be giving you.” Satan repeatedly tempts Jesus, trying to get him to stumble and fall. And Jesus destroys each temptation with one short statement: “It is written” (Matthew 4:1-11).
Jesus grasps God’s unchanging promises, considering them as good as kept. Yes, even he is laid on the altar of the cross. Even when he is slain and life pours out of his veins. Even when his life is sacrificed in place of yours (and mine). Jesus grasps God’s unchanging promise on Calvary: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10-11).
Jesus faces pressure to turn away from God’s saving plan. Each test tempts him to believe that God does not care. Yet, he grasps God’s unchanging promises, knowing that his Father does not lie (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). So, he marches through each trial and temptation in order to break the devil’s hold on you (and me). He crushes Satan so that you no longer believe his lies. So that you may grasp God’s unchanging promises of a new life with him.
Perhaps you are being tested right now. Illness makes you question God’s care. Loss of a loved one makes you feel alone. The frustrations in life make you wonder if God really blesses you. The devil will twist your troubles in the hopes of convincing you that God does not care. The devil will always try to persuade you to doubt God’s presence in life so that you can fall into unbelief and join him in hell.
Look to the cross and see God’s promise kept. Be strengthened knowing that God is for us, no one can be against us. God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).
Fight the devil with the same words Jesus did: It is written! God is beside you because he has sworn by himself to be there. So God Tests You that your faith in him might become like the most rugged, hardened steel. When the day of trouble comes, you will not despair. You will tell the devil: “Go away! God has sworn by himself to be with me— and he will not change his Word.
I really do wonder how many have adjusted the way they live after that Hawaiian false alarm. Have more turned their attention to the forgiveness God offers? Or, have people put off eternal matters for another day? Do they still recognize what objects are important and which ones they can live without? Or, have many returned to loving perishable things? A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart.
So, God Tests You—not out of spite or anger— he tests you in order to purge away personal idols. To rid your (and my) heart of anything that might interfere with our trust in God. You do continue holding God’s blessings of family, relaxation, and possessions. Yet, you do so with eyes lifted up to your God, thanking him for carrying out his promises. You do so with a stronger grasp on God’s unchanging promises.