My “captor” handcuffs me behind my back before throwing a hood over my head and leading me outside. He sits me down on the bumper of a car and duct tapes my legs together from the ankles to the knees. After that, I’m pushed back into the trunk and it closes on top of me. I immediately shake the hood off my head and feel the car lurch forward at break-neck speed as I go to work on the handcuffs with the bobby pin I’ve stashed in my waistband. The car swerves and jerks from side to side doing its best to make my escape impossible. During one of the violent turns the car screeches to a dead stop and as I slam into the back seats, the duct tape splits most of the way and I’m able to free my legs and sprawl them enough to stabilize myself as the car roars forward again. I work the bobby pin in the cuffs and focus on not dropping it while I tumble around in the trunk like a ragdoll in an undersized dryer. The left cuff pops open and I grab for the trunk escape latch as I prepare to make my jump. When the trunk opens up, the car skids to a halt and the stopwatch records my time. The instructors verify that my restraints have been defeated and give me the thumbs up signaling that I passed the evaluation.
I’ve been put through many tests during my time in the military, carrying ridiculously heavy packs through the steepest terrains and most extreme climates. There’s been confined spaces, impossible time standards, sleep deprivation, brutally cold water and even physical interrogations. I’ve been ordered to locations that I never volunteered for and performed tasks that no one should ever have to experience: ever cleaned out the greywater tank on a ship?
The challenges have come in many forms, but the toughest trials were always the ones that tested my faith. I think these are the hardest (at least for me) because I’m forced out of the driver’s seat. I like being in control (or at least the appearance of it) and a faith test stretches us in a very different way.
We’re all tested in our faith, but it rarely ever comes at the time or the way in which we’d expect. More than that, we’re all addicted to comfort these days and anything that requires more than the push of a button seems inconvenient. We look for a way around the obstacle or at least try to find the easy way, but there’s a better way to approach this.
The Stoics say, “The obstacle is the way” and I’ve found this to be extremely valuable in my life, especially when it deals with faith. There are massive opportunities in life disguised as hurdles. You might not be thrilled the next time trouble shows up and your faith is flexed, but my appeal is that you position yourself to see the chance for growth and the lessons of these moments. These are the times that reveal our grit, forge our strengths and expose our weaknesses, reminding us how big our God really is. We learn so much more when our blind spots are revealed. This is a good thing! It’s a lot like in Jiu JitSu when you roll with an opponent who regularly kicks your butt, you learn so much more and get better much faster than when you’re the one dominating.
I’m not trivializing this, some tests are more than their fair share of gnarly. We’re scared and it’s not abnormal to be afraid, just don’t be ruled by it…be fueled by it! It’s what you do with that fear that activates your faith. Fear can cripple you or catalyze you…that’s the decision you control. Everything else, like the circumstances of the trial, will likely be outside of your control, so don’t spend any extra energy getting upset about what you can’t influence.
Training is a big part of how we perform with the tests we face. I spent five days with bruised and bloody wrists learning the ins and outs of restraints before they threw me in that trunk. Our faith is no different, it needs consistent fuel to perform when things are unstable. Max Lucado says, “Feed your fears and your faith will starve. Feed your faith, and your fears will.”
If we dial in our perspective we see that tests are simply an evaluation of our training. God watches how we respond and we benefit by learning from these challenges and our faith grows. This fire forges us, shaping us into a better version of ourselves. The bible makes it clear that this is how God does business.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. Proverbs 17:3 ESV
Every test is another notch in our belt that we can look back on and strengthen our resolve in the next battle. Faith tested is strengthened.
Without these confrontations, we are simply spectators in life. Just passengers with no skin in the game (wimpy faith).
Next time the test comes, don’t try to avoid it. Put yourself out there, meet it head-on and let God go to work for you.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 ESV