The Testing of our Faith is for a Purpose

10For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance (Psalm 66:10-12).

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).

Sometimes our lives are full of burdens, and it seems as if God is nowhere. In fact, it looks as if He is letting men ride over our heads and laying burdens on our backs. Why would God allow these things to go on in the lives of His children? God views our testing as the refining of our character. Just as a metal sword made for combat went through the fire and was refined and hammered on the anvil, in the same way, God allows for trials and difficulties to come to our lives so that we may grow spiritually through them. We do not know God’s plans and purposes for our lives. If only we could look into the future to see the fruit of our trials, our life experiences would make more sense. What is the fruit of the tests we go through? I would say that it is a greater anointing of the Spirit and a maturing of our character—these are the things that please God. Of course, this can result in other blessings in our lives and in the lives of others too. God has a purpose and a plan for each of us that love Him. How do I know that? The mother of the two disciples, James and John, asked that they would be able to sit in the best positions in the Kingdom of God, on the right hand and the left-hand side of Jesus. Jesus replied saying that those places are for those who will endure the cup of suffering in the same way as Jesus did. He said to James and John:

You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father (Matthew 20:23).

What can we infer from this passage and several others? God knows what He is doing. John and James wanted the seats of honor on either side of Jesus, but were they ready to take the same cup of suffering that Jesus would take? To be great in the sight of God is to be a servant of all, and to put self on the altar to serve even through times of suffering. The way up is the way down. Christ must become greater, and we must become less important. God has seen ahead of time those who, in their heart of hearts want to go all the way with Him. In the preparation and refining of His people, God prepares ahead of time opportunities for His servants to be exercised in servanthood. He has seen the end from the beginning. He has a picture of the finished product of your life that He is making you to become. You are a product of the choices and responses to different trials that God has prepared in advance for you. When the cup of suffering is handed to you, will you choose to take the way of pain or will you opt for the easy way out of the trial and compromise your faith?

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

What does this above scripture say? First, it means that God is at work on you, that you are His workmanship or His artistry. Secondly, the passage says that you were created to do specific works that God Himself, outside of time, before the creation of the world, prepared in advance for you to do. May you be all and do all that He has planned! Keith Thomas

God Tests Those Who Are His

1Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

The next important lesson that we can learn in becoming a disciple is how God molds, shapes and trains us to be all that He wants us to be. It is a clear revelation in the Scriptures that God allows and sometimes initiates times of testing to open our eyes for us to see that our character is not yet at the place where God wants us to be. Like we said in the last meditation, God prunes the dead wood of old fleshly habits in our lives, so that fresh life and fruit may come forth (John 15:2). Not all mishaps in our lives are God’s doing, however. God often gets the blame for such things as earthquakes, tornados and other difficulties that humankind faces. Some things are just natural tragedies, some things are attacks of Satan, and some things happen to us as a result of personal choices and choices that our nation or culture has made. We cannot explain all things this side of heaven, but let’s look at those things that God allows for our testing:

 The first thing we see about this passage above is that it was God who led the Israelites in the wilderness, the place of barrenness and dryness. Have you been going through a dry season in your life at this moment? Then maybe this is for you! The testing was for the Israelites to realize that even though they had been set free from the bondage of Egypt, the ways of Egypt was still in their hearts. Slavery’s effects still dominated them. It is similar for us; even though we have been released from Satan’s bondage of sin, sin still rules over us until we come to the place where we realize and see ourselves as God sees us, free from slavery to sin. In our thought life, we still default to sin until we come to a place where we listen to God’s Word that we don’t live on bread alone but that we need spiritual food, the Word of God, for our spiritual growth and health. The test is to wake us up to see our complete dependence on Jesus. How much do you value the truth of the Word of God at work in your life? Keith Thomas

What Does it Mean to Remain?

Do you notice how many times the word remain comes up in the passage of John 15?

4“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:4-8).

What does it mean to remain? (The King James Version uses the word, “abide”). The thought here is of the picture of the life-sap of Jesus Christ flowing through your life by allowing the Word of God to be the pruning shears of the Spirit. The disciples had the person of Christ with them for three years speaking the very words of God to them. That’s why He said to them that they were already clean because of the words that He had spoken to them (John 15:3). Further, He promised them that if they continued to maintain a connection with Himself (the Head), and that His Word remained in them, they would ask “whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (verse 7).

Is it as easy as just reading the Word of God? No, the devil knew the Word of God and quoted it to Jesus in the temptation of the wilderness. The difference is allowing the Word to take root in the soil of your character:

37And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:37-39).

The religious Jews had meditated on the Holy Scriptures all their lives, but the Word of God had not found a home in them. We must move the furniture around and make room for His Word. Any junk in the place of our hearts has to go to the junkyard, and the throne room has to have Christ and His Word entirely at home and taking root. The Lord said something similar a little later to the religious Jews:

37I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word (John 8:37).

The life of God flows smoothly through a man or woman who is living in obedience and faith in God by making room in His heart for the Word of God. We often underestimate the power of the Word of God, but Jesus said this about His Word:

63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63).

True discipleship is living fully for Christ. Being connected to Him, who is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). When we allow His life to flow through us, the Lord produces results that defy natural explanation—powerfully effective prayers, God-honoring blessings, unbounded love, and inexplicable joy. All these things come when God’s Word finds a home in our hearts, and we are rooted and grounded in the love and power of Christ (Ephesians 3:17). The life-giving sap of this organic connection to the Lord Jesus Christ will bring a considerable amount of fruit to your life. Keith Thomas

The Pruning of the Vine

Christ wants for us to be partners and participators in the fellowship of the Godhead and the process of fulfilling His purpose on the earth. He said:

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:1-3).

