Is God testing me? Mandy agonized.
As an exceptional violinist and a high-achieving student, Mandy had a bright future ahead of her. She was also a committed and conscientious follower of God and believed that she had been called to use her musical gifts to uplift people and point them to Christ.
As she entered her final year of high school, Mandy received the exciting news that she had been awarded a full scholarship to a prestigious university known for its music program. Here was an opportunity that would allow her to further develop her talents and skills. It couldn’t have been better suited to her life calling!
But then, Mandy began to feel a familiar old weight pressing on her chest. God doesn’t want you to have that scholarship, came the nagging thought. You need to give it up. In panic, she wondered, Is God testing me? Could He be calling me to sacrifice this scholarship?
Anxiety crept into Mandy’s life as she struggled to discern what God was asking her to do. She feared to fail the One she loved and yet battled with the prospect of disappointment if indeed called to forgo her scholarship.
I should be finding joy in the thought of sacrificing for my Lord! she chided herself. But I’m not sure if this is His voice speaking to me.
Little did she realize that she was struggling with scrupulosity.
I have encountered so many clients like Mandy who are wrestling with the idea that God is asking them to sacrifice something valuable in their lives as a means of testing their commitment to Him. Typically, this pattern of thinking revolves around major life decisions, such as a beloved relationship or the purchase of a new home. These people find themselves bombarded with anxious urges to give up their hopes and dreams.
However, when told to ignore such thoughts, they are quick to point to the story of Abraham whom God called to sacrifice his promised son as a test of faith (Genesis 22). God forbid that they would fail a test of the same gravity!
If you have ever felt this way, you’re not alone. I want to relieve your anxiety by showing you what the Bible has to say about tests of faith and helping you determine whether God really is testing you.
(And check out my video about what the Bible really says about anxiety!)
Let’s look at four principles from the Word of God about divine testing.
Principle 1: Is God testing me? Divine testing comes in episodes rather than a one-time-only format.
If you’ve ever played with dominos, you know that bumping one domino can bring a whole train of pieces crashing to the floor. People with scrupulosity view their response to divine tests as having a domino effect. They fear that if they fail the one big test that God has placed before them, then they’ll be damned forever. Furthermore, their actions may have an impact on the lives and eternal destinies of others. That’s a heavy weight to carry on one’s shoulders!
I have good news for you. Those kinds of tests are not biblical.
In the Bible, instead of occurring during one major circumstance, God’s testing happens in episodes. We can think of His tests as being more like weekly quizzes than cumulative finals.
Let’s consider the Israelites for a moment.
After crossing the Red Sea, God led them to Marah. By this point, the congregation was quite thirsty, but the only available water turned out to be bitter. Here was a test before them. Did they pass?
No! Unfortunately, they didn’t trust God—despite the fact that He had just taken them on dry land through the Red Sea! Instead, Exodus 15:24 records that they “complained.”
A little later along the journey, they found themselves famished in the wilderness. Though they had seen God’s providence many times, they again began to grumble:
Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.Exodus 16:3
Wow, some strong words there. They basically wished that God had never delivered them from Egypt. Talk about failing a test of faith!
Sadly, the cycle repeated itself throughout much of the Israelites’ experience. And yet, God did not give up on His people. They may have failed one test, but it wasn’t the end of the world because He brought another test to them. What they failed to learn the first time around they had the opportunity to learn the following time.
Sometimes we know for sure how and where God is asking us to give things up. Other times (particularly when it comes to scrupulosity) the situation can seem so ambiguous that we aren’t sure. In these cases, don’t be afraid that making the wrong choice in an unclear matter will be your complete downfall.
If it truly was a test, God will bring it back around. He’s not sitting up there looking for ways to trick you into a life-or-death test, much less is He looking for ways to give you a test and leave you wondering if it really is a test or not.
Principle 2: Is God testing me? Divine testing is transformative rather than judgmental.
