You hear this phrase all the time in the context of trials: God is “testing our faith.” Christians rightly talk about tests of faith because James uses the phrase in his epistle (James 1:3). But do we know what we mean by it? And do we mean the same thing James did?

One implication that James did not have in mind, and that we shouldn’t either, is that God isn’t quite clear on the status of our faith, so he has to conduct some kind of experiment. Obviously that’s not what’s going on. God knows the condition of our faith far better than we do.

The testing is entirely for our sake. It’s not that God doesn’t know—it’s that we forget. We forget that life is fundamentally a spiritual activity that includes a physical dimension. It is not fundamentally a physical activity with a spiritual component tacked on to add a little mystery. Our faith is our life, and the status of our faith is the most important thing about us. The tests of faith that God sends our way are reminders to keep us focused on what is true and real and primary.

We need these regular reminders because the world relentlessly tugs and pulls us back toward believing in an existence that is fundamentally built on the mechanical, the material, and the physical, with the spiritual set aside as secondary. But the testing of our faith recalibrates our hearts, adjusting them so that they better perceive reality as it truly is—a place where God rules according to his purposes.

One of the ways God tests our faith is by delaying the recognizable answers to our prayers. During this time of waiting, God is accomplishing the purposes that bring Him the most glory.

[This post is excerpted from my most recent book, Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer, from Cruciform Press]