Charles Swindoll makes several observations about this passage, which I have found helpful. In his commentary, Insights into John; he states:

“Firstly, this passage has meaning for believers only. Any non-believer trying to apply these truths will become hopelessly confused. Jesus was not describing how one becomes a Christian, but how one lives as a Christian after placing trust in Him. Second, Jesus draws heavily on the metaphor of a vineyard, a powerful symbol with roots running deep into the soil of Israel’s history. No illustration touched the Hebrew soul like the image of a vinedresser and his vineyard.  Third, the primary subject of Christ’s teaching is abiding (KJV) or Remaining in the NIV, not bearing fruit. At no point in the discourse is the believer commanded to produce fruit. Instead, we are promised that if we abide, the result will be fruit that will remain. Fourth, the illustration Jesus chose would have been familiar to every disciple and virtually all of John’s readers, but it is unfamiliar to most of us today; therefore, we must be careful not to milk every detail for symbolic meaning. Illustrations allow us to see the bigger picture; that must be our focus here. Jesus is summarizing the care a vinedresser gives to a vine. The Lord reassures the disciples that they had already been pruned. The adjective translated “clean” is based on the same verb for “prune” in verse 2. He followed this assurance with a command to “abide.” The verb means “to remain” or to “stay in place” often referring to one’s home. Upon meeting Jesus, Andrew and John asked Him “Where are you staying [or abiding]?” “Abiding” in terms of this metaphor refers to the branch remaining connected to the vine. Branches that do not receive nourishing sap from the vine cannot produce fruit- or live, for that matter.”[1]

What does the picture of the pruning of the vine mean to us? What is the Father’s motive in pruning us? How does He prune? This picture of the Father’s pruning is not indicative of God cutting unfruitful Christians off of the Vine (Christ). When you gave your life to Christ, God rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13). He won’t throw you out because you are not fruitful enough! You are secure in God’s love and faithfulness. This passage above is about the way in which the Father goes about bringing more fruit from your life. The Father wants us to be fruitful and will exercise His rights to remove dead wood from our lives. The dead wood of wrong attitudes that need to be cut off, the kind of mentality of believers that have never become disciples, believers of the sort that only want ten cents worth of God:

I’ll have ten cents worth of God, please. I want enough to get a taste, to actually have Him, but not so much that it costs me much.

I don’t want to get distracted from the things that I really want. I don’t want to be consumed by a huge dose of God.

I want enough to feel pretty good about myself, enough to make my life respectable and manageable–enough to get me through the pearly gates.

I’ll have ten cents worth of God, please….

[1]Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights, Insights into John. Published by Zondervan, Page 260.

What the World Needs Now

We have been talking about being the Body of Christ in this world over the last couple of days. This kind of organic unity with Christ and the fruit that comes from it is what will draw others into the Kingdom of God. People today are longing for a relationship with God that is genuine.

I remember a story that John Wimber, the founder and church planter of the Vineyard Movement, shared about an event that happened during a conference where he was the principal speaker. During the time that John Wimber worked for Fuller Theological Seminary, he taught extensively on church growth. At one of his conferences, a frustrated pastor and delegate at the meeting stood up and stated that he knew the things that John had been saying, but when was he going to get some advice of getting his church to grow! John patiently told him that he would have all his questions answered in a short while. The man became desperate a little later on as he hoped to learn some new method from the conference that would catapult his church into more significant growth in numbers, so he stood up again, saying, “Yes, I know all that, but when are you going to help me grow my church?” John just looked at him, and at that moment, the Spirit of God gave John a wise, intuitive answer. He asked the man a loaded question; “Okay, well how many more like you do you want?” The man fell back into his seat and exclaimed; “I don’t want any more like me! I want them to be like Jesus!”

The truth John Wimber was stating was that often the followers go as the leader goes. If we want our congregation to embody biblical truths, those truths must be seen in the leaders first! If we’re going to grow spiritually, we must follow the Maker’s instructions. Life can only come from union with the True Vine. Think of it; all life in nature is born out of intimacy. Why would it be any different in the growth of the Church, the Body of Christ, which is a living organism? To grow the church “for Jesus,” we have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road. These failures are especially true in the Western Church today. We started out with a good and logical idea; to make church comfortable enough for non-believers. The goal is to draw the lost to hear the Gospel in such a way as to remove the roadblocks to their understanding and make church “a seeker sensitive” environment.

I think that this is an idea that is close to the heart of God since He sought to remove the religious obstacles obscuring the image of the heart of the Father from the people of His day. Jesus often challenged the Pharisees and taught people using simple stories that they could understand. Unfortunately, what has happened in many churches today is that we have focused on a performance-oriented event and put a greater emphasis on professional presentation and less emphasis on the One whom we are presenting. The Word of God is in itself powerful. In contrast, our presentation is at best, human effort. We need to connect to the divine source—Jesus. When we connect people to Christ through His Word, He has the power to transform lives. Do you believe this? We cannot afford to forget or push to one side the Lord from being the One who is the life living in His people. People want the “real deal,” the true Living Bread that alone can satisfy. Keith Thomas