Tests can be challenging. I remember studying relentlessly for a calculus test back in college. The instructor had the goal of ensuring that his students learned certain concepts by the end of the course and had written his test to discover whether or not we had in fact learned those concepts. Happily, I aced it, even the bonus questions. In so doing, I was awarded a perfect score and had the satisfaction of having learned the material for future use in my professional career.
God often tests His people with respect to spiritual matters. Why does He test us? Ultimately, it is to develop in us a Christ-like character, and to teach us about His will for us and others. To accomplish this, He may test us by allowing difficult circumstances to arise in our lives. Or, He may simply impress upon our hearts a desire to step out in faith and minister to or serve someone unexpectedly. Jesus did this with His disciples.
In John 6, we read of Jesus testing His disciples’ faith. Verses 1-3 tell us that Jesus was near the Sea of Galilee and that “a great crowd of people followed Him” (vs. 2). Significant to this passage is the fact that “The Jewish Passover Feast was near” (vs. 4). The Passover Feast commemorated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt on the day He struck Egypt with the last of ten plagues. And as the Feast approached, Jesus would use its celebration theme to teach the people that just as God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, so would Jesus deliver those who believed in Him from the bondage of sin.
Knowing that He wanted to feed the people for the purpose of teaching the people this truth, Jesus asked Philip if bread could be bought for them (vs. 5-6). Philip responded by saying that they simply could not afford to buy bread for everyone (vs. 7). Andrew, another disciple, pointed out to Jesus that a boy’s lunch was about all that was on hand (vs. 9). As John records, Jesus took this boy’s food and miraculously divided it out among five thousand or more people. In doing this, Jesus demonstrated that God always accomplishes His purposes, whether through natural means or supernatural means. But the question remains as to how we should respond if God chooses to test our faith in Him. Some of the following biblical principles will help us.
First, humble yourself before the Lord and resolve to trust Him despite your circumstances. This is quite often the toughest part of the Lord’s tests. Will we continue to trust Him despite what our circumstances look like? Do we believe He is able to accomplish His will though we have no idea how He will do it? To answer ‘yes’ to these questions during our times of testing indicates that our faith in Him remains strong and that we are developing a deeper Christ-like trust in Him.
In this passage, the disciples seemed to view Jesus’ request through their own limited resources. Often, God will challenge us to step out in a direction that seems to contradict our normally good and helpful common sense. Jesus knew that unlimited power was available to Him to accomplish His Father’s will. His disciples, however, had yet to really learn this lesson.
Second, always interpret your situation through the ‘lens’ of scripture. I think one of the most poignant passages on this idea can be found in Jesus’ rebuke to the Sadducees in Matt. 22:29 (cf. Mark 12:24). The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in a theological dilemma. But He corrected their erroneous thinking by pointing out two mistakes they were making. The first was their ignorance of certain scriptural truths that they should have known while the second was their ignorance of God’s power.
The quickest way to get off track of what God wants to accomplish in and through us is to be ignorant, either intentionally or unintentionally, of those biblical principles that should be guiding our steps. We ought to therefore make every effort to study and apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives and in our service to others. To neglect biblical principles is to invite problems, confusion or missed opportunities.
Finally, be prayerful always. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonian believers to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17). In prayer, we may seek God’s guidance, wisdom and strength to carry out those tasks He has in mind for us.
God uses tests to stretch us and deepen our faith in Him. Our response to God’s testing should be that of developing a deeper trust in Him and in allowing Him to develop a more Christ-like attitude towards Him and others. God’s tests can become our opportunities to know Him better!
Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org