Text: Hebrews 11:17-19 — By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
When does God test our faith?
Hebrews 11:17 — By faith Abraham, when he was tested offered up Isaac.
How does God test our faith?
Hebrews 11:17b–18 — And he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.
Why does God test our faith?
Hebrews 11:19 — He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
- Don’t be surprised when you’re tested
- Don’t be confused when you’re tested
- Don’t be discouraged when you’re tested
A test from the Lord can push us beyond what we ever imagined we could endure and make us spiritually tough and resilient in the process.
Opening: There are some Bible stories that are more familiar to us than others. If we haven’t read them for ourselves, we’ve heard them from our parents, teachers and pastors often enough that they have made an impression on us. Like the story of Adam and Eve, the first two human beings who lived together in the Garden of Eden and had conversations with God. And there’s also the stories of Daniel cast into the lion’s den for refusing to pray to King Nebuchadnezzar and, of course, there’s Jesus on the cross of Calvary dying in our place for our sins. These are well known by most of us and need very little introduction. Today’s lesson is in the same category. It’s based on a story from Genesis chapter twenty-two about Abraham and his son, Isaac. The passage begins with these words: “After these things, God tested Abraham…” Now for a few moments, before we get into the details of what happened between Abraham and his son, I’d like to focus on the word “tested.” In this context, it means to attempt to prove something. That’s what a test does. It proves if something is true or false, real or unreal, or perhaps somewhere in between. Let me illustrate it for you. When you were in school and were given a test it was a way of proving or disproving that you had a grasp of the subject that was taught by your teacher. An “A” grade demonstrated that you knew the material well. An “F” on the other hand, revealed that you had no clue. Now, in the Bible testing has a similar use. It provides evidence that our beliefs in God are really making a difference in us; that we have made these truths our own and, as a result, they are the guiding principles we choose to live by. Now back to the story about Abraham and Isaac. We discover that God was about to test the man who would be the Father of the Jewish Nation to reveal how much he had learned about the subject of faith … which we previously defined as … the choice to cling to what is promised (by God) and hoped for (by us), because we know with certainty that it will come to pass, though for a time it remains unseen. Now one more point I’d like to make about tests. Just as an exam in school could be very challenging, so can one administered by God to His people be equally demanding. In fact, they are often very difficult as God thrust His people into near impossible circumstances for the purpose of destroying any sense of self-confidence and replacing it with greater faith in Him. Yet, these tests have been and continue to be a vital ingredient in growing believers into the kind of people that we, today, want to model ourselves after. And that, by the way, is the whole point of a test. Each one is designed by God to make us stronger in our commitment to Him. That’s what it did for an elderly lady who was well known by her neighbors for her stand for the Lord. She had the unusual habit, whenever God did something good for her, of standing on her front porch and shouting, “Praise the Lord!” Now it just so happened that right next door to her lived an atheist who would get very angry each time so that he would shout back to her, “There ain’t no Lord!!” The old woman never let it bother her and continued to declare her faith and trust in God. One day, however, she went to her bank and discovered she had only enough money to pay her rent, but none to buy food. So she prayed for some assistance. She stood on her front porch and with a loud voice cried out “ LORD, I need FOOD!! I am having a hard time. Please send me some groceries!!” Again she heard her neighbor yell, “When are you going to realize there ain’t no LORD!” Still she persisted several times a day until finally, one morning, the lady went out on her porch and saw several large bags of groceries. And guess what she did? That’s right, she shouted, “Praise the Lord!!” And that was when her neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, “Ha!! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries. God didn’t.” It was clear that the old woman’s time of testing was at hand as she thought about what he’d said. Was it not God or took care of her, loved and provided for her? Was that all just wishful thinking? It only took a moment or two of silent reflection to get the answer. When she did the elderly lady started jumping up and down and clapping her hands. Her neighbor was more aggravated than ever. “What are you clapping for?” he asked. “I can’t help praising the LORD,” said the woman. “He not only sent me groceries, but He got the devil to pay for them!”
