The Philadelphia Church of God has often referred to the period between December 7 and January 16 as 40 days of tests and trials. Many of God’s people can give examples of severe tests they have encountered during this time period. God has historically tested His people during this time. God has used the number 40 throughout history to symbolize test and trial.
“Forty is certainly a time of trial and testing,” Mr. Gerald Flurry wrote. “And if you look at God’s Church overall today, the number 40 is appropriate since God’s people are being tried and tested” (Royal Vision, November-December 2000).
But why do we have tests and trials? Why is it necessary for God to test us?
The Bible is peppered with examples of those who constantly endured tests and trials. Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah and many other God-fearing people faced hard trial after hard trial. Tests and trials are a consistent theme throughout the Bible.
Christians face trials throughout their lives—some severe, others light (Psalm 34:19). Be ready; trials will come! Is this because God is cruel? Does God enjoy picking on us by causing us to endure problems? Does He relish exposing our weaknesses?
God is neither cruel nor a bully. It is because God loves us that He sends tests and trials. Hebrews 12:6 specifically tells us that God loves those whom He tests and tries. The Bible also tells us that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Why must we suffer those tribulations? “[A]ll that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Finally, if we suffer we shall reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12).
Herbert W. Armstrong endured tests and trials throughout his life. In fact, he endured 28 years of poverty—a severe trial! But look at what he was able to do for God as a result. Here is the perspective of a man who was well acquainted with trials: There is a “great purpose in the trials the Christian must endure. For these are the very means of strengthening character—of developing fine, upstanding, strong Christians” (Good News, June 1985). In this article “Why Trials and Troubles?”, Mr. Armstrong said many people mistakenly believe that a Christian should be able to live a life of smooth sailing. But God allows us to experience trials for our benefit—to strengthen our character to prepare us for eternal rule in His Kingdom.
Trials for Character
As flawed human beings, we need trials. Without trials, we actually cannot grow spiritually. Most tests and trials are the result of faults and flaws in our character. If we don’t overcome these weaknesses, we will not qualify to enter into God’s Kingdom!
God works to humble us through our trials. This is an important part of being a Christian: seeing yourself for who you really are. These trials also show us where we are weak. When we are tried, we can begin to see how insufficient we are. By showing us our weaknesses, God is able to build trust and reliance on Him.
Another reason He tries and tests us is to build patience in us. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3; New King James Version). As future God beings, we will need incredible patience to serve the human beings under our care.
God is also trying our faith through trials. He wants to know how much we will look to Him when times get tough. God will not trust us with His awesome power as a ruler in His Kingdom until He has proved that we will follow Him. He needs to know we will remain faithful always. He sees how faithful we are right now by how we handle our various tests and trials.
“Like a voyage by ship at sea, we might enter some very stormy weather,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “God allows these obstacles to test our faith, develop patience, and stiffen character” (co-worker letter; April 18, 1960).
Imagine that you are on a ship at sea and suddenly terrifying stormy weather comes up. Wouldn’t you call out to God to deliver you from the storm? That is the reaction God wants to see when we face any test or trail. Does it seem ironic that trials represent God’s love for us? It shouldn’t. Tests and trials reveal God’s love and concern for His children. Just like a father who disciplines his child for his long-term benefit (Hebrews 12:6-7), God corrects us, saves us from long-term pain, and puts us on the right course—all through tests and trials.