God’s Tests

Abraham had been preparing for approximately 50 years, on the hills and slopes of his life, for his final triumph of faith. He was tutored patiently through all the previous tests and experiences of his life. Now comes the final.

Let’s recap his lessons to this point.

#1: The Trust Test—12:14. Abraham learned he could trust God when he didn’t have all the facts or know where he was going. (He teaches us to do the same.)

#2: The Tent and Altar Test—12:8-10. Abraham learned to believe the promises of God and to be a productive follower, even while he waited for the promises of God to be fulfilled.

#3: Failure Tests—12:10-13:2; Gen. 20:12-13. Abraham learned even failure can be a good teacher and can prepare you for what is ahead. He learned he could trust God for his protection and provision.

#4: The Finance and Resource Test—13:5-12. Abraham learned to have great confidence in the Lord’s provision, even when he was living in less than ideal circumstances. He also shows us that not having all we want may shield us from many temptations, e.g., Lot living in Sodom.

#5: The Warfare and Family Tests—14:1-17. This experience taught him he could trust God in the greatest of challenges—even insurmountable odds—and God would provide a victory. Even when our families are in trouble, we can trust God to provide us with the solutions and wisdom for their dilemmas.

#6: The Praise Tests—14:21-24. This experience teaches Abraham and us that even in success there will be moments of temptation to take the praise for ourselves, or to give the praise to someone else.

#7: The Giving Test—14:20. Abraham learned a tithe willingly given to the work of the Lord is a thankful acknowledgment that the provision we have received is from God. (See Heb. 6:20-7:4.) How are you thankfully acknowledging God’s provision?

#8: The Faith Test—15:5;17:1-21. Abraham learned to trust in God’s promise for his family, even when he couldn’t see how it might happen. If we believe God’s promise, no matter how unlikely it might seem, then God will reveal to us more insight into His plans and desires for His people.

#9: The Obedience Test—17:9-27. Abraham learned when God calls us to a covenant relationship, He requires evidence of our commitment: our obedience. (See also Gen. 21:4.)

#10: The Intercession Test—18:17-33. Abraham learned our responsibility reaches beyond our immediate family, and includes the need to intercede for those we know who are living outside the will of God, especially our extended family.

#11: The Patience Test—Gen. 21:1-4. Abraham learned to have patience for God’s promises. With each test Abraham was gaining experience on the foothills, developing perseverance. As he was tackling the lower mountains, they were preparing him for a greater challenge. Then God said, in essence: “Now Abraham, tackle Moriah. I think you are mature, not lacking anything.”

It is important to see that God was testing Abraham with the most severe type of positive command possible. Think about it:

God was not testing Abraham’s reason. No! God was testing Abraham’s willingness to obey without seeing any rationale.

Summarizing all the tests is the question with the most value: Would Abraham put God’s desire ahead of his own feelings for his son and obey, even though he could not see the reason?

This was no snap quiz. There were insurmountable obstacles to Abraham’s obeying:

His own reasoning powers

His love for Isaac

His love for Sarah (the boy’s mother)

His knowledge of who Isaac was (the one through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled)

His knowledge of the character of God.

Remember, Abraham pleaded—on the basis of what he knew God was like—that God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:25) If we were to give Abraham a grade or award on his test, it would be found in John 14:21. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. What a wonderful reward for all who obey and show their love; they will experience the love of the Father and the Son in a more complete way. They will understand his love better. And best of all, “(I)…will show myself to him.” What a reward: to have Jesus reveal Himself to us.

Gen. 22:1-2—Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am, he replied. 2] Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.

Can you imagine how shocking it would be for us to hear these words? I cannot even imagine how I would have felt, had I been Abraham. But I am not Abraham, and it’s important for us to understand that these statements make no sense at all unless we see them through Abraham’s eyes. Even seen through his eyes, it is easily the greatest test of his life, certainly one of the greatest tests anyone has ever had to endure.

There is one very special key here that will help us to unlock and apply this incident. Without this key, you and I will miss the enormity of these events and how we might learn from them.

It is essential to understand what the word “test” means. “Some time later God tested Abraham“—v. 1a. It doesn’t mean to tempt or test to do evil. James 1:13 teaches us, When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me.For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…” So Abraham was not tempted by God; he was tested by Him. “Test” (tested—”nagah”) means to try, or prove, or to be approved. God, knowing what Abraham was made of, intended to prove and approve him as good.

(Incidentally, this is the first time the word “test” is used in the Bible. It is always significant when a word is used for the first time in Scripture.)

Note that God never tested Abraham’s nephew, Lot, in the same way he tested Abraham. Why?

It is already obvious what was in Lot’s heart. (Let me tell you his story). Genesis tells us all the lesser tests in Lot’s life that he had failed.

God presented a more difficult test to Abraham because he, unlike Lot, was prepared for a test of this magnitude. This test did not come out of the blue, but was preceded by many previous tests, experiences and preparation.

Time and again Abraham was challenged to surrender to God’s plan and Word, and in the process was prepared for this test.

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Recognize the Signs of Burnout

Learn to Recognize the Six Warning Signs of Burnout by Mike Gillespie

I’ve logged 18 years as a youth minister—18 years learning to outsmart a ministry nemesis that’s claimed many of my friends. That enemy is burnout. Two decades ago, I scoffed at the possibility; now I don’t. That’s because I’ve paid a high price for ignoring the warning signs of burnout in my ministry. As you read my story, take a moment to evaluate your ministry. Remember, if you think you’re safe from burnout, you’re probably its next victim.

