All in your good time
Peter Gallagher SJ invites us to reflect on life’s tests. Prayer can be full of scrutiny and challenge, but God's mercy is our survival resource.
Do not put us to the test. Humbly we ask God not to test us. We are not strong enough to bear much testing. Yet tests come and, with God’s help, we endure them successfully. Sometimes we survive what tests us by a mixture of God’s mercy and the strength of others.
The goodness of some can save us all
Abraham negotiating about the fate of the cities of the plain draws attention to the way that the virtues of some can make up to some extent for the sins of others. God says I will not destroy the wicked city if even ten just persons can be found in it (Genesis 18.32). The holiness of the Church is like this. We depend on each other that the whole body of Christ shall not be found to have lost his perfection. Every day we discover that some test or other which might defeat us individually is tolerable because of the strengths of some among us. We all benefit from the goodness of the Lord, his saints and some others. We are stirred to be good ourselves by the goodness of the whole body.
Jesus himself is the one who goes through the great test which saves the rest of us. He has cancelled the record of the debt we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2.15). There is a scrutiny which takes place and a reckoning of accounts. The Lord stands up for us. He takes our place. He passes the test for everyone. He meets the debts of all. He cancels what we owe.
The challenge of discipleship
Despite the redemptive work of Christ and our grateful acknowledgement of it, we continue to pray not to be put to the test (Luke 11.4). Why? Our persistent reluctance to be tested and our fear of being found out are our facing up to our personal responsibility. We are thankful disciples of Jesus. His passing the test for us leaves us wanting to show our love and gratitude by imitating him. The imitation of Christ includes his bravely undergoing testing and scrutiny. We know we cannot do what he did but we want to try. If we are doing our best to be like the Lord we will not fail the test too ignominiously.
We throw ourselves into our following Jesus on his way to the Father. Discipleship is always testing but we do not want to be judged quickly. The Lord teaches us to pray. Prayer is full of scrutiny and challenge. However we want to have made more progress in prayer before hard testing comes. Do not put us to the test, we ask. Allow us to establish prayer more fully in our daily life. Permit us, before testing us, to become contemplatives who seek you out to thank you for blessings and to be close to your help in trouble. Let us be faithful, Christ-like listeners to you, our God, before probing us too deeply.
The Lord urges us to be persevering in our spiritual life. We are to be steadily persistent. Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11.9). We ask not to be tested until the good habits of perseverance and persistence have been thoroughly integrated into our life. Such a transformation will be a gift from God as much as any other grace. However he urges us to ask for what we need. Our prayer, however peaceful, has this element of importunity. We keep on asking. We beg.
God who is no cruel tester is not at all reluctant to give us the spiritual and moral strength which we seek. The persistent requesting and the steady importunity have its impact on us not on him. By praying for his help we become able to accept it. By pressing for grace, we become capable of making good use of it. By ‘troubling’ (as it might seem to us) God, we are changed into sons and daughters of his who are untroubled by his plan for us.
Serene cooperation with the divine plan is a gift of the Holy Spirit. How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11.13). What we are seeking most persistently from the loving God is not some strength or virtue which we judge would be useful to us in our faithful discipleship. We are asking for the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit will come all the gifts which God judges we need in order to be as he wills us to be. Yet still we pray: do not put us to the test. By which we mean, as we now understand, ‘all in your good time, Lord’. We could not bear too close a scrutiny ‘now’. In our ‘now’ is all our unpreparedness and weakness. One day, however, it will be God’s ‘now’. His ‘now’ has the fullness of his strength and loving grace, and, by his generosity, also, all our vigour in conversion and joyful responsiveness. Do not put us to the test, we pray, not fearfully but fully confident that God is drawing us to himself according to his providential plan and timetable.
Peter Gallagher SJ