People with scrupulosity tend to view God as a stern judge who is waiting to bang His gavel and cross out their names from the book of life if they fail.
But as we already saw in the example of the Israelites, this scenario couldn’t be further from the truth! When the Israelites failed, He didn’t cast them out as duds; He kept working on them and teaching them. He was testing them because He wanted to change them, not condemn them.
Likewise, God tests us with our best interest in mind. He wants to transform us.
Psalm 66:10 says,
For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.
Usually, silver is heated in a really hot furnace to boiling point, allowing impurities to come to the surface so that they can be scraped off. In this process, the silver becomes more valuable.
When God tests us, His purpose is to refine us into something even more valuable. This idea is repeated in Proverbs 17:3:
The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.
So, instead of viewing divine tests as the line between salvation and damnation, we need to view divine tests as an educational process.
For example, it’s somewhat common for me to encounter scrupulous individuals who feel like God is asking them to give up a relationship with a beloved boyfriend or girlfriend. When I probe further, I usually find that there is premarital sex involved. The word the Bible uses to describe sexual activity before marriage is “fornication.” Look up that word and read it anywhere that it appears in Scripture and you will find it’s always a no-go for God’s people.
Now, I know some people read my blog to get reassurance for their OCD, but I can’t offer reassurance for everything. Even in our journey to overcome scrupulosity, we need to take Scripture seriously — and it’s clear that God has given certain boundaries. When we disregard these boundaries, it becomes very difficult to grow in our spiritual walk, and we may experience increasing anxiety, guilt, or worry.
The person will scrupulosity who is in a biblically inappropriate relationship will often interpret these negative emotions to mean God is testing him/her and wants the whole relationship nullified.
People with OCD are almost always very black-and-white thinkers who have a difficult time seeing shades of gray. Unfortunately, we often take our own thinking patterns and project them on God. We end up believing that HE is a black-and-white thinker just like us.
Either/or. Yes or no. No room for modifications.
But keep in mind that divine testing is for purification and transformation. Don’t jump the gun and think that God always wants you to “give up” stuff.
Let’s say that you’re in a relationship of this kind and are getting a lot of guilty feelings like you’re bad and God won’t accept you when you’re with your S.O. Instead of trying to resolve the bad feelings by throwing out the baby with the bathwater, how about looking for a transformative way of changing your current reality to better reflect God’s principles?
(Hint: in this case, it might look like continuing to date your beloved but saving the sex for marriage. And if he/she is confused and asks why, it gives you a chance to talk through your convictions and start your marriage on a spiritual foot.)
Don’t Miss This Article If You Have Scrupulosity: Is Sex Sinful?
So no — God’s tests are not for the sake of arbitrarily trying to get us to give stuff up to prove that we love Him. That’s pretty much baloney. Imagine a mom saying to her six year old child, “honey, I’d like you to give up your warm bed and sleep outside on the patio in the freezing rain tonight. Can you do that to prove that you love mommy?”
That would be nuts. We would call that mother abusive.
And yet, whenever I wonder if God is testing me to give up everything that is near and dear to my heart, I have to ask the question if this is God or if this is my OCD.
Principle 3: Is God testing me? Divine testing is desirable.
Does the idea of a divine test seem terrifying to you? People with scrupulosity fear being tested by God because they view it as such a dangerous experience.
But as we’ve already seen, divine testing is not dangerous because God is using it to refine us.
Take a look at what David prayed,
Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.Psalm 26:2
Wait—what? David asked God to test him?
That’s right. He viewed God’s tests as positive—as God’s way of working in his life and revealing new truths to him.
Think of our illustration about the refining of silver. Would a silversmith refine metal that he won’t use? Of course not! He’s going to refine something that he believes to be valuable and useful.
And each one of us is valuable to God! Divine tests are His way of showing us that He has claimed us as His own and is refining us for a purpose. He tests us because we belong to Him.
