How to ace your spiritual test (1 Samuel 26)

I went through a phase in high school when I was obsessed with the show What Would You Do? with John Quinones.

Every episode, a handful of actors would stage some shocking scene that encouraged intervention, like a girl’s drink being spiked, or a waitress berating an overweight customer. The cameras would roll, waiting for an unsuspecting bystander to jump in and defend the victim or tell off the perpetrator. After some time, out would pop John Quinones to reveal that it was all part of a TV show.

I remember feeling frustrated when the bystanders would ignore the situation—how couldn’t they tell that the right thing to do was to speak up?

But when the eventual heroic stranger stepped in, I would begin to feel uncomfortable. Would I have done what they did? I would have passed the test. Right?

After all, I call myself a Christian. We’re supposed to do the right thing at least most of the time. We’re supposed to be able to rely on our knowledge of God’s word to find the right answer to our moral dilemmas.

But is it always that simple?

Trick question

No, it isn’t always that simple. It wasn’t for David, especially in 1 Samuel 26.

As you read this chapter, the story starts to sound familiar—too familiar. In fact, it’s almost exactly the story that took place in 1 Samuel 24: Saul chases David to some obscure place in the wilderness. David happens to get close to Saul without Saul knowing—providing him the perfect opportunity to kill his pursuer. But David refuses.

What’s weird about these similar stories is not that the same coincidental encounter happens twice: Saul was chasing David relentlessly: it’s not surprising that Saul caught up with David more than once.

No, what’s weird about these stories is that David makes the same decision twice.

I understand refusing to kill Saul the first time. All David wanted to do was get Saul off his back. He didn’t want to start a war; he just wanted to stop running. He wanted to show both Saul and God that he wasn’t angry or violent.

But the second time? It almost felt like God was nudging David. He gave David another perfect opportunity to kill his enemy, and He gave it to him at a time when David was exhausted and struggling to find the supplies he needed to feed his band of followers.

And it wasn’t like killing Saul would be that big of a deal. God had ordered His leaders to kill many a wicked king in the past. Why was Saul any different?

If you weren’t keeping track of the pros and cons, killing Saul is the clear winner.

So why didn’t David do it?

Sit down, be humble

Could it have been that David whispered a prayer and God gave him an immediate, firm answer? Or was this a test—one where the Teacher was silent and the student had only faith and Scripture to go on?

Either option requires one important ingredient: humility.

Pride, indignation, arrogance, anger—any of these emotions could have risen up and driven David to end Saul’s life right then and there.

But David didn’t think about himself. He didn’t think about how tired and dirty and scared he and his followers were. He didn’t think about how God had promised him the throne anyway. He didn’t think about every horrible thing Saul had done to him.

He humbled himself. He put his wants and worries aside.

And then he passed the test.

“The one constant in every test is Me.”

I always hated to hear about God “testing” His people.

I mean, He does it a lot: Job, David, Jonah, Esther, Moses, Gehazi, Abraham. Some pass, some fail.

But the connotation of the word “test” makes it feel icky sometimes. I imagine God leaning back, smirking. “How’re they gonna handle this?”

But the truth is that God doesn’t “test” us for His own enjoyment. And His tests aren’t like ours: with shame and pride all mixed up in it.

And it doesn’t matter how many times people say that “the Teacher is silent during the test”. The bottom line is that the Teacher is there. He’s watching, listening, guiding, and loving. We don’t have to pass our spiritual tests on our own.

We do have to be willing to cling to God. We do have to be willing to rely on Him. We do have to be willing to obey Him.

We have to be willing to humble ourselves.

And as long as we’re exchanging self for a firm grip onto our Comforter, our Protector, and the Source of all wisdom, we’ll pass every spiritual “test” with full marks.

What do you think? Why do you think God “tests” us?

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