The Ultimate Test of Faith
By David Wilkerson
December 6, 2004
The children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea
The waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as a heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea (Exodus 14:29, 15:8).
What an awesome testimony Israel had. God delivered his chosen people by walling up the waters of the Red Sea on both sides. The Israelites walked through safely, but the mighty Egyptian army was destroyed as the waves came crashing back down.
There was great rejoicing in Israel over what the Lord had done. The people danced and sang, shouting, The Lord is (our) strength
The Lord is a man of war
In the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee
Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods
glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
Thou shalt bring (your people) in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance
The Lord shall reign for ever and ever (see Exodus 15).
Yet, three days later, we see these same Israelites grumbling against the Lord who delivered them. When they found no water in the wilderness, they murmured, What shall we drink? A mere seventy-two hours after their great miracle, they were questioning the very presence of God in their midst.
The Psalmist writes, Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt ; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea (Psalm 106:7). In essence, hes saying, Can you imagine such unbelief? They questioned God at the very site of their deliverance, the Red Sea. Theyd just witnessed one of the most amazing miracles in all of history. And theyd sung Gods praises. Yet three days later, when their faith was tested, they cried, Where is our God? Is he with us, or isnt he?
The waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left. Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul (106:1115).
In spite of all their murmuring, the Lord miraculously sent manna for them to eat. And he rained down quail from the sky to provide them with meat. Now the Israelites had so much food, they didnt know what to do with it. Scripture says they ate until it came out of their nostrils.
Yet when they arrived at Rephidim, once again there was no water. Once more, they demanded of Moses, Give us water, and threatened to stone him. Moses then struck a rock, and God poured out a river of water: He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a
Note the very next verse: For (God) remembered his holy promise (105:42). The Lord was faithful to his Word. He had miraculously provided for his people once again. Yet it was there at Rephidim that Israel voiced their infamous accusation: Is God among us, or not?
The Bible makes clear that all of these trials were orchestrated by God. It was he who allowed the Israelites to hunger and thirst. And he led them into dire testings for a specific purpose: to prepare them to trust his Word. Why? He was about to take them into a land where they would need absolute confidence in his promises.
As I read this passage, I wonder how many Christians have experienced Gods deliverance, only to be brought quickly to a place of severe testing. The fact is, all true faith is birthed in affliction. It cant be drawn out of us in any other way. When were in the midst of a trial, and we turn to Gods Word choosing to live or die by his promises to us the outcome is faith.
Indeed, that is how faith grows: from test to test, until the Lord has a people whose testimony is, Our God is faithful. Yet, if we lose our faith in test after test if we continue murmuring and complaining about our circumstances we lose our testimony. We let go of the very purpose that God has called, chosen and changed us.
Later, when Israel came to Kadesh, at the Jordan River, they were within eyesight of the Promised Land. God told them it was now time to go in and possess the land. They chose to send twelve spies into Canaan, to check it out beforehand.
The people didnt know it, but Gods patience with them was running out. He had already promised he would go before them. He had declared that no enemy could stand against them, and that he would fight their battles. He had pledged to bring down every stronghold, to bring them into the land, and to make them overcomers against all their enemies.
On ten occasions, the Lord had brought Israel to a place of testing. And on all ten occasions, he had delivered them miraculously. Yet, every time, Israel failed in their faith. Now they were about to face a final test.
God knew the people were bound up in unbelief, with no faith left.Ten of twelve spies came back with a discouraging message that infected the entire congregation. Those men reported, Yes, Canaan is a wonderful place. Its everything God said it would be. But the land is filled with giants who are able to crush us. We looked like grasshoppers in their eyes. And the cities are impenetrable, like fortresses. Their walls reach all the way up to heaven. We arent strong enough to face these enemies. We simply cant go in (see Numbers 13).
Keep in mind, God had already given the command to go forward and possess the land. Yet, what was the effect of the spies report? All the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night (Numbers 14:1). The people listened to the evil spies, rather than trusting in the word God had spoken. And they spent the whole night wringing their hands, wishing they were dead. Once again they cried, Why should we go on? God has deceived us.
Joshua and Caleb had been among that crew of spies, and they objected to the report. They spoke up in faith, The Lord said he has given us the land. We cant fall into fear and rebel against his Word. We can win! Our enemies protection is gone. The Lord has dismantled them, and his presence is with us. Lets move forward.
What was the peoples reaction? Lets stone them! At that point, God had had enough: The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? (14:11). God was asking, How many more miracles will it take before they believe me? What will it take for them to accept my Word?
Tragically, the same thing is true of many of Gods people today. We live in a time when the Word is available to more people than ever, when the gospel can be heard at any time through mass media. Yet, how many Christians memories go blank on Gods Word when theyre in the midst of a crisis? How often do they turn to the arm of flesh instead, seeking to deliver themselves from a crisis God himself has orchestrated?
