When’s the last time you learned something new about yourself? It’s easy to think that we know everything about our own capabilities — our strengths, weaknesses and limits. But then something happens in our lives that forces us to learn a lesson about our own potential.
When my father, Fellowship Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, died unexpectedly, many years earlier than anyone expected, I was thrust into just such a situation. I knew that my father wanted me to assume the leadership of The Fellowship when he stepped down, but neither of us expected that day to come so soon.
While I knew that God had prepared me for my new position, I didn’t feel quite ready for such a great responsibility. My father’s untimely passing pushed me to my limits and there were many moments that I wondered why God was testing me in this way.
When God tests us
But, of course, God knows us much better than we know ourselves. When He tests us, it isn’t because He wants to learn something about us. It’s because He wants us to learn something about ourselves.
The other day, one of my kids was grumbling about the fact that she needed to study for a big test coming up. “Why do they have to give us tests?” she complained. After I gave her a hug, she took a deep breath, got a snack, and got back to work. Her question got me thinking. Any teacher who spends time in the classroom knows full well which students are getting the material and which students are struggling or not paying attention. So what is the purpose of a test?
I asked a teacher friend of mine this question. “You’re right,” she said. “I know exactly how well the students are doing. But that’s not what a test is for. A test accomplishes two things. First, it creates a reason for the students to work hard preparing for the test. This is a skill they need to learn. Second, it allows the students to see for themselves what they are capable of and how much they have learned.”
The purpose of life’s tests
What she said about tests in school is equally true throughout our lives. After all, isn’t life full of tests?
In Proverbs, the tests that God gives us in life are compared to “the crucible for silver and the furnace for gold.” In other words, just like my teacher friend explained, the purpose of life’s tests is not to tell the teacher how well the students are doing. God knows exactly how we are doing. The purpose of life’s tests is purification.
Using the analogy of what my friend said, the purification process that we go through when God tests us happens in two ways. First, life’s tests force us to put in effort, to struggle and to work hard. Through these challenges we grow and improve. Second, like the silver and gold coming out of the fire, by working through trying situations we reveal our hidden value to ourselves.
We discover strengths that had been obscured by impurities. We discover the gold and silver that we didn’t know was there. God always saw it. But through the tests that He gives us, we see it, too.
That’s the purpose — and value — of life’s tests.
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As President of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of the world’s largest, religious not-for-profit organizations, having raised $1.8 billion — mostly from Christians — to assist Israel and the Jewish people. She is the author of the newly released “Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to our Children.