Testimony – God’s Test or Satan’s Temptation?

On January 31, 2020, I had triple bypass surgery. I praise the Lord that the problem was discovered before I had a heart attack and that there was no damage to my heart muscle. That incident, though, made me consider my living situation—particularly with respect to my children and grandchildren. They all live a thousand miles away in Tucson, Arizona, and for several reasons I wanted to be closer to them.

First, if I ever had another serious physical problem, I thought it would be better if I were close to them so that they could provide any help I might need. But secondly, I am concerned for their salvation. I felt—and still feel—that being more involved in their daily lives might have a beneficial effect on their spiritual growth.

After pondering those factors and other considerations, I began a search for a place to buy in Tucson. I engaged the same real estate agent who had helped me with a previous property sale and initiated the search for a two-bedroom condominium.

After a bit of searching, my agent found a great unit in a small complex of 20 units near Saguaro National Park. It had a huge swimming pool, which I thought would be a great magnet for my kids and grandkids. I made an offer, which the buyer accepted; so I took a few days off from work and went to Tucson for the inspection prior to the close of the deal.

While the inspection was in process, I walked around the complex and met a man who it turned out had lived there for a year or so. He loved the place because “everything you need is within walking distance—both a McDonald’s and a Burger King.” That got me to thinking about what I really needed and was reminded of the abundant counsel we are given about leaving the cities.

I am truly blessed to be currently living in a rural environment. Deer and turkey regularly walk through my yard. I often hear coyotes howling at night. How foolish it seemed to go against counsel and move to a city of almost a million people!

So I backed out of the deal.

A few months later I was praying for guidance, still harboring the desire to move closer to family and freely ignoring the counsel that the Lord had already provided through His testimonies to live in the country.

In hindsight, I was doing what many have done who recognize the Sabbath truth for the first time and pray, “Lord, if you want me to keep Saturday as the Sabbath, give me a sign.” He’s not going to do that. He’s made it very plain in His word that He wants His faithful followers to observe and keep holy the seventh-day Sabbath.

Now let me tell you how I continued to rationalize my desire to do what I wanted to do.

Tucson is surrounded by mountains on four sides: the Catalina Mountains, the Rincons, the Santa Ritas and the Tucson Mountains. West of the Tucson Mountains, about a 30-minute drive from the heart of Tucson and a 45-minute drive from my children, is an area called Picture Rocks. It is an area with an eclectic assortment of residences, most on a minimum of an acre of land. So I thought, Why not check there? It might provide what I wanted—being close to family and in a relatively rural location.

So I booted up Zillow.com, typed in the ZIP code for Picture Rocks and there was what seemed to be the perfect place. It was a two-bedroom home with an office addition and a hobby room. There were two good-sized outbuildings, one of which was insulated and air conditioned. It sat on an acre and a quarter of land and had an abundance of irrigated fruit trees. It was a complete fulfillment of what I wanted.

I called up my real estate agent and asked him to check it out for me. He called me and said that it was a real oasis and in excellent condition, but, while he was there looking at it, there were several other interested parties checking it out as well. He said that if I really wanted it, I would have to offer more than the asking price. So I offered almost $3,000 above the listed price. My agent said that the seller was going to review all offers on the following Wednesday afternoon.

While I was waiting for his call, I kept trying to ignore the counsel to leave the cities. I would be close to my family, only 30 minutes from town yet with a mountain range in between. The yearning heart can easily overrule an otherwise rational mind.

Then as I was thinking about being closer to my family, the Holy Spirit kept reminding me of the quote from Adventist Home that I printed out and placed in the edge of the picture frame holding a photo of my three children:

We must not center our affections on worldly relatives, who have no desire to learn the truth. We may seek in every way, while associated with them, to let our light shine; but our words, our deportment, our customs and practices, should not in any sense be molded by their ideas and customs. We are to show forth the truth in all our intercourse with them. If we cannot do this, the less association we have with them the better it will be for our spirituality.” Op. Cit., 462. (See also Testimonies, vol. 5, 543.)

