Sunday Word — It’s A Test, Not An Exam

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

James 1:2-4  (NRSV)

If you know me, you know that the last year has been one of enormous difficulty.  Not a little consistent difficulty, not one or two enormous life events, but a steady stream of loss, conflict, despair, and defeat.  And if you know me, you know that I don’t exaggerate.  It really has been, and continues to be, that tough.

Of course, if you don’t know me, you may well think I am overstating the degree of stress that threatens at time to weigh me completely down — and you get to.  While I might write at some point about some of these things, the details remain firmly in my provenance.  I would, if you are so inclined, covet your prayers, even if I don’t furnish you with the script.

What truly matters, though, is that if you know the Lord Jesus, you know that the call of the Christian life is a call of suffering, of carrying our cross by the strength of His cross, not just occasionally, not just when life explodes on us, but every day.  The Word promises that problems and worries are sufficient for the day, a distressing thought if not for the assurance God gives us that His grace is sufficient for the day and for any challenges we face.  All of us see that life serves up a heaping helping of difficulties, sometimes, it seems, at every turn.  It would be easy to walk in defeat.  Sometimes I have.  Sometimes, after 31 years of knowing Jesus and being filled with His Spirit, I still walk like a woman defeated — feeling, I suppose, as if I were being asked to run a race through a lane waist-high with peanut butter.

I imagine most of you can identify.  If you can’t, that’s great — but be kind and be patient to those exhausted by life’s challenges and feeling their grip on Christ Jesus fading in strength, even though it’s not the strength of our grip on Him but His grip on us that keeps us safe.  We are kept in the heart of God by the sacrifice of Christ, and we walk in the Holy Spirit’s strength, meted out second by second, not kept in reserve for us to draw from in times of distress.

I’ve learned much in the last year, and — deep sigh — I honestly wouldn’t trade it for a year full of tranquility and harmony.  I long for such a year; I learn and become conformed to the image of Christ through times like this.  And in being conformed to the nature of Christ — such is the promise of the Spirit, not just a wish of mine — I have learned something of precious value and unerring truth:

It may be a test, but it’s not an exam.

The Lord is not allowing these things to assess my performance or grade my maturity in Him.  The Holy One is not testing me to see how far He can go or how far astray I can.  There is no “final exam” for those in Christ.  That ultimate assessment, that eternally significant “final exam,” was the obedience of the Savior in the crucifixion and the victory secured by the resurrection.  He passed the test.  I don’t have to; indeed, there is no “test” in my life that comes with a scale of success or failure from which God assesses my performance.  The problems and defeats in my life are buried with Christ, and their temporal emergence in my life is meant solely to lead me into greater worship, greater discipleship, and greater intimacy with the One in whose strong and tender hands my life is held.

May it be, for me, for you, and for all who call Jesus Savior.  You’re not being tested to be assessed, graded, and evaluated for failure or success.  You’re being tested — I’m being tested — so that we can become, in our suffering, more like Jesus. 

There’s much talk on the Palouse about the Church “living the good life” for the glory of Christ.  Praise God, I say, for true peace and prosperity in any believer’s life.  But I wonder if Christ can be as fully known in the good life as He is in the real life — the life that saddles most of us with burdens, stings most of us with briars of betrayal and loss, and bathes most of us with sadness and despair. 

We pass the test and pass through the testings because Christ did.  Nothing more is needed, and no “good life” can substitute for the intimacy found in “filling up the sufferings” of our Lord Jesus.

Peace to you this Sabbath, and may your burdens be lightened by knowing the One who permitted them so He could carry them and you through to the Light.

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