“Ok, the idea that I possess a glory, splendor, strength, brilliance that is extraordinary seems a little farfetched.  It’s not my personal experience.  I think my effect is pretty small.  I can only do the best with what I’ve got and that ain’t much.”

I’ve heard this thought many times – within myself and from others.  The truth is that if it was YOU ALONE that might be true, but it isn’t to be YOU ALONE.

“Now what we can do by our unassisted strength is very small” Dallas Willard wrote in The Divine Conspiracy.  “What we can do acting with mechanical, electrical, or atomic power is much greater.  Often it is so great that it is hard to believe or imagine without some experience of it.  But even that is still very small compared to what we could do acting in union with God himself, who created and controls all other forces.”

Our life was never designed to be “unassisted.”  And yet, that is how we, ok – I, live most of the time.  Partly because I believe the lie that I’m on my own.  Partly because of my fear that God won’t come through.  Partly because “it is hard to believe or imagine without some experience of it.”

Jesus said repeatedly, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matt. 4:17

Dallas told the story of growing up on a farm in southern Missouri where electricity was not available.  Then, one day, it was announced that power lines would be brought in.  It was an opportunity for a different way of life if they if they chose to tap into them.  “The comparison, you may think, is rather crude, and in some respects it is.  But it will help us to understand Jesus’ basic message about the Kingdom of the Heaven if we pause to reflect on those farmers who, in effect, heard the message: ‘Repent, for electricity is at hand.’”

I often need to repent of my disbelief and non-reliance on God and His Kingdom, which usually comes only after an acute discontent with my ineffective words or actions.  I must choose the assistance of God throughout my day as I am listening, speaking, deciding, creating, offering, completing, etc.

Many times, as I follow my heart into helping a person discover their glory, I find myself without a clue.  No scent, no sign to follow.  Then the desire to help turns into regret as I find myself facing my incapability – my unconsciously chosen unassisted life.  During that moment, I start to pray for the Kingdom of God to come over the conversation.  And then, bingo, something comes up; one of those “ah has” that surprises us both.  As Dallas says, it is “the striking availability of God to meet present human needs through our actions.”

You possess a glory, a splendor, a brilliance which is unique to you but a part of the glory of God.  As Paul says, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  2 Cor. 3:18

We are to live an unveiled, divinely assisted, every-increasing life.  This is the normal Christian life.

With the assistance of God,


When we think about the tests of God, most of us shudder. Yet I believe that they can be a key to Hope and Joy. Let me explain.

I began flying lessons in 1997. These lessons taught me to take off and land, to navigate using aviation charts, and to communicate with air traffic control.

I particularly liked learning to land.

On my second flight, my instructor Jayne pulled the throttle to idle and announced that my engine had just died. She asked what I was going to do. Throttling her was not an option because I hadn’t yet learned to land. But I was strongly tempted.

Soon a pattern emerged. She’d kill the engine, I’d want to kill her, and we’d practice standard engine-restart procedures, and I’d look for a place to land. Then we would circle down to the landing site until Jayne said we would have made it (or not). Then she’d re-throttle the engine, we’d climb, and we’d review what I had done.

Jayne drilled the engine-out procedures so thoroughly into me that I could have done them in my sleep, though I never tried.

Two Types of Tests.

Jayne taught me to fly through a series of tests. The nature of these tests—repetition and reflection—taught me to fly. Educators call these tests Formative Tests. They are educational methods that train us in the midst of the test, such as my flying instructor’s engine-out surprises.

Each time Jayne killed my engine it was a test, but the test itself trained me to handle emergencies safely and confidently. Formative Tests teach us today how to avoid disqualification tomorrow.

However, when most of us think of tests, we picture Summative Tests. Summative Tests measure how much we have already learned, such as college entrance exams (the ACT or SAT), midterms, and finals.

While Formative Tests are designed to qualify us for the future, one could say that Summative Tests are designed to disqualify us, as in “My SAT score was low so I failed to get into Harvard.”

So what.

Why is this distinction so important? Because understanding the difference between Summative and Formative Tests is the key to joy or despair. It is the difference between midday-sun and midnight-darkness. Frankly, it is the gospel.

Most people consider Christianity to be one large Summative Test, sort of a huge College entrance exam; a big moral test which we repeatedly fail. But it isn’t.

Why do we fear the tests of God? Why do we freak out when we read passages like this, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12)? We fear God’s tests for these reasons:

  • We fear the Failure of tests
  • We fear the Pain of tests
  • We fear the Purpose of tests

The Failure. If God’s tests are Summative (assessing and disqualifying), then yes, we should fear them. But if God is using tests to form us, then we can be at peace—even in the middle of a crisis. When we misunderstand the nature of testing we think God is disqualifying us, when he is actually qualifying us. Through tests he makes us more capable; he dismantles the false self and builds in us our truest calling. He broadens our shoulders and he strengthens our steps. He’s teaching us to fly.

