Have you ever hoped, wished or prayed for a thing only to receive the exact polar opposite outcome? It makes me feel like a frustrated kid at Christmas when that happens. In fact, I can remember a holiday when my mom tossed a toy in our shopping cart and informed me that it was for my cousin. I wanted that toy too! But I sucked up disappointment and my resentful pout because my mom didn’t play that. Then there was the year my pout (and a few crocodile tears) hijacked my youngest aunt’s 16th birthday. Somewhere in my grandmother’s archives is an incriminating film of me visibly upset because it wasn’t my birthday. I didn’t get my way.
These were tests of character, albeit for a child. As an adult, the tests keep coming. Recently, I prayed for two things: contentment and discernment. In other words, I’ve been asking for peace in all circumstances and a heap of wisdom in an area of weakness. Ironically, I’ve encountered more thieves of joy, questionable people and challenging circumstances since I uttered that humble request in the quiet of my prayer room. How can that be? It’s the sort of thing that makes you look to the heavens and ask, “Really?”
Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness (Psalm 26:2-3)
No muscle is built without lifting a load. No marathon is won without running. We must be tested to be fortified. If a prayer is yielding what we perceive to be the opposite result, there’s a lesson there if we’re paying attention. God wants us to get it. I mean, really get it. He’ll throw in a few pop quizzes without notice to gauge our progress. Consider the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden and Abraham’s shocking assignment to sacrifice his son Isaac. Job was handpicked for a trial by fire, and when Jesus asked Peter to walk on water, Peter was probably thinking, “Really?”
We can’t pass the test unless we’re tested. Metal forged in a fire yields a mighty sword, but only after hours of pounding on an anvil. The Lord will test our hearts to see if we really want what we’ve asked for and then to prepare us for it. If I asked for contentment, God must first show me exactly what that looks like, what I must overcome to get to that place of peace. If I’m seeking discernment, wisdom isn’t gained through osmosis. Instead, I’m presented with difficult dilemmas for practice. An internal debate over how something or someone appears versus their actual substance emerges to pound away my naivete and willingness to dismiss red flags. Ahh! There is the discernment! We must practice over and over again, if needed, until we get the lesson, until we pass the final exam.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)