Tears hollow out places in the heart where joy can grow.—Khalil Gibran
In his book, Living Prayer, Robert Benson, talks about confession and repentance as a key to accessing the place of worship—wholly praising and adoring God. We can’t come into worship and truly look to the Lord in praise and adoration if our hearts are clouded with sin, past screw ups, regret and shame. Repentance is not a popular nor a favorite topic. It is uncomfortable. Nobody likes to face the music, admit to the sludge, be vulnerable . . . but it oh so necessary.
The Word of God—the Story of God’s people—is replete with calls to repentance and people repenting. God delights in our repentance and contrition, as it results in our turning to Him. For He knows that turned to Him is the best place for us to be.
When it comes to things that are uncomfortable it’s easy to proclaim, “No Pain No Gain,” in the gym, or to glibly toss out to a fellow struggler Nietzsche’s pithy maxim, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” but when it comes to God, we impose an altogether different standard.
It is difficult for many of us to entertain the idea that hard things, like repentance, trials, and tests are in anyway related to God. I used to be blind in this area—flat out resistant to the idea that God was anything but sunshine and lollipops in our lives (this is hyperbole, but you get the idea). Mine was a warped conception of what the “good Father” looks like and is, but lately, I am growing in my understanding.
Months ago, at the beginning of a very challenging health struggle and medical crucible, I had a Godly person, whom I highly respect, say to me,
“I am praying for you. God is going to help you. This is just a test. Through it God wants to draw you closer to Him and show you His love.”
That was the last thing I wanted to hear. I just wanted the struggle to be gone! I wanted the challenge to be over! But it wasn’t. In fact, it went on for many months.
Through this, the concept of “test” began to germinate in my mind. I have been a teacher, educator and professor for most of my life. I have administered hundreds of “tests” to my students. Why would I do this? Is it a sadistic bent? Did I want to stress them out, inflict pain, see them struggle? No! I wanted to help them and grow them.
In the education field the best and most useful type of test used in the context of learning is called a, “formative assessment.” This type of test can be as small as a question in the midst of lesson, as common as a daily assignment, or as big as a research paper. The key is that all of these “tests” are used to form the student—to help them to learn and grow—not to grade them, to rate them or evaluate them. Formative tests are for the student. They show the student what they know, how they are progressing and they give the student insight into what needs to be worked on. These “tests” are challenging, but not stifling. They are not always comfortable, but they are beneficial.
Hmmm . . . As if repentance wasn’t bad enough, now I add to the list of unpopular words the term, test. But I am learning to trust God with the test. Because surely if I, a sinful teacher know how to test my students for good, how much more will the Heavenly Father take the hard things of repentance, trials and tests in my life and use them for good? (i.e., Matthew 7:11)
That brings me to the scriptures that I have been living in of late:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4, MSG)
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT)
. . . thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress. (Psalm 4:1, KJV)
My most recent “test” involved many months of sickness, physical struggle, multiple doctor visits, blood draws, failed attempts to fix things, disappointments, IVs, frustrations, questions, anger, shouts of “why?” and ultimately, surgery. But I must say that God’s presence was with me and He gave me a deep sense of His peace through it all. Don’t get me wrong, there were tears, lots of them. But now there is joy.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5, NIV)
Through the test, the tears and the struggle, Jesus was so very faithful and good to me. My heart was formed into something fresh, hopeful and alive. The old has gone, the new has come! I have grown in His immense love, I have felt the peace and the presence of God sustaining me, and I have seen the beauty of the Body of Christ through their love and in their prayers lifted to the Lord on my behalf. Truly, in my distress [test] He has enlarged me (Ps. 4;1, KJV).
God is ever working for our good. In Him is love, life and freedom. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:17 NLT, Where the Spirit of the Lord there is freedom. God wants us to have that freedom, which is found wholly in Him. Challenges come, via trials and tests, and God uses them for good to grow us and to form us in Him. Sin plagues us, but through the hope and glory of the cross of Christ, God delights to call us to uncomfortable confession and repentance for it results in our turning to Him . . . and He knows that turned to Him is the best place for us to be.