When I was in high school and college, it was my ability to write papers that saved my GPA from ruin. I was a horrible test-taker. I was very slow and, most often, was one of the last in the class to finish an exam. I even was accused by my high school geometry teacher of cheating on homework because it was of good quality while my test scores were dismal. In college it was the same, but my papers usually received high marks so as to balance out my overall class grade.
The test our nation and much of the world is experiencing right now is ideal for people like me. It is likely to be a long test, allowing ample time to get the right answers. Yet, like most of us, I don’t like tests of any kind. Tests, whether they are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, cause at least some discomfort and often great distress as our limits are tested. Our instinctive response is to say, “Let’s get this over with—now!” We just want it to be done sooner than later and, if we had control over them, that’s exactly the way it would happen. Yet, if we had that power, we would shortchange ourselves of the blessings of a long test.
I have had several of those long tests—the illnesses and deaths of my parents when I was an emerging adult, a heart-rending break-up while in grad school, a divorce, a job dismissal, and a period of staff turmoil in my current position. If I had been in control, I would have shortened these tests in order to experience as little pain and discomfort as possible. Yet, as I have often reflected on these very difficult times in my life, what I realize is how much spiritual depth I gained from them. The deaths of my parents taught me much about how the Lord brings good even out of the worst circumstances in our lives, a lesson that I have applied throughout my entire adult life. It also taught me how to grieve as a follower of Jesus. My divorce and job dismissal, which were interlinked, taught me about the grace and mercy of God, that he doesn’t treat me as my sins deserve. And the staff turmoil most recently taught me the need to rely on the Holy Spirit for conviction and reconciliation, rather than my own attempts at persuasion. It also taught me even more about humility.
Obviously, the instinctive reaction to the current pandemic is just to want it over with—now! Of course, not only for our sakes, but for those who are at risk of dying. We should indeed be praying for God’s mercy on the planet, but be mindful that the Lord will bring good out of this, regardless of how long it goes on. I was reminded of the words of James and Paul over the weekend which are a good reminder to us all:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
And Paul adds to this by saying:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
To combine the two, we are reminded that the testing of our faith produces perseverance in the face of hardship, which leads to a deepening and shaping of our character. This leads to a reliance on hope rather than circumstances for our joy in living for the Lord. And this culminates in a much more mature faith which will be reflected in how we live our daily lives.
This is the value of testing. At this moment, we are in the midst of a great test, the likes of which none of us have ever experienced. We don’t know its length, yet we can be assured, if we seek the Lord, that we will be much stronger and solid in our walk with God when it’s over.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version 2011.