Week 10, Part II: James and the Fatherless
Day 5: The Testing of our Faith
(James 1:2-4, I Peter 1:6-8, Job 23-24)
A few years ago, I helped out with an annual outreach in Central Montana. The pastor who organized it set up tents in 3 communities where we held Vacation Bible Schools and preaching services. At the end of the week, all those who had participated loaded into vans and headed for the mountains for a relaxing afternoon. While there, the pastor took us to a rocky hillside where you could look for certain “gemstones” in the rocks. I forget now what those stones were called, but they were essentially worthless. As we were scouring the mountainside for these little stones, I heard one of the others ask the pastor what they sell for. The pastor broke into a grin and laughed. “Whatever some fool will pay for them,” was his answer.
Nobody wants to be that fool. We want the genuine thing. God desires the same for our faith: He wants it to be genuine, sincere, and pure. This is why God allows things into our lives and ministries to test and try our faith. Throughout Scripture, God uses the process of purifying gold and silver to picture the way He purifies us and our faith. In I Peter 1:7, He tells us that our faith is much more precious than gold because gold perishes. He also indicates that the purification process is similar: Trial by fire.
If anyone could attest to that, it would probably be Job. The things that man endured! Not only did he lose everything but, as they say, “with friends (and a wife) like that, who needs enemies!” One of the most difficult aspects of any trial is the moment in which you simply cannot see what God is doing. It doesn’t make sense. You pray and it seems there is no answer. You seek Him, but you still somehow feel that you do not know where He is in it all. Job was no stranger to this. His friends accused him of turning away from God and of not following His commandments. They assumed that if he was truly walking with God, he would be prosperous. (Job 22:21-28) But God doesn’t work in alignment with our assumptions.
Job’s answer to them shows that, more than anything, He desired to step into the presence of God, to bring his case before Him, to hear His answer:
“Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me. Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me. There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered forever from my judge. Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him.” (Job 23:3-9)
Job knows that if He could just find his way into God’s presence, God would strengthen him; but He just can’t seem to find that place. How often have we felt that same way? A decision needs to be made, but no matter how much we pray and search the Scriptures we cannot seem to find the answer. We wait and pray and wait some more, wondering why God does not make it clear to us. We struggle in our trials, trying to see God’s purpose in them, trying to learn from them, and wishing with all that is in us that we could somehow step into His throne and talk it over face to face. I’m not talking about prayer, I’m talking about a literal face to face meeting.
Instead, we find ourselves back in the patience, experience, hope process. And, of course, “Step 1” generally takes up the longest portion of that process. Job had a confidence that comes from passing through that process. That same confidence can be ours:
“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
Job knew that, although he could not see God, God could see him. He knew that God could see what he was passing through and that God was using that trial to refine him. He knew that when he came out on the other side of the trial, he would come out as gold.
This is why James, Paul, and Peter could all write about rejoicing in trials: They knew the result of those tests.
I Peter 1:6-9 says, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
Notice that Peter is looking beyond the testing to the finished product at the end of the trial. He sees the refining process as necessary for the desired result. As Peter explains the goal, he uses a little play on words that always gets me excited. In verse seven, he compares the trying of our faith to the trying of gold. Then he says that the goal is that it might be “found” unto praise and honor and glory. The word found is the Greek word eureka. Let that sink in for a moment. What is that ever present expression of joy when a prospector strikes gold? That’s right, “Eureka!” The word literally means, “I found it!” When I first saw this, I got very excited. How clever to use a word that in everyone’s mind relates to the finding of gold in reference to our faith, like gold, being found praiseworthy. But then, I had to stop and think a minute. Was that expression, in that sense, valid in Peter’s time? What I found got me even more excited.
It seems there was a rather brilliant chap, an ancient Greek, by the name of Archimedes. Archimedes had been given a rather difficult task. The king had sent pure gold to the goldsmith for the making of the crown. When the crown was returned, the king suspected that the goldsmith had cheated him by using other metals mixed in with the gold (thought he’d make a profit off of the gold he kept back). The task of proving this wrong doing was given to Archimedes. He struggled with it until one evening he went to bathe at the public bath. As he got into the tub of water, which apparently was rather full, water spilled out. The further he went into the tub, the more water spilled out. Suddenly, he realized that the amount of water displaced was equal to the volume of what was submerged. A little calculating and he came to the conclusion that a crown made of silver and gold would be bulkier than a crown of pure gold and, therefore, would displace more water. As the story goes, he got so excited that he jumped out of the tub and ran through the streets of Syracuse yelling, “Eureka, eureka!” (I’ve found it! I’ve found it!)
The first known, written account of this story was written during the first century BC, this means that the account would have been well known by the time Peter came along. So not only was Peter using an expression that we now relate to the finding of gold but he was also using an expression that related to the discovery of the means of testing the purity of gold. The fire was the purification process; the water was the proof. Peter, like Job, knew that the end of the trial (when passed through properly) would be the discovery that our faith had been purified and would bring glory and praise to God.
You may wonder why I have taken so much time to cover all of these things. What does it have to do with the fatherless? I have two reasons.
The first relates only to this particular section. If you go back to Job, you find that those whose perspective is opposite to Job’s perspective in that “where is God” moment fall into a very bad state. It is the state of believing God is not watching them that leads them to behave wickedly: “they drive away the ass of the fatherless, they take away the widow’s ox for a pledge” and “they pluck the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge of the poor. They cause him to go naked without clothing, and they take away the sheaf from the hungry…” (Job 24:3,9,10)
The second reason for covering this material on the importance of the work of patience, experience, and hope, is that it is crucial to ministry among the fatherless. Maybe that is why God used Job, who had such a heart for the fatherless, to illustrate this principle. I have yet to see a ministry to the fatherless that never faced a testing of faith. Knowing how to respond is vitally important. Never has that moment such as Job felt been so strong in my own life as at the inception of the Forbid Them Not ministry. If it had not been for the numerous times that God sent these three passages* across my path in the months preceding that time of change, this ministry might never have come about. Waiting and praying for months on end, seeking God’s direction for the future, and not knowing when it would come was hard; but the knowledge that when we are tried we will come forth as gold, gave hope, and hope makes not ashamed.
* James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-6, I Peter 1:6-9