Your body feels tense, and your palms start to sweat. Your craving for ice cream reaches a new peak. Your hands start to shake from too many Red Bulls and a lack of sleep. Lecture notes from last term suddenly seem incomprehensible, and you develop an unhealthy fascination for daytime TV. There’s not a seat to be found at the library. The exam season has definitely arrived.
Some people seem to take exams in their stride. For the rest of us, they can be a nerve-wracking and horrible experience. A whole year’s worth of work condensed into three hours of frantic scribbling. How do we cope?
Perhaps you’ve always been a high achiever, and you’re suddenly faced with the prospect of failure. Your identity, your self-image, seems ready to crumble. Or perhaps you’ve barely scraped through, feeling out of place with all these clever people around you. You feel like a fraud about to be exposed.
Exams are about proving you have certain skills or know certain things, but we take things much further. We try to prove ourselves to our parents, to ourselves, to others – and to God. What if we can’t prove ourselves? What if the “expected” 2:1 isn’t going to happen? What if we have to retake an exam, or repeat the year?
With all these pressures and worries swimming around our heads, it can feel impossible to know where to begin. We procrastinate when we should be working, and feel guilty about not working when we should be resting. Things seem out of control, and we struggle just to keep our head above water. Everything else takes a back seat – exercise, healthy eating, spending time with God and his people.
What is the Christian response to all this? Here’s three truths to to encourage ourselves with:
You are a child of God. Christians are much loved children of a heavenly Father. The Father loves you even as he loves Jesus (John 17:23). You don’t have to be a high achiever. Your identity is not in your degree. Your place in the family is secure. You are a child of God.
Your Father is in control. Not only is God loving, but he is also powerful. Not only does he care for you in the midst of exams, but he is using them for your good. Things may seem chaotic, even hopeless – but God is using all of it to shape you to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). You don’t need to worry – your Father is in control.
You don’t have to earn his love. You don’t have to prove yourself. Pass or fail in these exams, the one verdict on you that ultimately matters has already been given (Romans 8:1). Your achievements never made God love you, and your failures won’t stop him either. His love for you is all of grace. You don’t have to earn his love.
Next time we’ll look at how we can apply these truths in the midst of the stress, as well as some practical tips for the exam period.
God never ceases to do good to his children.
We had a weekend away as a church recently, and spent some time looking at the first chapter of the letter of James. We are to “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials, because through perseverance we become “mature and complete” (James 1:2-4).
Christians will face trials. James says “whenever” you face trials. Trials will come.
When they do, we can view them in different ways. One is to see them as irredeemable difficulties, out of God’s control. Another is to believe that God is at work in and through them to make us more like Jesus.
James calls us to the latter, reassuring us that God has purposes in our trials. We can consider them pure joy because we know they serve to grow us into spiritual maturity, even if we cannot see how.
And so James can write in verse 17:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
It’s not a sudden change of topic, as if he got fed up of talking about trials and suffering and wants to turn to the good things God gives us. No, even the trials themselves can be seen as good gifts from God. God doesn’t change – one moment feeling benevolence and sending blessings, the next feeling vindictive and sending suffering. Rather, God is continually doing good to his children through the trials.
Paul writes in Romans 8:28:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
All things. Not just the easy and comfortable things, but the hard and painful things. Not just times of plenty, but times of famine. Not just times of joy, but times of sorrow.
The hymn-writers of old knew it. William Cowper wrote:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
An unknown hymn writer wrote:
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
The flame shall not harm you; I only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Cowper was depressed. Matheson was blind. Spafford lost four of his daughters at sea. Yet each knew the “streams of mercy, never ceasing” that flowed from the fount of every blessing. God was at work through their trials, and was with them in their trials. The same is true for us.
God never ceases to do good to his children.