I am going to ask us each a hard question today, but one which I think needs to be asked: "What are you running from?" Many times we run from the stuff which incites fear within, but we don't have any destination in mind when we start running "from" those things - we just run. I don't like spiders - I am not arachnophobic by any means - I just don't like their creepiness! I don't exactly run from them, but if you ever encounter one of those big, hairy brown wolf spiders of the Arizona desert invading your space INSIDE your home, you might just find yourself taking a few steps back! They are scary looking - move faster than lightening - and they don't seem to take no for an answer! I can totally understand why we run from spiders, or dogs who seem to be doing a lot of snarling, while eyeing you are a solid piece of meat. We run from other other things, too, which are maybe not the best things for us to be running from - things like conflict in relationship, failures which are just too hard to "clean up" after, and lessons which seem to difficult to embrace. These are the things we need to embrace - not run from!
Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-3 VOICE)
Running is a form of escape - we hope to remove ourselves from the "immediacy" of whatever discomfort or danger we are sensing. When we are running from compromise, this is a good thing! When we are running from conflict because it is just too uncomfortable to face the music, this is not good. Tests and hardships are pretty much everywhere in life. Some involve huge personal loss on occasion, so we'd probably rather avoid those things. When we lose a loved one, we face personal loss, but the loss doesn't have to consume us. It can become the place of "launching" rather than the place of "anchoring" we often make it. What we do in the moment defines what we learn from the moment and take into our future. Run from the big, hairy spider who is also on the move in your house, and you may not sleep a wink that night because you have no idea what crevice he may emerge from while you are sleeping!
When we consider "tests" in life, they are simply an "investigation" into what we sometimes call our character. We find out more about ourselves in those moments of testing than we may at any other point in our lives. Tests are not always enjoyable - in fact, many of us can become quite anxious over them - even when we believe we are well-prepared. I remember taking my nursing board exams. I took two - one when I became a Licensed Practical Nurse and one when I became a Registered Nurse. Each time, I prepared and prepared, until the stuff I needed to know was drilled into my head. I went in with confidence, but I left with questions about my success. Why? Those board questions were tough! Combined with my own anxiety over having my knowledge of anatomy, disease processes, and assessment skills "investigated", they revealed just a little more "fear" than I'd like to say I expected. I took those boards during the era when you actually had to wait about six weeks to receive the results - allowing all that anxiety to continue to mount as you recalled all the questions you agonized over when selecting the "best answer". I had myself doubting my own competency! It is sad, but we do this to ourselves from time to time, sometimes more than we'd like to admit.
Yes, I passed both sets of boards without issue, but those moments of self-doubt crept in and made the pressure of the "investigation" process that much more stressful. In life, we can run from or run toward - the process of "investigating us" is still happening, though. Adversity may come, but what we do with it when it faces us head-on is what will give "definition" to our character. Much as a wood carver uses the chisel to take piece after piece of wood away from the piece he starts with, slowly and deliberately producing a new shape, form, and texture to the wood block in front of him, God is doing the same with our character through those hardships and tests we are undergoing. The chisel is sharp, but that allows it to do the work of "reshaping" the wood. The sculptor will use one size and shape of chisel or tool one right after another until he has the final product in his view. He has an image in his mind, one which we may not fully understand or appreciate until he is nearly finished with the final cuts.
We should not be discouraged when we don't see the image God has in mind for us! He isn't using sharp tools to damage us, but is using them to shape us. Tests and hardships are tools which we may not like to have used in "shaping" our lives, but they are the instruments God uses to reveal the beauty of his grace within each of us. Just sayin!