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One of the paradoxes of life is that testing times are transforming times. We don’t like them, we dread them, we wish they would go away, but testing times are transforming times. Look at the brooks that we love to see in the mountains of the Carolinas or Tennessee. But take away those rough hewn rocks through which they must gurgle, rush, and collide, and the brooks lose their character. The vines that trail up the side of the great oaks are marvelous, but it’s the winds and the storms that drive them to cling and embed their roots so that they may be wonders to behold.
The most melodious chords we hear on Sunday that fill our place of worship with music require dissonant chords resolving to consonance. And any familiarity with flying acquaints us with the knowledge that pilots in training are placed in simulators in which they are initiated with minor inconveniences. Progressively they move through a series of tests that lead to absolute catastrophes so that they might be ready to serve us well when we step aboard those wonders of mass transportation.
Testing times are transforming times. And if you fail them, you will remain trapped in the cocoon of mediocrity. Some would be sorry to see a little cocoon being jostled and tousled and shaken by the insect inside fighting its way outside; yet if you take the cocoon and, in trying to help, open it so the caterpillar can emerge without the struggle, you’ll find the butterfly cannot fly, lacking the strength gained by the struggle of breakthrough.
Genesis 22 brings us to the mountaintop of the testing of faith (Genesis 22:1-4). The Jewish writers say that in an amazing way the Shekinah glory of God settled on Mount Moriah. It would be the very mount on which Solomon would later build his temple so that every day sacrifices would be made (Genesis 22:5-7).
And there we find the question that has rung through the portals of time: Where is the lamb? In Genesis 8, the first lamb was slain on behalf of the people that God might look down and forgive their sin, and it was a lamb provided by God. From Noah to Calvary, the question would ring again and again: “Where is the lamb?” Ultimately it would be fulfilled as John the Baptist, with the Jordan River running past his feet, answered “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Genesis 22:8-12). The testing of our faith brings transforming in our lives.
I’d like to share four principles about the testing of our faith.
I. Since your faith is going to be tested, it’s critical that your faith be placed in the proper object.
No faith in life is greater than the object in which it is placed. Perhaps the reason we see such insipid faith in America today is because of the understanding of God we have. It is too often watered down to a God who is pitifully small.
For instance, some people see Him as an authoritarian policeman whose job is to make laws and then enforce them. They see Him watching over you to see you transgressing the law so He can quickly pull you over and slap you with a “divine fine.” Other people see God as a cosmic killjoy who wants people to remain serious constantly and never let the good times roll. Yet other people see God as a cosmic cruise ship director whose job, in their perspective, is to keep them comfortable, contented, and happy. On their cruise, they don’t want the water to get too rough or the winds to blow too hard. They want the sun overhead and the wind at their back so they might always be happy, happy, happy. There is a major dilemma: God is more concerned with your holiness than He is about your happiness; He’s more concerned with the person you are than the possessions you have; He’s also more concerned with your response to circumstances than the circumstances themselves. Thus, those who hold any of these views inadequately experience who God really is.
Many of us form a view of God that we carry into adulthood which, unfortunately, isn’t the same God who spoke to Abraham. We might be compared to the little girl who was found coloring by her mother. The mother asked, “Honey, what in the world are you doing?” The little girl replied, “Coloring a picture.” The mother asked, “What are you coloring a picture of?” With a proud grin on her face, the little girl said, “I’m coloring a picture of God.” Mom cautioned, “Honey, nobody knows what God looks like.” With a pensive thought, the little girl replied, “When I’m through, they will!” As the little girl, there are many people who “picture” God from their experience, rather than experience God from the self-portrait He gave on the canvas of Scripture. As a result, they get a distorted view of the God of Abraham.
Patrick Morley has written a book especially for men entitled Man in the Mirror. He contrasts biblical Christianity with cultural Christianity saying:
“Cultural Christianity means to pursue the God we want rather than the God who is. It is the tendency to be shallow in our understanding of God, wanting Him to be more gentle grandfather than royal God, a grandfather who spoils us and lets us have our own way. It is sensing the need for God, but on our own terms.”
