As Christians we will go through many kinds of struggles. We talked about persecution last week and that is a big one. But there are other kinds of difficulties that we go through. Just the stresses and struggles of ordinary life, as well as unusual times of pain and suffering that are a part of life.
Whatever kinds of difficult situations we go through, these test us to see whether we will stay true to our faith; whether we will quit, or rather grow deeper in our faith.
The focus verse for today is Mark 14:38:
“The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
This verse is talking about testing, and we will look at it as we work through our lesson. Lets begin by looking at . . .
Who is involved in testing
1. God allows us to be tested. This comes to us from the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus taught us to pray, “lead us not into testing” – Luke 11:4. If God didn’t lead us into testing, there would be no need to ask for him not to do this. And, of course, there are numerous examples of God testing people in scripture, for instance:
- God tested the Israelites in the wilderness – Deuteronomy 8:2
- God tested Job – Job 1-2
Even though God allows us to be tested, it is important to remember that God allows it for our own good. It is not a matter of us doing wrong and then being disciplined by God. This happens, but this isn’t what we are talking about. Even when we do everything right, like Jesus, we are still tested. We are like athletes who train and enter competitions; who strain and hurt, in order to grow and win. God allows us to be tested because God wants us to grow and to succeed.
2. Although God allows us to be tested, it is actually Satan who tests us (or his underlings – evil spirits/demons).
- He is called “the tester” – Mark 1:13. This is one of his names in Scripture and this is a part of his function in the order of God, to test and then to punish those who sin.
- He seeks permission from God to test us – Job 1-2; Luke 22:31.
- His goal is to cause us to stumble and fall. He wants to separate us from God, so that he can condemn us and then destroy us.
So, God wants us to grow. But Satan wants us to be destroyed.
3. And then there is You! In terms of testing, two parts of you need to be pointed out:
- First, there is “the flesh”: This refers to your human weakness. As Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the flesh is weak.” This is not something alien in you (another nature); it is simply your own human desires, longings and fears. And when we are put under pressure – the flesh makes us vulnerable to give in and take another way than God’s way. (And this is the real source of our test – not God or Satan. Without our weakness we would never be tempted to sin.)
- Second, there is your heart: This is the seat of your choice or will. We are not simply our fears and desires. There is more to us than that. And in a test we choose which way we will go.
4. God doesn’t leave us alone – The Spirit helps us in times of testing. As Jesus said in our focus verse, “The Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The Spirit gives us strength in our times of weakness.
So this is who all is involved in testing. Now lets look at . . .
How testing works
1. We are put into a difficult situation. Here are some examples from the O.T.:
- When you don’t have enough to eat, will you still trust and obey God? Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:2.
- When you have an abundance of wealth, will you turn away from God? Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
- When tragedy strikes, will you curse God? Job.
- When an opportunity for sexual immorality occurs, will you take it? Numbers 25.
- When God asks you to do something that is very hard, will you sacrifice for him? Genesis 22.
2. These difficult situations provoke an inner struggle within us. The trial we are going through puts pressure on us. Our flesh wants us to take the easy way out when God is calling us to take the hard way of righteousness, to self-control, to self-sacrifice. Our flesh doesn’t like difficulty and suffering. Satan appeals to this weakness. But the Spirit is there to help us, as we saw. The Spirit pushes us to do what is right. So our flesh pulls one way, and the Spirit pulls another.
3. We have to choose. God wants to know what is in our heart – Deuteronomy 8:2. Will we trust and obey God in difficult situations, or will we take the easy way out? Will we stay true to God, or will we be unfaithful?
These situations of testing can be very difficult, so lets look at some . . .
Things that help us in times of testing
1. We can pray to be delivered from testing. Although we are told that we will be tested, Jesus also teaches us to pray regularly, “Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (who tests us) – Matthew 6:13. And this can also be applied when we are already in a test – “Lead us not into further testing.” Give me relief, O Lord; have mercy on me in my weakness!
2. We can find help from other believers. Just before Simon Peter and the other disciples were about to be tested when Jesus was arrested, Jesus said to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32.
- Others can “pray” for us, as Jesus prayed for Peter
- And others can “strengthen” us, as Peter was to do once he came through the test.
Encouragement and support from other believers is crucial and that is one reason we come together regularly as a community. It also speaks to the importance of having Christian friends.
3. You can find strength and focus from the Scriptures. Jesus used the Scriptures when Satan tested him in the wilderness – Luke 4:1-13. Every time Satan tried to trip him up to do the wrong thing, Jesus responded by quoting scripture. Fill yourself with the Scriptures and use them in times of testing.
4. Rely on the strength of the Spirit to help you. We have talked about this, but it is crucial. Pray that the Spirit will give you the strength that you need to make it through the test and to remain faithful to God.
- Without the Spirit’s help we will fail.
- With the Spirits help we can endure anything, even being killed.
Finally, . . .
We can have joy in trials
Because we know that God has our best interests at heart, and because we know that God wants to use times of testing to help us learn and grow and prepare us for the eternal blessings he has for us, we can have joy, even as we experience the pain of testing. It is a paradox, but it is true. As Jesus said about the testing of persecution – “Blessed are you . . . Rejoice and be glad . . .” – Matthew 5:10-12.