Israel s unbelief aborted Gods eternal purpose for their future. Moses said of them, They are
children in whom is no faith (Deuteronomy 32:20). Now the Lord was ready to disinherit and destroy them. When Moses intervened, God declared: I have pardoned according to thy word: but
because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness
and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it (Numbers 14:2023).
Do you see what God was saying here? Every Israelite aged twenty years or older would die in the wilderness: Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years
until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness (14:29, 33).
God suspended his eternal purpose for Israel for another thirty-eight years. And in those four decades, the church in the wilderness consisted of two distinct generations: those over twenty who had no vision, and the younger ones who hoped in the Lord.
What a powerful picture were given of the exceeding danger of unbelief.Think of the dread and finality in Gods words to that unbelieving generation. In effect, he was saying, You are not going in. I cant use you anymore. Ive tested you time after time, and youve proven yourself utterly faithless in every situation. I could test you another hundred times, but each time you still wouldnt believe me.
Youve brought me to the end of my dealings with you. Youre forgiven, but you have no future in my work and purposes. Youll live now only to die. Youre going to waste away all your remaining years.
Ive personally witnessed such wasted lives among once-faithful believers. The precious wife of a missionary in Africa died while serving the Lord, leaving behind a grieving husband and their baby daughter. The husband couldnt handle it. He said, God, if this is the way you treat your children, then I cant serve you. That man left his daughter with friends in Africa and returned to his homeland. He died an alcoholic.
Without faith, its simply impossible to please God. You may object, But everything youre talking about so far is Old Testament. We live in a day of grace.
Remember Gods Word in the book of Hebrews: To whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God (Hebrews 3:1819, 12).
Hebrews warns the New Testament church: Take heed to Israel s example. If you dont, you may fall the same way they did. Youll descend into evil unbelief. And it will turn your life into one long, continual wilderness.
Consider what happened to the unbelieving generation who were turned back into the wilderness. God told them pointedly, from the leaders to the judges to the Levites on down, that his hand would be against them. From then on, all they would know is distress and leanness of soul. They wouldnt see his glory. Instead, they would become focused on their own problems and consumed by their own lusts.
Thats exactly what happens with all unbelieving people: they end up consumed with their own welfare. They have no vision, no sense of Gods presence, and no prayer life. They no longer care about their neighbors, or a lost world, or eventually even their friends. Instead, the entire focus of their lives is on their problems, their troubles, their illnesses. They go from one crisis to another, shut up in their own pain and suffering. And their days are filled with confusion, strife, envy and division.
For thirty-eight years, Moses watched as, one by one, every Israelite in that unbelieving generation died. As he looked back on those who wasted their lives away in the wilderness, he saw that everything God had warned had happened. The hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them, until they were consumed (see Deuteronomy 2).
Likewise today, some Christians are content to merely exist until they die. They dont want to risk anything, to believe God, to grow or mature. They refuse to believe his Word, and have become hardened in their unbelief. Now theyre living just to die.
Israel s unbelief started as a small flicker, but it fanned into a flame that engulfed an entire congregation.Let me show you where Israel s unbelief burst into a raging fire. It happened just after those ten faithless spies brought the evil report. The people were afraid to blame God, so they blamed themselves: Were weak, helpless. We dont have what it takes. Those giant enemies are too powerful for us. Theyll tear us apart.
They wept all night long. And when they came out of their tents the next day, their attitude was, We give up. This is as far as were going. God hasnt answered our prayers. There must be something evil in us. The way is too hard.
Were all guilty of such unbelief at times. Often when we face yet another struggle, we let the enemy discourage us. Were overcome by an unexplainable loneliness and feel a sense of total inadequacy. We become convinced the Lord doesnt hear us. And a cry erupts in our hearts: God, where are you? I pray, I fast, I study your Word. All I want is a closer walk with you. Why wont you deliver me from this?
We keep going to the secret closet of prayer, but we dont feel like praying. Our souls are dry, empty, exhausted from our struggles. Yet we dont dare accuse the Lord of neglecting us in our condition. So we approach him with our heads down, discouraged and weak. We pray, Lord, I dont blame you. Youre good and kind to me. I know the problem is me. Ive failed you so much.
All God hears from us in such times is how unprofitable we are in his sight. Yet that isnt humility. On the contrary, it is an outright insult to a Father who adopted us with a covenant promise to love and support us throughout our lifetime. When we tell him how bad we are how weak, empty and useless we are to him we despise all that he has accomplished in us.
Were saying to God, in essence, Father, all your past dealings with me all the revelations youve given me, all the sweet communion weve had, all that youve led me to speak and witness to others have been in vain. All your blessings and miracles in my life have had no impact on me. How grievous to God! And its all because we dont feel right. We allow our discouragement to convince us that all Gods labors of love, all his incredible workings in our lives, have been as nothing to us.