The Pain. When we barely hold our lives together, the mere thought of the burden of a test—adding one more thing—causes pain. We fear our engine-out-plane will hit the ground. But God himself is our flight instructor, sitting in the plane next to us. He is not on the ground giving radio instructions. His exercises develop strength. He is preparing us for something great.

We willingly experience self-inflicted pain to attain our own goals—the pain of exercise to gain health, the pain of dating to find a spouse, the pain of child-rearing to have a family—so why do we fear the pain of God’s tests? Isn’t he always after greater goals than we seek? Isn’t he more careful with our hearts than we are? He is always after something richer than we imagine.

The Purpose. We think we know what we need, and we fear God will get it wrong. God’s tests often go in directions we don’t wish. We want to be a doctor, and God wants to give us peace. We want financial security and God wants to give us joy. God formed our hearts and deepest desires. He created our calling before we were born. He knows what we need, and through his tests he reveals our hearts and our calling. And he is teaching us to land.

When we believe God’s tests as Formative, we experience hope, the pressure is off. We know that God has prepared us for this moment, and we rest knowing God uses this moment to prepare us for the next. It’s okay. Even if we “fail” this time around, God uses today’s experience to prepare us for tomorrow.

Only one test is truly Summative. That test is what we choose to belief. Do we choose to believe his tests are Summative or Formative? If we believe his tests are Summative—and failure is disqualification—then everything rests on our shoulders.

When we believe in our hearts that he has done everything for us—he has already qualified us—then every test is an engine-out exercise.

He’s teaching us to fly.

Sam Williamson

When I was in the business world, I used to meet with various executives to provide them with projects updates. During one trip I met with a CFO one day and with his president the next day.

The CFO told me of troubles he had with the president. The president, he said, cheated other shareholders by bullying; he coerced them into unfair compensation. The CFO told me that it was hard to work with a man who was so abusive and borderline unethical. He said, “I’d never do that.”

The next day I met with the president. He told me of trust issues he had with the CFO. The CFO’s wife was crippled by a chronic illness, and the CFO actively engaged in pornography. The president railed against this man who was emotionally unfaithful to his bedridden wife. He wasn’t sure he could work with such a man. He said, “I’d never do that.”

The Issue

Each of us sees things in others of which we say, “I’d never do that.” Some of us are fit and we see others who become overweight and we say, “I’d never do that.” Or our children are well-behaved, and we see others who let their children go wild, and we say, “I’d never do that.” Or our finances are in order and we see others in drowning in debt, and we say, “I’d never do that.”

What is the real message in our phrase, “I’d never do that?” First we imply disapproval. It’s not good to be unhealthy, in debt, or to cheat.

However—more importantly—the phrase also supplies a sense of self-congratulations, a kind of self-righteousness, and a hint of Pharisaism. It reminds me of the man who prays, “Thank you, God, that I am not like other men, extortioners, … adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). He is really saying, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like them, because ‘I’d never do that.’”

This self congratulation fuels a kind of private applause, a personal standing ovation. We praise ourselves as we contemplate the behaviors we avoid. Saying I’d never do that is an act of other-condemning designed to create a world of self-praise.

The Irony

Anyone who has been a victim of another’s pharisaical legalism knows the pain and shame of condemnation. We don’t want to be out of shape or to be deeply in debt or to see our children out of control. To have another aggravate our wound of failure is to experience double pain and humiliation.

When I think of the pain caused by pharisaical legalists who condemn anyone outside their little moralistic camp, I want to rail against their oppression and self righteousness.

As I think of what they do, I say to myself, “I’d never do that.”

Therein lays the irony. We condemn those condemners and we praise ourselves for being unlike those self-praisers. We happily go about our way, disdaining the bad behavior of others; happy because we’re not like them.

Or are we?

There is a seductive power in saying, “I’d never do that.” The power is fueled by our need for significance, and that need is temporarily relieved in the self-praise we receive by saying it. The effect is to step on others in our need to raise ourselves. We become a legalist ourselves, an anti-legalist legalist.

So what are we to do?

The Answer

We’ll never fully understand the pain and horror of the cross Christ faced, but we can imagine. It’s not just the pain of the beatings or the suffering of nails and asphyxiation; it’s more the loathsome repugnance of our entire guilt and shame placed on his shoulders.

Hanging there, he willingly took all of our guilt upon himself; essentially he was saying, “I did it.”

Picturing this in our minds can lead us to say, “I’d never [be able] to do that” but this time we say it with awe. It creates an atmosphere of praise for another, a thunderous ovation of applause for what he did. It replaces our praise of self with worship of Christ.

Knowing he did this “for the joy set before him”—which is us—empowers us to finally sense we are his beloved.

And that settles our need for self-praise. To the degree we experience awe in his “I did it,” to that degree we’ll no longer need to fill our significance vacuum, and to that degree we’ll no longer need to trample on others with our other-condemning self-praise, “I’d never do that.”

As for thinking, “I’d never do that,” let’s never do that again.

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart. All rights reserved.