Warning Sign #1: THE SUPERMAN SYNDROME

Early in my ministry, I was sure hard work was all I needed for success. I felt confident because I already had a good work ethic. Because of my naiveté, I didn’t realize the church will let you work as many hours as you want. There’s always something more to do. A 45-hour week quickly stretched to 50, then to 60, then … I thought I could be everything to everybody.

I was particularly vulnerable at youth council planning sessions. We scheduled retreats, lock-ins, and trips with little recognition on my part of what it’d take to pull them off. The kids loved that about me, so I succumbed. My favorite refrain: “Sure, we can do that.” One summer, I committed to participate in five group trips and lead two week-long children’s camps. “Sure, I can get it done.” BUNK!

I’m learning to work smarter, not longer.

ASK YOURSELF: Am I obsessed with getting it all done? Is hard work a sign of successful ministry to me?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #2: THE FATIGUE FACTOR

How many times in the last six months has a church member said, “You look tired.” Hey, there’s no hiding it. All those all-nighters, retreats, program planning meetings, and visitation trips add up. It surfaces in your posture, your eyes, your energy, and your enthusiasm. It roars out at people you work with in the form of irritability, sarcasm, and cynicism.

I’ve leaned to appreciate people who tell me when I look tired. I take it as grace. I get some rest, lighten my calendar, and recommit to my exercise routine. I understand that I’m no good to anyone when I’m tired. Excuses such as “That’s what ministry is all about” are simply dumb. Recently a youth group member bluntly told me, “Hey, you look tired. Get some rest.” I did. It helped. I’m psyched again.

ASK YOURSELF: Do people notice that I’m tired a lot? Have I looked in the mirror lately and moaned, “I’m tired”?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #3: MISHANDLING DIFFICULT PEOPLE

All of us work with difficult people. Every church and every denomination has them. Sometimes I think God has “overblessed” me with them.

Difficult people demand a lot of attention. They’re high-maintenance people. It takes patience and energy to respond well when they come at you with another passionate agenda. How you deal with them can indicate impending burnout.

I recall an intense father who had demanding views and a biting, sarcastic attitude. I worked with his two daughters. I monitored how I reacted to him. Sometimes I was highly effective and could work through his criticisms positively. Other times I was poisoned by his attacks, and lingering bitterness got the best of me.

What did I discover? It all had to do with ministry energy. When I was in “martyr” mode, I was much less effective with him. When I was energized, I never took his stuff personally.

ASK YOURSELF: Do difficult people often get the best of me? Do confrontations linger and absorb me emotionally?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #4: SPIRITUAL LETHARGY

When we balance our emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, we set in place a foundation for more effective ministry. Experience has taught me that spiritual needs are easy to neglect. That’s why I started taking a yearly hiking vacation in the Colorado Rockies. God has worked on me powerfully on those back-country trails.

As youth leaders, we’re always praying for kids, preparing Bible studies, preaching, and so on. And we expect we’ll find nourishment by spiritual osmosis. That just isn’t true.

To meet my spiritual needs, I must pursue prayer, reading, and quiet time apart from my ministry. If I don’t, my kids know. How? I lead Bible studies like a dictator instead of with them. Group prayer times are legalistic and boring. And I’m pharisaical—I mean I go through the religious motions while neglecting the Holy Spirit’s power.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I tend to overlook my own spiritual nurture? Am I feeding myself so little spiritual food that I’m unable to nurture others through my ministry?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #5: AVOIDING PERSONAL GROWTH

If we don’t pursue opportunities for professional growth, we grow stale. And when burnout is lurking, we lose interest in upgrading our skills.

Professional growth is important to me for two reasons: (1) I value professional relationships with ministry colleagues. When I plan activities or brainstorm ideas with friends, or when I join support groups, I stay fresh. (2) I appreciate good training opportunities. I use my continuing education allowance to upgrade my skills. I particularly like events that teach me new strategies, not just clarify what I already know.

I’ve not always put an emphasis on professional growth. I realize those were times when the burnout bug was like a tick trying to burrow in. Don’t neglect opportunities for professional growth. If you do, that’s a burnout warning sign. (Or worse, you think you know it all already!)

ASK YOURSELF: Do I see professional growth as just another impossible expectation that must be sacrificed for “the important stuff”?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Warning Sign #6: NEGLECTING PERSONAL NEEDS

Have you learned that ministry needs always take priority over personal needs? Then you’re in for troubled times.

I know you could use “take up your cross and follow me” as debate ammunition. But I also know that, at times, I’ve neglected myself, my family, and my friends. And I believe that’s a sin. What a joke—we punish the people we love most to do God’s work. That’s stupid theology.

If you make ministry your mistress, you’ll fizzle quickly. I’m grateful I learned before it was too late that God’s hopes for my ministry aren’t the same as my own expectations. But I’ve paid dearly for neglecting myself, my family and friends.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I neglect my needs because of ministry demands? Do I neglect my family or friends because the church needs me?

_____YES _____NO _____SOMETIMES

Mike Gillespie is a veteran youth minister who’s grappled with burnout throughout his career. He lives in Kansas. This article first appeared in the July/August 1996 issue of Group Magazine.


Preventing Burn-Out

Learn to off load emotionally.

Learn to say ‘No’

Be alert to desperate feelings and understand their implications

Eat a regular and balanced diet

Make time for meaningful relationships and fellowship

Exercise regularly

Maintain a devotional life

Get sufficient sleep to provide rest for the body

Maintain a regular sabbath rest.

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