I remember such a time of discouragement in my own life. I felt down about my preaching, because I thought I had applied so little of it in my own life. I prayed, Lord, Ive preached thousands of sermons, yet I havent retained much at all. I feel so inadequate. Im not accusing you of anything, Lord. I know the problem is me.
But the Holy Spirit answered me in no uncertain terms: Enough of this self-pity. Get up! You are loved, called and chosen. And I have blessed you with my Word. Now, go and preach it. You havent forgotten any of the things youve preached. When you need anything, I will remind you of it.
The Lord literally, but lovingly, chased me out of my prayer closet. And he did it because unbelief must be dealt with quickly. Whenever we become discouraged in our faith, we have to discipline ourselves to recall all that God has brought us through. We have to remember the miracles hes provided in our hard times. And were to rejoice, knowing he is pleased with what he has done in us.
Two things were happening simultaneously during Israel s thirty-eight years in the wilderness. While one generation of Israelites was dying off day by day, joyless and miserable, God was raising up a new faith generation. This younger generation saw what happened to their fathers and mothers, and decided, We dont want to live that way grumpy, empty, focused only on themselves. They have no faith, no vision. Theyve lost their very purpose for living.
Consider what Moses said of this new generation: The Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing (Deuteronomy 2:7).
Theres a reason Ive given you all this background. It is to bring you to the heart of my message. That is, I believe the church of Jesus Christ today is facing its own Jordan. In fact, the waters are overflowing the banks with even greater intensity.
You see, there comes a time in the life of every believer as well as in the church when God puts us to the ultimate test of faith. Its the same test Israel faced on the wilderness side of the Jordan. What is this test?
It is to look at all the dangers ahead the giant issues facing us, the high walls of affliction, the principalities and powers that seek to destroy us and to cast ourselves totally on Gods promises. The test is to commit ourselves to a lifetime of trust and confidence in his Word. Its a commitment to believe that God is bigger than all of our problems and enemies.
Our heavenly Father isnt looking for a faith that deals with one problem at a time. Hes looking for a lifetime faith, a lifelong commitment to believe him for the impossible. This kind of faith brings a calm and rest to our soul, no matter what our situation. And we have this calm because weve settled once and for all, My God is bigger. He is able to bring me out of any and all afflictions.
God has drawn a line, and every Christian stands before it. Our Lord is loving and longsuffering, but he wont allow his people to dwell in unbelief. He wont stand by and watch as his church loses its testimony, wringing their hands and crying, Is God with us, or not? Why wont he deliver us out of this trial?
You may have been tested time after time. Now the time has come for you to make a decision. God wants faith that endures the ultimate test. This is a faith that wont allow anything to shake you from trust and confidence in his faithfulness.
When Moses time with Israel ends, we come to the book of Joshua. Now all of the old, unbelieving generation is gone. And the new generation of faith stands at the same place of decision where their fathers stood, the Jordan. What happened? The river opened before them, just as the Red Sea had. And they walked through to the other side.
Yet, immediately upon arrival, this new generation faced a powerful enemy. They found themselves gazing up at mighty Jericho, a city with thick, impenetrable walls. You know the rest of the story: those walls came tumbling down, through faith!
What is faith, really?There is so much theology surrounding the topic of faith. Simply put, we know we cant conjure it up. We cant create it by repeating, I believe, I really believe
No, faith is a commitment we make to obey God. Obedience reflects belief.
As Israel faced Jericho, the people were told not to say a word, but simply to march. These faithful believers didnt whisper to themselves, Help me to believe, Lord. I so want to believe. No, they were focused on the one thing God asked of them: to obey his Word and go forward. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Hearing the Word implies doing it, obeying it.
They were told to march in a certain order, and to blow their instruments a certain number of times. What does all this tell us? In Gods eyes, faith was a matter of simply obeying his Word.
Think about it. When Joshua was told, You have not passed this way before, God was saying to him, This is a time to commit to total trust. Up to this point, you have lived on bread alone. Now its going to take faith. You cant rely on your feelings or your abilities. Youre going to have to trust every word
I say to you.
When the Word came, here was the message: Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest (Joshua 1:9).
Beloved, that is faith. It means setting your heart to obey all thats written in Gods Word, without questioning it or taking it lightly. And we know that if our hearts are determined to obey, God will make sure his Word to us is clear, without confusion. Moreover, if he commands us to do something, hell supply us with the power and strength to obey: Let the weak say, I am strong (Joel 3:10). Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Ephesians 6:10).
There comes a time when all of us have to say, Jesus, I want to walk with you in faith. Im tired of being up and down, of questioning you every time a struggle comes up. Youve drawn a line. And Im stepping over that line, by faith. Youve promised to fight the battle for me. And I trust you.