Have you ever been in those shoes: wanting God, but wanting Him on your terms?
The Bible says, “Sometimes later God tested Abraham.” Where is the object of your faith? Is it in a god that you have made up or is it in the God who made you? Is it in a God who loves you with an everlasting love? Is it in a God who created a plan for your life from the beginning of eternity? Is it in a God who loved you so much that He gave His Son to die on a cross for you? Is it in a God who sees everything you’ve ever done or ever will do, and is willing to forgive it all? That’s the God who molds us and shapes us to be more like His Son.
II. Testing is Not Same as Tempting
“And sometime later God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). Notice it says God tested Abraham, not that He tempted him. Alexander McClaren, the great preacher and orator of years gone by, says, “In temptation we are told: ‘do this pleasant thing and do not be hindered by the fact that it is wrong.’ But in testing, we are told: ‘do this difficult thing and do not be hindered by the fact that it’s tough’.”
Abraham was tested to the limit as God came saying, “Abraham, take your son, your only son.” He had waited 25 years for that son. The son of promise. A hundred years old when that son was born, Abraham had named him Isaac, meaning “laughter.” Isaac must have been in his late teens and memories of laughter-filled days and promised blessing must have exploded in this father’s mind. Yet that son, who had captivated Abraham’s heart for some sixteen to eighteen years was to be surrendered. God’s voice said, “Take him to a mountain I will show you on Moriah, and there sacrifice him.” How Abraham’s heart must have pounded! How his mind must have raced with thoughts! I wonder if he ever told Sara. I would guess not. He knew the overwhelming response that would come if Sara even knew.
So the next morning the blankets were put on the donkey, the wood loaded, his teenage son called alongside. Most likely they had done sacrifices together before, so when they started off on that three-day journey maybe Isaac didn’t even question the purpose of the trip. But the heart of the father trembled inside. For three days and at least two nights they walked. Forty-two miles to the north to a place called Moriah. It was the very place on which the temple of Jerusalem would be built and Solomon would dedicate it. It would be there at that sacrificial mountain that they would arrive and Abraham would say, “You servants stay here. Isaac, come on.”
Abraham took the wood and put it on his own son’s back. With every step he took, the sacrificial knife slapped against his thigh. With every crunching of a rock beneath his feet, his mind raced to what was only a short walk ahead. He stole glances at his son, his only son, the son he loved. Then would come those words — that searching question he had dreaded — “Father, the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb?”
I wonder if Abraham’s mouth opened and the words wanted to come but they hung right in the center of his throat. Most likely his voice was raspy when he said, “God will provide the lamb.” You see, the testing of our faith is necessary!
In James 1, the writer says, “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of various kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” It means keeping on when the load is heavy. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything” (James 1:2-4). Just one book later, in 1 Peter 1, impulsive, dynamic Peter who, having now been broken by the hand of God, says, “In this greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may suffer grief and all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Many of us feel like God’s job is to provide power, peace and provision in our lives. And He has promised all three of these. But He promised one other thing: tests. It is in the tests that the peace that passes understanding is truly found. Amid the tests we find God’s provision is sufficient. Through the tests the power of God is fully experienced.
Paul would pray years later: “Oh that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection.” But he added immediately, “… and the fellowship of His sufferings.” I find in my walk it’s not on the mountaintops that the greatest growth occurs; it’s in the valleys of the trials that the mettle of faith is put in place. You cannot know the power of His resurrection without walking the fellowship of His sufferings.
Real faith is strengthened by tests; superficial faith is destroyed by them. If you want the faith that only God can give, you need to understand that trials, tribulations and tests are the food of faith.
III. Faith’s Testing Involves a Demand
“Abraham, take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love” (Genesis 22:2). The Lord God Almighty did not want the son; He wanted to know if Abraham’s will was submitted to His. And God was asking, “Am I the Lord of your life?” It’s the same question God asks you today. Furthermore, do you love most the God who gives the gifts, or do you love most the gifts God gives? Did Abraham love Isaac, the gift, more than he loved the Giver?