Every believer goes through times of testing. None of us are exempt from them. This morning, as we continue in our series Unstoppable Faith, I want to help us understand just how important these times of testing can be for our spiritual growth and development by addressing three questions that arise from Hebrews 11:17-19. Here’s the first one…
Question #1 — When does God test our faith? (Hebrews 11:17 — By faith Abraham, when he was tested offered up Isaac). Do ever wonder how God decides if a test of your faith is the right thing for you? If you happen to be in the middle of particularly difficult trial at the moment, and your friends are breezing through life at the same time, have you been tempted to think that God might be picking on you? If you feel this way, I want you to know that God doesn’t sit around scheming how to make His children miserable. It’s not in His nature to act like that. He is good and He delights to give us good gifts. No, the criteria that He uses to determine if it’s time for our faith to be tested appears to be a very simple one: God tests us whenever He feels it’s necessary to bring about a greater good in our lives. How, you ask, could a time of testing be for our good? Well, the Bible explains that it has a purifying effect on us. Trials have a way of exposing what is in our hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2) by turning up the heat in our lives. In ancient times and even to this day in some places, precious metals like gold and silver are refined by putting them under extreme heat. As the temperature increases, any foreign matter that has worked its way into the metal slowly rises to the top and is scraped off. The result is be a purer and more precious metal. This well known process is even mentioned many times in the Bible including by the author of Psalm 66 — For you O God tested us; you refined us like silver (verse 10). In our text for this morning, we see that God decided that Abraham needed a test to work something good in his life. It’s interesting to note that it came after a time of growth and blessing for His servant. That’s certainly something to think about! We’ll address the actual test in a few minutes, but let’s look at Genesis 22:12 to see what came of it. When it was over, God called to Abraham from heaven and said, “Abraham… Do not lay your hand upon the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear (stand in awe of) God...” Does this mean that the LORD had to wait until the test was over before He could learn whether or not Abraham actually feared him? Not if we believe God is all-knowing (Jeremiah 17:9-10 — The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind …). So what is He saying? God uses times of testing not so that He can learn more about us, but so that we can learn more about Him. In this case, Abraham truly came to see the awesomeness of the God who called and led him. Up to this time in his life, Abraham had waffled between trusting God and taking matters into his own hands. But something happened in him as a result of this incident. James, the half brother of Jesus, says that it was this act that completed Abraham journey of faith (James 2:22) so that he was declared to be righteous by the LORD. Now to recap our first question … When does God test our faith? ,,, the answer is whenever He decides it is a necessary and good thing for us … when it will result in greater faith and trust in Him.
Question #2 — How does God test our faith? (Hebrews 11:17b–18 — And he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named). I know this isn’t necessarily what we want to hear, but He tests us with the things we value and love the most. In Abraham’s case, it was with the life of his only son. If you’ve read his story, you know that Abraham had two sons. The first was born to him by Sarah’s maidservant, a woman named Hagar. While God did eventually make him into a mighty nation, he is not counted as a legitimate son because he did not come by way of Abraham’s wife and was therefore not the son of the promise. That was left to his younger half-brother, Isaac. Upon him rest his father’s hope which is why it was truly remarkable that Abraham would even consider obeying God’s command to offer his son as a sacrifice. By the time God called Abraham to take the boy to Mt. Moriah in obedience to the LORD (which is today where the temple remains are in Jerusalem), Isaac was probably in his early teens. Obviously, this was the greatest test of his father’s life. Not just because he loved his son, but because Abraham knew that Isaac was the heir through which God intended to fulfill his promise to make him into a great people and bless the entire world through him. Imagine the kind of trust he (Abraham) had to put in the LORD to obey His command and make the three day journey for the sole purpose of slaying his son! Application: Come to think of it, if you’re a parent, God’s request strikes at a core fear that you probably have in your life…that He might test you somehow with the well-being of your children. But that’s what makes this story something that many of us can relate to. Tests only refine our faith to the degree that we are forced to trust God with the things that matter most in our lives. It’s not much of a test if the LORD asks us to sacrifice something that we don’t care that much about. But if He starts commanding us to release our hold on a person or thing that occupies that special place in our hearts, well, then it’s an entirely different story. Then it becomes a great test that demands great faith! Illustration: The Declaration of Independence was signed by fifty-six men. In doing so, each was tested by putting their lives and their fortunes on the line for the sake of the cause. Treason was the word the British would use to describe what they did. Many of them lost everything. Thomas Nelson Jr. was one of these men. Nelson was wealthy. He often paid for, or lent the money to buy the munitions that George Washington’s men desperately needed. During the Battle of Yorktown, British General Cornwallis took over Nelson’s home as his headquarters. It was not just a move for Cornwallis’ comfort, or to make a symbolic point as to who was in charge. It was a strategic defensive move. The British general knew that that Washington’s men would never open fire on the grand estate of their great friend and benefactor, Thomas Nelson. However Nelson saw the predicament General Washington was in, and how the cannons were not even pointed in the direction of the enemy’s headquarters. Rightly he viewed it as a test of the price he was willing to pay for victory. Knowing the personal cost he would face, Nelson quietly went up to Washington and urged him to open the canon fire on his own home—now Cornwallis new headquarters. Washington did open fire and the home was destroyed. Thomas Nelson Jr’s commitment to achieving independence was tested with the destruction of his beloved estate, and he passed with flying colors. Application: It occurs to me that God tests our commitment to Him in a similar way. He asks us to willingly offer up that which is most dear as an act of faith and trust in Him. And either we comply with His request or we deny it because the sacrifice is more than we can bear to make.