All this time, I was also thinking of Balaam, the prophet who kept asking the Lord to let him do something that he wanted to do, but that the Lord had initially made clear to him He didn’t want him to do. The story is found in Numbers 22.

Inspiration offers this account of the story:

“Balaam inquired of God if he might curse Israel, because in so doing he had the promise of great reward. And God said, ‘Thou shalt not go;’ but he was urged by the messengers, and greater inducements were presented. Balaam had been shown the will of the Lord in this matter, but he was so eager for the reward that he ventured to ask God the second time. The Lord permitted Balaam to go. Then he had a wonderful experience, but who would wish to be guided by such an experience? There are those who would understand their duty clearly if it were in harmony with their natural inclinations. Circumstances and reason may clearly indicate their duty; but when against their natural inclination, these evidences are frequently set aside. Then these persons will presume to go to God to learn their duty. But God will not be trifled with. He will permit such persons to follow the desires of their own hearts. Psalm 81:11, 12: ‘But My people would not hearken to My voice.’ ‘So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.’ ” Testimonies, vol. 3, 73

It dawned on me that I was on the verge of committing the same error that Balaam had done by walking in my own counsel. So I finally said, “Lord, Your will be done. Close the door firmly and decidedly if You would not be honored by my moving to Tucson. You know whether or not I would have a beneficial and lasting effect on my children’s spiritual growth. I will accept whatever happens as Your will.”

Wednesday afternoon, my real estate agent called. “Bad news, John. The seller didn’t accept your offer. In fact, they accepted an offer that was several thousand dollars below yours,” explaining that the offer they accepted was all cash. The seller wanted a quick close, which the cash offer made possible. I could not help but think that the Lord had intervened and structured circumstances to prevent me from making a big mistake.

“Okay,” I thought. “The Lord has spoken.” Once I accepted that, I had a complete change of mindset. The draw of my family and the desire to move back to Tucson and the Sonoran Desert completely left me. I had a wonderful feeling of peace and contentment, knowing that the Lord had intervened and that I was doing His will. By accepting what I felt was the hand of the Lord moving in this situation, I had successfully resisted the temptation to move.

But that’s not the end of the story …

Two days later, my real estate agent called again. “I have some good news, John. The original buyer backed out of the deal. It was an older woman and her kids felt that the location was too remote and too far from medical care if anything should happen. The house is yours.”

An unnumbered jumble of thoughts was coursing through my head, resulting in a long, silent pause. Finally the agent asked, “Has there been a change of plans?”

I tried to explain to him briefly what I had gone through spiritually, but he brushed it aside clearly uninterested in my being guided by a higher purpose and said, “Do you want to buy the place or not?” There wasn’t any irritation in his voice, just “Let me know by tomorrow afternoon.”

The question I was asking myself was “Is this a temptation from Satan or a test from God—or both?” As I pondered that question, the Holy Spirit gave me insight into what my life would have been like if I had moved.

First, I would have no significant spiritual fellowship in my daily life. In fact, the prominent daily influences would be entirely of the world. Second, I would have no meaningful, edifying Sabbath worship. The nearest Seventh-day Adventist church would have been an hour away. The few times I had previously attended worship there, I was truly appalled by the lack of reverence in the sanctuary between Sabbath school and church. Quiet meditation between services had been impossible. Plus, the messages I had heard during the main worship service varied from travelogues to “feel good” sermons. Rarely, if ever, had I heard any encouragement regarding overcoming an inherited sinful nature.

There was absolutely no question in my mind that God had intervened and showed me what He wanted me to do. Was He trying to determine the depth of my conviction by giving me this one last test? Or was Satan trying to lure me away from a situation to which I had been called to be in God’s service?

I called my real estate agent and told him of my decision to pass on the purchase. I thanked him for his efforts on my behalf and hung up, certain that I was doing God’s will.

[All emphasis supplied.]

John R Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: johnpearson@stepstolife.org.