Our Testing Time
God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”(Genesis 22:1)
Let us never forget that the truth of “the blessedness of possessing nothing,” and all such truths, cannot be learned by rote as one would learn the facts of physical science. They must.be experienced before we can really know them. We must in our hearts live through Abraham’s harsh and bitter experiences if we would know the blessedness which follows them.
The ancient curse will not go out painlessly; the tough old miser within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out of our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony and blood like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as Christ expelled the money changers from the temple. And we shall need to steel ourselves against his piteous begging, and to recognize it as springing out of self-pity, one of the most reprehensible sins of the human heart.
If we would indeed know God in growing intimacy we must go this way of renunciation. And if we are set upon the pursuit of God, He will sooner or later bring us to this test. Abraham’s testing(Genesis 22) was, at the time, not known to him as such, yet if he had taken some course other than the one he did, the whole history of the Old Testament would have been different. God would have found His man, no doubt, but the loss to Abraham would have been tragic beyond the telling.
So we will be brought one by one to the testing place, and we may never know when we are there. At the testing place there will be no dozen possible choices for us; just one and an alternative- but our whole future will be conditioned by the choice we make.
A. W. Tozer
As I read this portion by Tozer, I sensed that this is very appropriate for us right now in all we are experiencing. Some of you have heard me say that I believe this is a defining moment for us as individuals, but it is especially as the church. The COVID-19 moved us from the familiar gathering in a building on Sunday morning, from the personal face to face fellowship with other believers, and literally suspended the vast majority of church activity. This sudden and dramatic change, however, has really presented us only two choices. Will we just give up and sit idle until we can return to all that we were and did before and while doing so suffer a decline in our walk with God and failure to continue His work? Or will we seek new ways and means to gather, to grow our faith, and to expand our means of telling the Gospel to those who may now be open to it. Times of testing reveal and define us. Testing in the natural is a means of determining our knowledge of a subject. I know few students who look forward to the time of testing. It’s easy to sit in class and to hear the knowledge shared by the instructor, but the revealing of how much of that knowledge we absorb is revealed through the test. In the same way, it’s easy to talk about faith and commitment in the safety of a “normal” environment, but times of testing reveal who and what we really are. Abraham was brought to the place of testing,for God had greater plans for him. God’s plan was for him to father a nation of God-seekers and that required a man who would completely surrender all and fully trust God with everything. In a natural way, the structural steel used to build skyscrapers is rigorously tested for the structural integrity of the building rests on the strength and flexibility of that steel. The steel used must have great strength and yet must remain flexible for skyscrapers move and sway with the wind else they would fall. In these times of testing, our faith and relationship with God and our theology and purpose must remain strong. This is no time to weaken any of these. However, at the same time we must also remain flexible for the winds of adversity are certainly blowing. Our approach to ministry, our means of fellowship and our witness has to be flexible and for us this means exploring new ways and means of “doing church.” I have no doubt that Abraham was enjoying life and his son when God called him into the test. I’m sure it wasn’t something he was looking forward to. He did not know the outcome as we know it for he was living it out without foreknowledge. We have no foreknowledge of the outcome of this time of testing but like the classroom, there will be those who gave themselves to study and preparing and who will score high on the test. Unfortunately there will be others who didn’t bother to read and study and in the time of testing are hopelessly lost and either score very low or fail to pass at all. I believe some believers will come out of this time of testing strong in their faith, deeper in their walk with God and excellent in their work in the kingdom of God. Sadly, there will be others who will become castaways and weakened in their faith or completely turn away from God to seek other sources. This is what testing does.
For the church, we must ask, are we willing to embrace the future of a changed world with seated faith and theology while at the same time recognizing that many of the methods of the past are either no longer relevant or impossible to use. Can we open our hearts and minds to a new vision for this moment in time. Can we bring to the altar of God all, and sacrifice our demands and desires willingly exchanging them for a more effective way to continue our journey? Will we continue to insist that we drive a horse and buggy when there are automobiles available? Will we continue to get to someplace by driving a car when there are airplanes that will take us there quickly and comfortably? Will we keep mama’s wood cookstove when microwaves are available and easy to use? Must we elevate tradition to a level beyond the foundation of faith and make our personal preferences more valuable than the effectiveness of the mission of the church? While I can still have a longing for those beans and biscuits cooked on that wood stove, I’m also thankful that I don’t have to get wood and take out the ashes and I really enjoy Sherry’s biscuits cooked in a modern electric stove. I love driving my old 1973 Corvette but I sure appreciate all the conveniences, especially the gas mileage of the Corolla. And I love an afternoon cruise but I really appreciate flying when I must travel a long distance. I remember the sounds and smells of malls and brick and mortar stores, but I am thankful for internet shopping while sitting in my recliner instead of trying to cope with crowds of shoppers and having to shop at only certain hours. Let us not forget our fond memories of the past but let us also utilize all the available resources available now.
This was the test of Abraham. He had to choose between his role as a father and his role as an obedient servant of God. What a choice! This is our test. We choose to walk by faith and not by sight, letting go of the past while keeping its lessons and reaching toward the future while trusting in the God who has brought us thus far.
I believe that the possible future of the church is bright. I believe that in these times of testing, there will be seekers who have exhausted every other means and are now turning toward God to find hope. I believe if we are willing to be flexible, we have a great opportunity to affect and influence our world that we probably have not had in our lifetime. I also believe that delay will cause us to miss our window of opportunity. Like the farmer, we must know that when the fruit is ripe it must be picked or it will spoil.
Dr. John Thompson