Question #3 — Why does God test our faith? (Hebrews 11:19 — He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back). It’s clear that testing is God’s tool to increase our faith in Him. When we look back at the story of Abraham and Isaac, we see that he trusted God to raise his son from the dead … if that’s what it took to keep His promise. Listen to Genesis 22:4-5 — On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then he said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and then come again to you.” Did you notice what he was saying? Abraham told his servants something like this, “I’m going to make this sacrifice in obedience to God. But I want you to know I am absolutely certain that my son is the fulfillment of the promise made to me many years ago. So I am utterly confident that even after I take his life, the two of us will return because God will raise him from the dead if that’s what it takes.” Now that is real faith and everyone of us should admire and try to emulate it. But faith in God, as important as it is, is not the end goal. Our growing faith is simply the means to worshipping the Lord more fully with our lives. And thus we have the ultimate reason why God tests us! BECAUSE OUR GREATER FAITH BRINGS HIS GREATER GLORY! That’s why the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 — Whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it the glory of God.” We are to be consumed with honoring and praising God. In fact, that is the first part of our mission statement here at River Ridge: We are here to glorify God and advance His kingdom by loving others to Christ. The more we trust in the Lord, the greater the glory He receives as we declare Him to be the only One worthy of our worship. We may love others with any undying love, but there’s only room for one to sit on the throne of our hearts and that is dedicated to only true God who exists eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Applications: Well, we tried to answer three questions that tie God’s tests and our faith together. By way of review, they are … WHEN DOES GOD TEST OUR FAITH (whenever He feels it’s necessary to bring about a greater good in us)? HOW DOES GOD TEST OUR FAITH (with the things we value and love the most)? WHY DOES GOD TEST OUR FAITH (it’s a means to glorifying the Lord more fully with our lives)? Now let’s finish with these thoughts about God’s tests.
- Don’t be surprised when you’re tested. If, as I’ve tried to demonstrate, tests are meant for our good, it’s hard to imagine that God would withhold them from us. His goal isn’t to keep us all in a stage of spiritual infancy, but to grow us into maturity. So when trials come, don’t be caught off guard. They are part of God’s perfect plan for your life.
- Don’t be confused when you’re tested. So many people ask, “Why is this happening to me?” But the right question for a believer to ask is, “What is God wanting to teach me about Himself?” My former mentor used to caution me when I was going through a difficult test of my faith … don’t waste your trials! It was his way of reminding me that they have a purpose … to make me a better worshipper of the LORD.
- Don’t be discouraged when you’re tested. In fact, James tells us that the purpose of God’s tests is to produce in us hope! That’s the complete opposite of discouragement. Hope is the expectation of a certain future. It looks at our trials and determines that they are not happening in a vacuum. God has designed them specifically for us that we might trust Him all the more with everything in our lives.
Conclusion: A test from the Lord can push us beyond what we ever imagined we could endure and make us spiritually tough and resilient in the process. Admiral William H. McRaven, a 36-year Navy SEAL veteran, gave the commencement address to the Class of 2014 at the University of Texas in Austin. He titled his talk “10 Lessons to Change the World.” Here’s one of his lessons to change the world: Every day during SEALS training you were challenged with multiple physical events—long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards—times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to—a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics—designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. No one wanted a circus. A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue—and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list. And an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students—who did two hours of extra calisthenics—got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency. Admiral McRaven concludes with this: Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses. I suspect what the Navy Seals refer to as circuses, the Bible calls tests. If we bear up under them and trust in the purposes of God we will discover that tests are for our benefit and, more importantly, His glory.