October 4, 2009

When God is gone

A funny video is making the rounds. Children are seated at a table in a room. A plate with one marshmallow is placed in front of them. The attendant tells them if they don’t eat it, they will get another one and that she will be back soon. She leaves, then the camera records the children’s response to this temptation.

Temptation is really a test to see what is going on inside a person’s heart. The children were tested to see if they believed and trusted the attendant’s promise, and if they had the inner strength to say no to an immediate treat so they could have a greater reward later. Our tests are not so simple.

In the Old Testament, one of the kings was tested, not with marshmallows, but by God who ‘left’ him, so to speak, in order to see what was in his heart. Prior to this test, this king named Hezekiah experienced two miracles and because of them, men came from Babylon to see what happened. 

However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart. (2 Chronicles 32:31)
These men brought a present and a letter of congratulation on King Hezekiah’s recovery (he had been very ill) and inquired about the miracle concerning the sun. It had gone backwards, and excited great interest and curiosity since the Babylonians studied astronomy. They also may have been there to propose a league against the Assyrians.

God left Hezekiah to see what he would do on his own. The king showed off by displaying his military stores and treasures to the Babylonians, but even worse, he did not glorify God concerning the miracle about the sun, or his recovery.

As my devotional reading today says, God didn’t need to test Hezekiah to know what was in his heart. God already knew. He is omniscient and knows all things. Yet He tests His people so we can find out things about ourselves.

I’ve experienced this many times. The most recent one was at the closing session of a Bible study series I was leading. I tackled a tough passage in an effort to help the women understand it, and was angrily attacked with some strange teaching. Not only was I unprepared for that, it felt like God had walked away. I floundered and became incredibly frustrated and confused. From that experience, I learned that without Him, I know very little and am truly unable to teach or lead a Bible study. It was most humbling.

Occasionally, the Lord wants His people to take spiritual inventory. He makes it happen by bringing trials into our lives. Those events demonstrate strength or weakness in our faith. Like Job, some might complain that they don’t deserve their agony. Others might shake their fist at God, or give their best effort to overcome without Him.

When difficulties come, I need to examine myself. What is my response? If God seems absent, how do I react to that sense of God’s absence? Do I believe what He says, regardless of my feelings? God did promise that He would never leave me or forsake me. I might feel like He has gone, but am I thinking that He really has? God also says that He is sovereign and uses all things for my good, so are these trials and disasters from Him? And what good will it do me to experience them?

Someone once said that Christians in the dark need to remember and rely on what they learned in the light. For me, this means a lot of self-talk and prayer. I cannot distort the facts and must confess my failures (I always fail when I try to live without God’s direction), but at the same time, I need to remember what God says and trust Him to keep His promises.

Hezekiah didn’t do very well. In the test, he forgot the power of God in his life and gloried in the attention given to him by his enemies. From his story, I learn and remember again that without the Lord, I am nothing.

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