One of the most important verses in all of scripture is found in Peter's first epistle. The apostle speaks of the necessity of having our faith tested: "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).
In this same passage, Peter tells us what we can expect to face in such tests of faith: "...though now for a season....ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (verse 6).
The Greek word used for "temptation" here means "proving, examining, testing with difficulties and adversities." One translation puts it this way: "putting to proof afflictions." Peter is saying, "If you are a follow of Jesus Christ, then you're going to go through many heavy trials and temptations. You will be tested severely!"
Peter makes it clear that such tests of faith aren't intended for nominal Christians. These fiery trials are meant for sold-out believers -- those who are sanctified, obedient, sprinkled with Jesus' blood -- Christians who have a "lively hope" because of their faith (see verses 2-5).
Simply put, God is saying to us through this passage: "Your faith is precious to me -- more precious than all the wealth of this world, which will one day perish! And in these last days -- when the enemy sends all manner of evil against you -- I want you to be able to stand strong, with an unshakeable faith.
"Yet, to bring forth such a golden faith in you, I must bring you into a place of great testings. After all, precious metals are tried only by fire. So, you must know in advance that great trials are coming!
"These fiery trials will last only for a season. You will go through a time of great heaviness, sadness, grief, despair. The heavens will seem as brass. You'll wonder if your prayers are even being heard. At times you'll be tempted to give up.
"But I will keep you and bless you through every dark day! Your part is simply to have faith in me. You will be kept by my power, through faith!" "...you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (verses 4-5).
Beloved, these fiery tests of our faith are important -- because God's keeping, delivering power is released according to our faith in him. The stronger our faith is, the more his keeping power will be released in our lives.
Paul testifies of having endured such heavy adversities and testings: "Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me..." (Acts 20:19). The apostle uses the same Greek word for "temptation" that Peter does -- meaning, "examining, trying, putting to proof adversities." He was acknowledging, "I know that in everything I go through, the Lord is trying to mold something in me. He wants to bring forth an enduring faith!"
James writes, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience" (James 1:2-3). James isn't talking here about temptations to lust or follow the desires of the flesh. No -- he uses the same Greek word for "temptation" that Peter and Paul do, meaning "putting to proof adversities."
James is saying, "Whenever heavy trials come upon you, rejoice! You can be confident that in such times God is at work in you. It isn't the devil coming after you, trying to bring you down -- but the Lord, who wants to build you up. He is at work, bringing you to a place of rest and faith in him!"
I believe one of the things the Lord most wants to deal with in his church is impatience. Impatience is the root cause of all murmuring and complaining. Wherever there is impatience, there can be no faith.
And God's people are notoriously impatient! Throughout history, we have constantly given God deadlines, crying, "Lord, how long do we have to pray about this? Where are you? If you don't do something soon, it will be too late!"
Yet God doesn't answer that kind of prayer. Instead, he keeps on testing us -- to get at our impatient spirit!
There Is a Way Out of Our
Time of Great Testing!
Peter tells us: "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations..." (2 Peter 2:9). Again, the same Greek word for "temptation" is used, meaning, "putting to proof adversities."
And Paul writes: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Very clearly, God does not want to keep us in our trials. Why would he be interested in keeping us in the midst of temptation and affliction? He doesn't get any glory from testing his children -- but from the results of our testings!
There is only one way to escape our trials -- and that is by passing the test. Think about it: When you were in school, how did you finally escape? You passed the final exam. And if you didn't pass, you were sent back to class.
That was the case with ancient Israel, when God brought them to the Red Sea. God was testing his people, trying them, proving them. He brought them to the very brink of destruction -- surrounding them by mountains on two sides, a sea on another, and an approaching enemy on the other.
James' phrase, "...fall into divers temptations..." (James 1:2), refers back to Israel's testings. The phrase means, "being lowered into a pit and surrounded by enemies." This is what happened with Israel. God dropped them into a literal pit -- a humanly impossible situation!
Yet the Lord put Israel in that circumstance expecting a certain reaction. He wanted his people to acknowledge their helplessness. He wanted to hear them say, "We remember how God delivered us from the plagues. We remember how he brought us out of the furnace of affliction, where we made bricks without straw and had no rest. The death angel came upon the land -- but not one of our children was touched.
"God delivered us then -- and he will do it again! Let us rejoice in his faithfulness. He is God -- and he has given us promises he will keep. He will protect us from every enemy who comes against us. Now, let's all dance unto the Lord, in gratitude and thanksgiving!"
You might think, "How could God expect Israel to have that kind of reaction? They were only human -- and they were in a hopeless situation. Were they really supposed to dance in the midst of those awful circumstances?"
Yes -- absolutely! That was the secret to getting out of their difficulty. You see, God wants something from all of us in our times of overwhelming troubles and testings. He wants us to offer him a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the midst of it all!
