Life has been full these past few weeks. Being the sole minister in a a parish which, while small, is very busy. This has left little time for blogging although I hope to correct this soon. But in the mean time I thought I would share the congregational letter for August with you.
Over the past few weeks, in various Bible Studies and conversations the question which has arisen is: How can we tell the difference between God’s testing of us and satan’s attack on us.
It’s a good question. As Christian’s we are in a spiritual battle and as we follow Jesus, grow in spiritual maturity and start to enter into the work God has for us both as individuals and as a body of Christ we will experience that battle. The danger is that we can end up attributing EVERY that happens to us which is not pleasant to satan’s attack, when simply we are experiencing the result of our own mistakes, or bad choices. As one theologian has said we should not flatter ourselves that we are so important as to warrant satan’s personal and direct attention all the time.
On the flip side, we can too easily attribute God’s testing, or loving rebuke, to satan’s attack upon us and thus miss what God is wanting to teaching us.
James 1:13-14 says Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
And yet James 1:2 that says my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
What does James mean here? At the risk of being too simplistic, James is saying that while God may send OUTWARD trials to us – things that happen to us outside of our control in order to strengthen and mature our faith God will NEVER send an inward trial, which will entice us to do an evil or wrong act. To THINK about doing something, which is not right, just, or true is NEVER from God and we can NEVER attribute it to God.
However, what tends to happen is that an outward trial, or a severe situation, or circumstance or even a health diagnosis comes into our life and our inward response is to get angry, frustrated and despondent with God – “Lord, why are you allowing this to happen to me”.
The problem is that in most of the situations that we face the question “Is this an attack of the enemy” or “a testing from the Lord” it is not easily discernible. Remember Job? Satan comes before God having been ‘walking the length and breadth’ of the earth – a hebrew idiom for ownership – satan answers God’s question of “Where have you been” with a taunt – “I have been walking on what I own.” God responds to the liar with “You do not own Job”. God is so confident in his servant’s faithfulness that God allows satan freedom to afflict Job in order to prove that God is truthful and satan is a liar. So, to whom would you attribute Job’s trial – God or satan? From Job’s perspective – and the whole issue within the book of Job is Job’s uncertainty as to what is happening to him and why God would do this to him when he had been faithful.
So, how do we tell that a trial is from God or from the enemy? The answer is that it is mostly irrelevant where the trial comes from – the response should ALWAYS be to retreat to Jesus – retreat to Him in prayer, in reading & studying the scripture, in having others pray for you. Seek Jesus – seek Him, seek Him, seek Him. Be faithful to his commands and live in His light in all you do and say. Micah 6:8 says He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? We may never know whether what we experienced was an ‘attack’ from the enemy or a trial from the Lord. What we do know is that our God is the sovereign Lord of the Universe, who loved us so much that He died for us on the cross. He is our strong tower, the rock upon which we stand – the safest place in the whole universe. Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian of the 18th century wrote: Out of the Kingdom of God is no safety: there is no hiding place: the [Kingdom of God] is the only city of refuge in which we can be secure.
In every trial we face – no matter what it is – turn to Christ. Repent of any sin, and seek refuge in his safe arms and in his eternal promises and allow Him to carry you through the storm.