Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
I watched my students’ furrowed brows as they scribbled their answers. It was the mid-term exam and in an advanced ESL classroom, the stakes were high. I paced around the classroom to keep an eye out for any potential cheating.
Perhaps God is the same way when He’s testing us. Present, yet silent. Not angry or malicious, but good and loving and eager to promote us to the next level of service.
(Matthew 4: 1-11) Weak from hunger and fatigue and feeling abandoned by his heavenly Father, after 40 miserable days in the desert, Jesus is really ready to be delivered. Loneliness and despair threaten to overcome him. Discouragement is wrapping its tentacles around his throat.
And the Devil strikes. His mission is to convince Jesus into tending to his own hunger (figuratively and literally) rather than relying completely on His heavenly Father. Jesus’ response is critical for us to emulate. He keeps his focus on God. “Away from me, Satan!” Then he quotes scripture. “It is written. Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” The Devil reels from the blow and slinks away with his tail between his legs.
God is silent during this confrontation but not missing a thing. Imagine Jesus’ inner dialogue. “Ugh. Take a deep breath. This has to be almost over. Put one foot in front of the other, and God’s provision will come SOON.” I’ve said that to myself many times.
(I Kings 19:1-18) Elijah is drained, terrified for his life and famished. It seems as if the entire nation of Israel has turned from God and is now worshiping idols after his repeated warnings to stay faithful. Even worse, that blasted Queen Jezebel has issued him a death sentence. “Does anyone out there still believe or care? I’m the only one left. Just let me die.” Elijah tumbles down the rabbit hole of self-pity. A place I know all to well.
God deals with him so gently. Elijah needs food and water, so God sends angels to tend to Elijah just like the ones who tended to Jesus. God reminds him that yes, there are still believers out there, and that no, his work on earth is not yet done, so stop feeling sorry for himself and go to it.
(I Samuel I: 1-16) Hannah is desperate. In a culture where a women’s worth depended only on her ability to bear children, she remains childless. Meanwhile her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, is popping out one baby after another and yet still finds time to daily remind Hannah of the obvious. Can you imagine Hannah’s pain? The one thing you yearn for so desperately is the very thing someone else flaunts before you. I can relate. Rather than lash out at Peninnah, Hannah chooses to pray. She pours out her frustration and discouragement to God. And not just once. She prays repeatedly. While it may be tempting to roar out our complaints to friends, family or those in decision-making positions, God wants us to come to Him first.
In all three scenarios God is dealing with His beloved who are going through testing, temptation and discouragement. All three keep their focus on God. Although there is much more going on in each of these scriptures, and each should be explored in much more depth, I needed a few examples of how God may be dealing with my unmet expectations.
When we are bewildered by our circumstances, when everything that is logical inside us is crying out “this isn’t working, you’re a failure, so quit,” when nothing makes sense and God seems absolutely silent, the test is in progress.
Prayer: Oh Heavenly Father, I feel isolated and abandoned from You. Why do you seem silent? Grant me the patience and the perseverance I need to keep going. I want to please you. I want to pass this test. Help me in my frustration. Help me trust You and not my circumstances. Amen.