I like bananas. But just at the right moment. Too green and they are hard to peel (and make your teeth feel sticky!). Too brown our even spotty and they taste soggy and all the "threads" stick. And then there comes a point where they basically are inedible. But don't throw them out! Because rotten bananas are perfect for making banana bread.
Last Sunday we talked a lot about testing, a little about trials, and not at all about temptations - yet they are all somewhat related, and somewhat confusing.
Trials, tests and temptations. How can you tell them apart? (And what does banana bread have to do with it all?)
We started our Summit series by looking at Abraham and his hike up Mount Moriah with Isaac. The narrator of the story clearly states that Abraham was facing a test. But what makes that different from a trial - or even a temptation? And how can you tell which is which when you are facing a difficulty?
While the Bible talks each of these things, I'm not sure that there is a clear definition given - other than what we can infer from interacting with various Scripture passages about them. But I think the following offers some helpful explanations for each.
1. Tests - these are situations that are designed to bring out the best in us. They may be situations that God orchestrates or simply allows as they stretch our faith and encourage a positive response to Him. They may be difficult and unappreciated in the moment, but they have the potential for spiritual growth and/or the opportunity for God to act in our circumstances. Often they involve a choice or decision where there is a clear choice of following God or doing what is good. Sometimes these tests come in the form of unmet needs - and the test is where we will look to have them provided. This was the case for Abraham as he said, "The Lord will provide."
2. Temptations - these are situations that are designed to bring about the worst in us. They are always authored by Satan and entice us to pursue ourselves and our selfish desires. God never tempts us, and even promises to intervene if He deems the temptation too strong. Sometimes the enemy may take a test and turn it into a temptation, but that is his doing, and not God's. But not every temptation is obvious. Subtle temptations seem like small choices but they start us down a path of self - self-dependence, self-interests, self-indulgence, etc.
3. Trials - these are the hard things that happen to us in life and often reveal either the best or the worst in us. We live in a broken world and as a result have to deal with many, many situations that are less than ideal, even some that are incredibly painful and devastating. They happen in the course of life, and God allows them, and He can even use them - but He doesn't necessarily author them. Oftentimes these trials cut very deeply, yet God can redeem them and/or make them matter.
I would be hesitant to describe every trial as "God's will." In fact, I would argue the opposite. God's will is reflected in the perfect world that Adam and Eve inhabited. The broken world we live in is not His will. He will someday restore it, but for now a less-than-perfect world is our reality.
God's will, however, does include how we respond. For most of us, all three - testing, temptations and trials - can feel scary, disorienting, disappointing, and oddly similar as they all seem to affect us negatively. But we have a say in what happens next. All three come with options - and the choices we make can either grow us as people and move us closer to God or they can distract us, defeat us, and move us farther from God.
And that brings us back to bad bananas. Life involves hard things, challenging things, even really rotten things, yet God desires to somehow take them and create some hopeful results. That's also His will.
We all deal with all three of these - though not in the same way or to the same degree. But if you are feeling the weight of any of them, realize that these are the moments when God wants to help you. In your test, he wants to teach you about Him and His nature; in your temptation he wants to give you the strength and desire to say no, and in your trials he wants to walk beside you and hold you and help you and restore you.
He wants to turn your sketchy bananas into tasty banana bread.