After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’”
As you probably know, one of the distinctives of the Life for Leaders devotions is that they are biblically based. Most of the time, this means that each daily devotion includes explicit exposition of the biblical text. Every now and then, however, it seems to me that some additional narrative might help you connect scriptural truth to your own life. So, the rest of the devotions of this week will tell some of my own stories of being tested by God. I hope these will help you see in a fresh way how God is at work in your life as well.
In yesterday’s devotion, we began looking at Genesis 22, in which God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. I shared my conviction that God tests us not so much to learn things about us as to help us grow in our faith and service. At various times in my life, I have experienced what I believe to be God testing me. Of course, I don’t know for sure that these experiences were divine tests. But they fit the pattern of biblical testing, of which Abraham’s story in Genesis 22 is a paradigm.
For example, when I was the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I preached something like 40 different sermons each year, delivering each one four times on a weekend (once on Saturday evening and three times on Sunday morning). During my sixteen years of preaching more than 600 sermons, I frequently experienced something that seemed like God’s testing.
Most of the time, I’d prepare my sermon a few days before preaching it, doing serious Bible study on Wednesday and sermon writing on Thursday. I cannot tell you how many times during my week of preparation I found myself in situations where I was faced with an unexpected and pointed challenge similar to what I planned to preach on the following weekend.
For example, if I were preaching on our need to be bold rather than fearful in sharing our faith with others, I’d find myself in an unusual situation that called for bold faith sharing. Or, if I were preaching on the need to forgive when we’ve been hurt, I’d end up needing to forgive someone who hurt me that week.
I realize that what I experienced could have been coincidental. Or it could be that I was simply more attuned to a certain issue during my sermon preparation week. But, sometimes what I experienced was almost eerily aligned with the topic of my sermon. I came to believe that God was testing me — not to show me up but, rather, to help me experience the reality of what I was preaching about. His testing gave me more empathy and humility. It helped me to grow to become what Scripture teaches us to be. I believe God was forming me as a preacher, keeping me from becoming one who told others how to live without living it. God was helping me be more deeply connected to my congregation, to the real challenges of real discipleship. In times when I “passed” God’s tests, I’d feel both grateful and even more passionate about the subject of my sermon. When I “failed,” I would thank God that my preaching did not ultimately depend on my faithfulness but on God’s faithfulness, grace, and power.
Tomorrow, I’ll share a dramatic case of God testing me and using this test to shape my life.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
As you read this devotion, do you agree with my conviction that God was testing me? Why or why not?
Have you experienced anything like I’m describing? You don’t have to be a preacher to be challenged in your obedience!
Gracious God, thank you for how your testing has helped me be a more faithful preacher, not to mention a more faithful Christian. I recognize, though, that even when I “pass” a test, it is really your grace at work in and through me. Thank you for this grace and for how your grace forms me for the work to which you have called me. Amen.