God instructed, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him.” As I pondered this passage God challenged me, “Bob, I mean for you to hold Me closely and to hold things loosely. But be careful, for the temptation is to hold the things closely and to hold Me loosely.” Have you understood yet in your walk that it’s hard to hold closely the hand of God when your hand is full with other things? It was this very dilemma to which martyred missionary Jim Elliott referred when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
There come times when God says, “What do you love the most: do you love Me or do you love the things I give you?” The demand of the faith was, “let go.” What is it today which God is challenging you to “let go?” What is it today that could be short-circuiting that relationship between you and your God. It could be He’s saying to you through the megaphone of pain, or loss, or adversity, “Hold Me closely, hold things loosely.”
IV. The Testing of Faith is Followed by Reward
As that hand was poised to plunge the knife, the angel of the Lord said, “Abraham. Abraham.” This wasn’t the first time Abraham had walked by faith. In test after test, God had been bringing him along, so that when he arrived his faith would be ready. One of the rewards of faith is an ear that is tuned to the voice of God. When you walk with Him through trial after trial, and test after test, one of the things you learn is to hear His voice when He speaks.
What would have happened that morning had the hand been poised when the voice rang out and Abraham had not recognized God’s voice? As that knife blade glistened in the sun, God’s voice called, “Abraham,” and he heard. Proverbs 8:34 says, “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, and waiting at my doorway.”
Furthermore, Abraham had volitionally committed himself to the will of God. “Abraham, take your son.” He was willing to do it even if it meant plunging the knife. But don’t overlook the faith. Go back to Genesis 22:5: “He said to his servants, stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” But hadn’t God said, sacrifice Isaac? Jumping ahead to Romans 4, you will find it says, “And Abraham believed that God was able to do what He had said, even to the point of raising Isaac from the dead.” Abraham thought, “If God tells me to plunge the knife and I do, it’s okay, because He who made the promise will keep the promise and bring it to fruition. So even if the knife falls, God will just bring more glory by raising him from the dead.” That’s faith!
So Abraham proclaimed, “This place shall be called ‘God Will Provide’.” I have found an interesting pattern in my own life. When I go through points of testing, I usually am tempted not to call those places “God Will Provide.” Rather, I’m usually tempted to call them “Here I Got Tested.” But notice Abraham’s perspective. The lens through which he looked was that of faith. Rather than focusing on the challenge through which he had gone and the emotions suffered, Abraham, by this very name, focused on the God who provided.
This great story was only a prefiguring, a dim foreshadowing of what would happen 2,000 years later when One greater than Isaac stepped onto the scene. Listen to the Scripture again. “Abraham, take your son, your only son.” Recall John the Apostle as he would later say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Abraham loved his son. Remember 2,000 years later at the Jordan when God spoke following His Son’s baptism saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Did you also notice in Genesis 22: “Isaac bore the wood on his back.” Back to the future we look down the Via de la Rosa where the Lord Jesus Christ would bear His own wood to another mount called Calvary, and it would be the wood of His sacrifice for you. And did you hear Abraham: “God will provide the lamb.” As always, the only sacrifice acceptable to God is the sacrifice He Himself provides. In Hebrews 9:26, we read, “Now has Christ appeared once for all to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
Finally, “And he bound Isaac and laid him on the altar.” A young man in his late teens could have easily resisted a man some one hundred years his senior, but willingly Isaac laid his life on the line. Two thousand years later, one greater than Isaac would say, “I have the authority to lay my life down and to take it up again. I do this to fulfill the will of my Father.” What a picture Isaac portrays of the true Son who would lay down His life on a mountain called Calvary.
Perhaps today God has you on the way to your own mountaintop of testing. Maybe you’re already there. Remember, it is on the mountaintop of testing that the true quality of our faith is revealed.

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