When we understand that God is safe and that He is on our side, being tested becomes a positive experience. God is at work in us, and He doesn’t do shoddy work!
Principle 4: Is God testing me? Not every idea that enters your mind is a divine test.
We need to be clear on something else: Many ideas pass through our minds each day, but not every one of them is a divine test. In fact, I can guarantee that most of them aren’t!
The apostle John warned believers,
Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1
People who claim to speak for God might be false, so we must do some testing for ourselves! Similarly, it is possible for the intrusive thoughts of a person with religious OCD to sound like the voice of God when, in reality, they are not. Ultimately, we need to test these suggestions to see if they hold water according to the Scriptures.
For example, when Todd became convicted that he would be damned if he didn’t decline an excellent job offer, was God really speaking to him? Probably not. In all likelihood, he was struggling with scrupulosity.
So, how do we recognize the difference between a divine test and scrupulosity? Continue reading for some helpful tools.
Discerning Real Tests from God
In order to discover the answer to the question, “Is God testing me?” we first need to understand what real tests are and what real tests are not.
The tests that God calls us to will require us to sacrifice something that He’s asking for in His Word or to change something that He wants to change in our lives.
The real test is not agonizing over whether God’s voice is speaking to us or not.
In short, if a test is from God, you will know it without a shadow of a doubt.
The issue boils down to understanding the difference between cognition and metacognition.
Get into Metacognition Mode
In its simplest terms, cognition means thinking about something. We might ask ourselves, “What am I thinking about?”
Metacognition is thinking about how we’re thinking. It involves analyzing thought patterns. The prefix meta indicates that we are above and beyond the thinking process, looking in on ourselves. When engaging in metacognition, we would ask, “How am I thinking?”
Let’s bring this concept back to our question, “Is God testing me?” When we find ourselves asking this question, we must step into metacognition mode and pay attention to our thought patterns.
If we realize that we’re thinking in repetitive and anxious patterns, going in circles to figure out whether God is the one speaking to us, then we can say with confidence, “No, God is not testing me.”
God’s directions are always very clear as highlighted in the following passages:
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.Isaiah 30:21
If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God.John 7:17
If we have a willingness to do God’s will, then we’re going to know what He’s asking.
People with scrupulosity believe incorrectly that finding God’s will is like a hide-and-go-seek chase. That would imply that God either doesn’t want us to know His will or He wants to make it very hard for us to figure it out!
But He is not that kind of God.
You see, God is not wanting to play games with us. He’s wanting to transform us, so it follows that He’s going to make that transformation very obvious. In fact, we could say that God operates on an “informed consent” model: Yes, He may ask us to make sacrifices, but He does so with our consent and understanding. His will is not going to be muddled up among our own chaotic thinking patterns.
So when we realize that we are confused about whether God is testing us, what do we do?
My advice? Follow the most normal and logical option. In the case of Mandy’s scholarship, the most normal option would be to take the scholarship which would allow her to develop her God-given talents and further her life calling.
For a guy who is in love with his girlfriend but feels “called” to give her up, the most logical option would be to dial back, remove unbiblical elements from the relationship, pray for God’s blessing, and keep moving forward towards establishing a committed, long-term relationship.
You may have found yourself bombarded with thoughts about whether God is testing you. First, step back and ask yourself, “Am I struggling to give something up, or am I struggling to discern whether this is God’s voice?” If you’re rolling in agony to figure out God’s voice, then the thoughts probably stem from your OCD.
And if they stem from your OCD, then you have permission to let go of them. Ignore the anxious feelings that are telling you to sacrifice A, B, or C. God is not testing you because God does not work that way!
Yes, you’ll experience tests—but tests to develop your character, not tests requiring you to discern His voice. You can move forward in full freedom knowing that God’s voice will be clear when He does speak to you.
I’d love to hear about your journey! What have been valid tests from God in your life and what have been OCD-based tests?
Best wishes on the journey,