I believe James had discovered this secret when he admonished, "...count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations..." (James 1:2). He was saying, "Don't give up! Make an altar in your heart, and offer up joyous thanksgiving in the midst of your trials."
Of course, Israel did offer the Lord praise and thanksgiving -- but they did it on the wrong side of the Red Sea! Yes, the people rejoiced all night -- but God had no pleasure in it. Anybody can shout in gratitude after the victory comes. But the question God was putting to Israel was, "Will you praise me before I send help -- while you're still in the midst of the battle?"
I believe if Israel would have rejoiced on the "trial side" of the Red Sea, they wouldn't have had to be tested again at the waters of Marah. Had they passed the Red Sea test, the waters at Marah wouldn't have tasted bitter, but sweet. And Israel would have seen water springing up everywhere in the desert, rather than continually having to go thirsty.
Instead, God had to keep testing Israel, waiting for their faith to arise. Time after time they faced battles, trials, temptations -- because they never offered God faith. And those trials became more and more difficult and intense -- because the people never once stopped in the midst of their testings to give the Lord a sacrifice of thanksgiving!
The Subject of Thanksgiving Came To Me Recently
During a Time of Great Personal Heaviness.
At the time, our church building needed major work. Parishioners' problems were piling up. Everyone I knew seemed to be going through some kind of trial. And I was feeling the burden of it all.
Finally, I trudged into my wife's office and blurted to her, "I've just about had it! I'm at the end of my rope. I've got to take a month off. I want to just disappear and do nothing."
Then I went into my own office and sat down, feeling sorry for myself. I began to complain to God: "Lord, how long will you keep me in this fire? How long do I have to pray about all these things before you'll do something? Don't you see how weary my spirit has become? Everything seems blocked by some obstacle. My prayers are as fervent as they've ever been in my life. Yet nothing seems to happen. When are you going to answer me, God?"
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit fell upon me -- and I felt ashamed. The Spirit whispered to my heart, "Just begin to thank me right now, David. Bring to me a sacrifice of thanksgiving -- for all the past things I've done for you, and for what I'm going to do in the future.
"Thank me for the ministry of Times Square Church, for your health, for your family, for delivering your wife and daughters from cancer. Give me an offering of thanksgiving -- and suddenly everything will look different! Your depression will lift. You'll have peace in your battle. I will bless your soul with assurance!"
Those words settled in my spirit. But I wondered: "What does the Lord mean, 'a sacrifice of thanksgiving'?" I rushed to my concordance to look up the phrase in scripture. I was amazed at all the references I found:
- "Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing" (Psalm 107:22).
- "I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord" (116:17).
- "Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms" (95:2).
- "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock..." (69:30-31).
Also, I remembered the most familiar of all Bible passages on thanksgiving: "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name" (100:4).
As I read a commentary on this last verse, I discovered that the psalmist is referring to the day of atonement in the Old Testament. And what a tremendous day that was!
Under the Old Covenant, Israel held an annual day of atonement, in which the people were cleansed from all the sins that had built up during the previous year. The atonement was done all through a priestly sacrifice. Yet, prior to that day each year, there must have been an ugly, black cloud of depression hanging over the camp -- because the people were laden down with the burden of their accumulated sins.
What a tremendously meaningful ceremony the day of atonement was. The Israelites had to plan weeks ahead for it. Here is what took place on that day:
Two young goats (called "calves" in scripture) were taken to the gate of the tabernacle and presented to the high priest as a sacrifice. These two goats were to be of equal weight, height and purity. A lot was cast, and one of the goats was chosen to be the blood sacrifice. A scarlet cloth was wrapped around its neck to distinguish it for sacrificing. The other goat was designated as a scapegoat and kept outside the holy place.
The first goat was taken to the altar and slain, where its blood was collected in a bowl. The priest then took the blood into the holy of holies, where he presented it with incense. As the incense burned, it filled the holy of holies with smoke, which represented the presence of God. Then the priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat once, and in front of it seven times.
Outside, every person in the camp lay prostrate throughout the entire sacrificial procedure. No one saw any of it as it happened. Yet the ritual meant that atonement was being made for their sins. Their transgressions for the whole year were being forgiven, or "covered."
In contrast, the next part of the ceremony was meant as a very visible, illustrated sermon for every Israelite to see. Indeed, at this point, everyone was to stand and rejoice.
While still in the holy place, the high priest changed out of his special clothes and put on his regular priestly clothes. Then he emerged and laid both his hands on the head of the remaining scapegoat. Now, the Hebrew word for "scapegoat" means "removal." And the priest's act of laying hands on the scapegoat symbolized the transferring of all the people's sins to the head of the animal:
"And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21).
The "fit man" mentioned here was a strong, physically fit man chosen for the arduous task of leading the scapegoat into the wilderness and leaving it there. This man couldn't lead the goat to just any place in the desert, however; the animal might wander back, and the people would be reminded of their sins. So, he had to be physically prepared to lead the goat on a long trip into an uninhabited area, a place from which it wouldn't be able to return.
