[Training, testing and trials]
Consider for a moment Luke Skywalker; an eager Padawan who’s gung-ho to begin his training to become a Jedi warrior. If you’re not a “Star Wars” fan, a Padawan is basically a student or apprentice undergoing basic training. We too, as followers of Jesus are in training, and must undergo the discipline and trials it takes to become what God wants us to become.
“My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. Let your patience show itself perfectly in what you do. Then you will be perfect and complete and will have everything you need.” –1 Peter 4:12
When Luke first meets Yoda, in “Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke is quite irritated to be on this swampy planet in the Dagobah system. When He encounters Yoda he is both eager and agitated as Yoda takes his time assessing him, and even testing him, by hiding the fact that he is the “great warrior,” that Luke seeks. Luke prejudges Yoda, and the reality that this peculiar creature could be the “great warrior” that he endeavours to find never crosses his mind. Yoda remarks at Luke’s preconceived notions of this “great warrior” with, “Ooh warrior, war not make one great.” Yoda then leads Luke to his home in the swamp where he continues to assess him, to the point that Luke–in His frustration–says, “Oh, what am I even doing here!? We’re wasting our time!”
We too can have preconceived notions about God, most often underestimating Him; His love for us; His willingness to work on our behalf; His patience; and just what it is that He’s capable of doing.
Yoda, after Luke’s impatient outburst, then speaks to the Spirit of Master Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.” Obi-Wan responds to Yoda with, “He will learn patience.” as and an eager Luke exasperatedly refutes Yoda’s claim.
Like Obi-Wan, God too is patient with us, and slow to anger as we train under his wise instruction (Psalm 103:8) Here’s the thing though, we have to be willing to listen, and then prepared to act.
Yoda continues to voice that there is much anger in Luke, as well as the fact that he’s reckless (among the many other complaints that Yoda has against this Jedi-Knight wannabe). Obi-Wan responds with, “I was once like him as well, if you remember.”
We all can be, and have been like Luke. We get impatient when things aren’t moving along as fast as we’d like them to, or simply aren’t going our way, but God takes His time with us as Yoda did, testing us even. Trials and testing are for our own benefit, and even when we make our mistakes here too there’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Your mistakes, and the mistakes of others who’ve unwittingly–in their ignorance–thrown you off course, are not the end of the story; all of it though becomes part of the training we all must undergo to reap the rewards.
Yoda wasn’t convinced that Luke was a suitable candidate for training, and told Obi-wan that Luke wasn’t focused enough for the task. He expressed that he’d had his eye on Luke for some time and that Luke always had his eyes on the horizon, never on the task at hand. Doubtfully Yoda disapprovingly observed, “Never his mind on where he was; what he was doing.”
Jesus too states things plainly, and He doesn’t pull any punches. Jesus puts it this way, “those who begin to plow but keep looking back aren’t any use to the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Here’s the thing—we can’t move forward if we’re chained to our past. We can’t live a new life if we aren’t willing to give up the old one. It just doesn’t work. To be a disciple of Christ (a student or an apprentice) we have to lose our life to gain our new life in Him. If you haven’t done that (haven’t fully committed) then it’s time to assess where you are, and where you want to be.
When faced with the challenging task of raising the X-wing from the swamp, Luke says to Yoda, “I can’t.” When corrected, Luke replies that he’ll “try,” but Yoda refuses this answer by stating: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Funny to me now, Andrew said a similar thing to me when I wasn’t sure about becoming a Christian. He said, “There is no I don’t know, it’s either yes or no.” God also spoke something along those lines when I was putting off my baptism: “If you don’t just do it, you’ll never do it.” I believed it. The pattern needed to be broken, and I did get baptized (not without some fear, but I did it anyways). On both occasions mentioned, I had to reject that fear, and the lies I believed in order to progress to the next level in my training. It was only afterwards that I realized my fear wasn’t even warranted. There’d been nothing to fear all along.
Over the years I’ve come to understand that God’s training is more of an unlearning rather than a learning. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Star Wars, but somehow I missed that Yoda says the very same thing to Luke: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” After Luke tries to raise the X-wing from the swamp and fails, Yoda raises it himself, and Luke breathlessly says, “I don’t believe it.” Then Yoda blatantly replies, “This is why you fail.”
Jesus too tells us that all things are possible for those who believe. When a man whose son has an evil Spirit comes to Jesus followers, an argument ensues between the teachers of the law and the disciples because the disciples can’t cast out the evil Spirit. Jesus rebukes the disciples for not believing and begins speaking to the man who has the son in need of help. The father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, please have pity on us and help us.” Jesus responds with, “You said, if you can! All things are possible for those who believe.” Without hesitation the father cries out, “I do believe, Help me to believe more!” Jesus then speaks to the evil Spirit commanding it to come out of the boy, and to never enter him again. The Spirit screams, convulses the boys body and then comes out (Mark 9:14-26).
After this the followers ask Jesus why they couldn’t force the evil Spirit out, and Jesus tells them that this kind of Spirit can only be forced out by prayer. (Mark 9:28-29) I don’t know if the disciples caught this but the father’s “I do believe, Help me to believe more!” was the prayer that prompted Jesus to act. Jesus had rebuked His disciples for not believing. When we say “I can’t” as Luke did, what we’re really saying is we don’t believe that Jesus can. (Ouch, more prayer needed.) We all do it, and we all need to pray, “Help me believe more!”
Because a good father leads by example Jesus was sent to be our Teacher and our example. Not only was Jesus our “Jedi Master” then, for the sake of this comparison, He also demonstrated how we’re to behave as God’s sons and daughters. If we don’t know how to be a child to God we’re to look to Jesus for our example, and emulate Him. (That means more study is needed, as well).
God allows us the time it will take to train us in His ways, and He allows for our mistakes as well; so the pressure we feel to get everything right in our own strength is a mistake in our understanding. Our Father God is very gracious and patient with us, as a good father is with the child He cherishes. Therefore, that strength we need can always be found in Him if we believe. If we don’t, we can and should keep praying “Help me to believe more!” Jesus tells us to keep asking and to keep seeking. (Matthew 7:7) He doesn’t put the breaks on our training—though we may go through what feels like a long dry Season. Unfortunately, we can prolong this season if we stop listening to God
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. –Psalm 103:8
Unlike Yoda’s testing, to see if Luke was worthy of training, Jesus in His infinite love for us has already deemed us worthy and approved by His sacrificial death on the cross. For as Scripture tells us: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for His friends.” (John 15:13). We simply must be trained and tested because testing reveals our weaknesses; where we’re going wrong; and what the next course of action should be. Where we fail is where we need more study and prayer.
God’s plan then, has always been to prosper you, to give you hope, and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So, chart your course towards the bright future that awaits you, trusting He has every intention of finishing what He’s started.
“being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”