From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 2 – A closer look at how God develops us as disciples
Another reason why God puts all of us through difficult experiences, whether we ask for them or not, is because He wants us to develop strength, stamina and hardiness. He wants us to be able to withstand a series of difficult experiences, over a sustained period of time, and to come through successfully, still persevering, and without fainting or giving in:
10If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is smallProverbs 24:10 (RSV)
As part of that toughening up process, God needs to find out how well, or badly, we will react under the pressure of various tests and trials. An employer takes a similar approach with a member of staff. He will sometimes give an employee a difficult task, which he knows is harder than anything they have done to date, simply because he wants to find out how they will react to that challenge.
It is a way of finding out what that employee is really made of and how much potential they have to be promoted and to do even harder things in the future. It is effectively a quality control test to see what we are at present, just as a silversmith tests silver to find out how pure it is:
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.Psalm 66:10 (ESV)
When you face such times of crisis and testing you will need to have resilience and the ability to bounce back. You will be greatly assisted in that if you can learn to encourage yourself, rather than having to rely on other people for encouragement, which may not be forthcoming. You have to learn how to build yourself up, restore your own morale, and reassure yourself.
You can do this best by digging into God’s Word at such times, especially the Psalms. In particular you can do it by speaking God’s promises out loud by way of proclamation. (See the later book in this series, on the subject of prayer, for details of what proclamation is and how to do it.) King David is a classic example of a man who really knew how to encourage himself, and how to pick himself up and stay strong when facing a crisis.
Here he is at a very grim moment. David’s wives and children, and the wives and children of all his men, have been kidnapped by Amalekite raiders while he and his men were away. When they learn of this disaster, David’s men blame him and want to stone him to death, which is hardly a supportive response. Yet David does not panic. He gets a grip on his own emotions, encourages himself, and then gets himself ready to take practical action:
1 Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amal′ekites had made a raid upon the Negeb and upon Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag, and burned it with fire, 2 and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great; they killed no one, but carried them off, and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahin′o-am of Jezreel, and Ab′igail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.1 Samuel 30:1-6 (RSV)
David then launched a counterattack on the Amalekites and recovered all the hostages alive and well. This would never have been achieved if he had not had the self-control and resilience needed to regain control of his own feelings:
17 And David smote them from twilight until the evening of the next day; and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 18 David recovered all that the Amal′ekites had taken; and David rescued his two wives. 19Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken; David brought back all. 20 David also captured all the flocks and herds; and the people drove those cattle before him, and said, “This is David’s spoil.”1 Samuel 30:17-20 (RSV)
God is watching all of us all the time and testing us continually. This is true both of genuine disciples and also unbelievers. All of us are being examined and tested so that God can assess us and evaluate our attitude, work rate, calibre, character, endurance, faithfulness, obedience and so on. He even tests the wicked in these ways. Nobody is immune from this regime of examination and testing:
4 The Lord is in his holy temple,Psalm 11:4-5 (RSV)
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes behold, his eyelids test, the children of men.
5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates him that loves violence.
God will even allow us to come into contact with false teachers, false prophets and insincere leaders. That is partly for the simple reason that such people exist in this world and in large numbers. Therefore they can’t be avoided. However, it is also because God wants to find out how we will deal with them. He wants to know whether we will believe what His written Word says and remain faithful to that, or whether we will choose to believe what mere men tell us, even when it contradicts His Word:
“If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him.Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (RSV)