"And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness" (verse 22). The phrase "not inhabited" here means "an inescapable place." As the fit man led the scapegoat into the desert, he would be followed by a band of sentinels carrying flags. Their destination was usually a valley surrounded by ledges, where the goat would be lowered so it could never escape.
Now, as the priest laid hands on the scapegoat, beginning the second part of the atonement ceremony, he confessed the sins of the whole camp. Essentially, he prayed: "Lord, place my sins and the sins of the people on the head of this goat. Now, depart!"
The fit man then put a leash on the scapegoat and led him out of the camp. And what a sight that was to the people! All of Israel stood watching, cheering, rejoicing as the scapegoat was led away. It was an illustrated sermon that everyone -- including children -- could understand: "Not only are our sins forgiven -- but they are taken away from us!"
The people knew that as that goat was led out of their midst, he would never be seen again. And neither would the Lord remember their sins. So, a mighty shout went up from the camp!
This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus Christ does for us. Both of the goats represent Jesus -- the lamb who was slain for us, and the one who takes away the sins of the world:
"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4). "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). Like the fit man who led away the goats, Jesus has buried our sins in a place "not inhabited": "...thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19).
Like the Israelites, We Also Are to Enter
The Lord's Presence With Thanksgiving!
We live in a day when our high priest, Jesus, has already presented the sacrifice of his own blood to the father, to make atonement for our sins. Christ has wiped out all our transgressions, never to be remembered against us. So, for us, the work of atonement is finished.
Yet, like the Israelites, we also are to come into the Lord's courts as Psalm 100 says -- with thanksgiving and praise. And we are to bring with us two "goats":
"Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). The word "calves" here represents our lips, or words. The full meaning of this phrase in Hebrew is, "We will offer young bullocks, even our lips."
Our offering of thanksgiving is to be made with the two goats we bring -- an offering of our lips, or voices. God is saying, "Bring into my presence your words of thanksgiving. Speak, sing out your praises to me!"
We are no longer to bring to God sacrifices of blood or offerings of silver and gold for atonement. Instead, we are to bring him a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving from our lips: "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" (Hebrews 13:15). The "fruit of our lips" is our gratitude and thanks!
One of the Most Powerful
Examples of This Is Seen
in the Book of Jonah.
Listen to the words of Jonah: "Thou hadst cast me into the deep...the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me...the depth closed me round about...I went down to the bottoms...the earth with her bars was about me for ever" (Jonah 2:3-6).
Jonah had hit rock bottom, entombed in the belly of a whale. He was in a battle for his life -- filled with despair, shame and guilt. He was heavy of heart -- literally as low as a person could get. He thought God had abandoned him.
So, how did Jonah get out of his pit? Simply put, he passed the test! "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord...I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving..." (verses 7, 9).
Jonah didn't receive any word of deliverance. He was in a hopeless situation, with everything about him dark and gloomy. He was ready to faint. Yet, when he came to such a point, he said, "I'm just going to thank the Lord!"
In the midst of all his troubles, Jonah entered the Lord's presence with the "calves" of his lips -- and he offered up thanks! God answered, "That's what I've been waiting to hear you say, Jonah. You've trusted me in the middle of it all. You just passed the test!"
Scripture says, "The Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (verse 10). With one command from heaven, the fish spit up Jonah onto the shore. And that burdened man must have rolled onto the beach shouting, "I'm free! I'm free!" He probably danced as he pulled the seaweed from his hair -- because he was already at the altar of thanksgiving!
You may ask, "Brother Dave, if I pass my present test, will that guarantee I'll never have to go through another one?" No -- never! Our faith is continually being drained out of us, simply because we live in this fallen, sinful world. The Lord has to keep bringing encouragement to us.
That is why Paul instructs us, "...in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6). "Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:7).
Are you going through a hard time right now? Do you have enemies who are wounding you, tearing you apart? Are you facing a situation you can do nothing about? Are you weighted down with heaviness, sorrow, stress? Do you feel you just can't go on?
Dear saint, do not be alarmed. It is not the devil who is working on you -- but God! The Lord knows you are going to need great faith to overcome in the dark times ahead. Indeed, you need to be able to stand by faith alone. Yet, he knows your faith must be tried by fire -- the fire of affliction, trials, troubles.
How you react in a crisis determines your walk with God thereafter. If you do things your way -- if you don't wait for the Lord to work out your situation -- you will stumble the whole rest of the way.
When you have no place to turn, turn to thanksgiving. Thank the Lord for his forgiveness -- for releasing you from all past sins. Thank him delivering you from the teeth of the lion...for giving you a new home in glory...for all his past blessings, for all his promises, for all that he is going to do. In everything, give thanks!
We serve a God who will spew us out of our deepest crisis and onto a safe shore. So, make an altar to him in your heart right now, in the midst of your crisis. And bring to him your sacrifice of thanksgiving!
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