Can finals be seen as a spiritual discipline?

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Why do finals stress us out so much?

I have yet to meet someone who relishes the opportunity to take tests, let alone finals. The amount of stress that comes with trying to remember a semester’s worth of information and then regurgitate it for your teacher in unbelievable. And unless you have a photographic memory, this takes a ton of hard work.

Now I am sure that this isn’t true for my students, but I think part of the challenge of finals is that there is little learning that happens throughout the semester. We live in an instant gratification culture where learning and retaining new information is difficult. Subjects that come naturally we enjoy, and the ones that don’t make sense to us, we give up on and find ways to justify our poor performance.

I always thought I was horrible at learning languages. You know, I am just not a “language” person. But the truth is, that memorizing words and learning grammar takes time, too much time. And because I didn’t want to put the time and effort in, I never did well in the four languages I have studied.

Finals are actually an unflattering mirror.

Just like a mirror, finals are simply a reflection on our true knowledge of a subject. If you are not proficient with the material, a test proves that and makes it clear to you, your teacher, and your parents. There is no escaping the awful truth, you don’t know the material.

The people who love tests are the people who know the information on it. If you have been paying attention all semester, digesting the information, staying up with the compounding information, a test is an opportunity to prove that you have mastered the information in the class. Finals get to be an opportunity to shine! But these people are few and far between. You know the top 5% of your class. Not being a part of the top 5%, my circle of friends, seem to always run away from tests.

Tests don’t just stop happening when we graduate from school. And the tests we face after graduation can often be more challenging and more revealing. You see, we like to think we know a lot of information. We like to think that we are good people. We like to think we have strong character and have deep faith. but when we are tested, we find out the truth. And sometimes the truth is difficult to swallow.

A test of faith I failed:

When my son was six months old, my faith was was given a difficult test. Up to this point in my life, I was confident in my depth of faith and love for god. I knew his hand was on me and would gladly give up whatever I was asked, and go wherever he asked, for his glory. But an unexpected call from our doctor turned out to be the most difficult pop quiz I had ever taken.

We were told that our son had e. coli (that awful disease that killed some kids from Jack in the Box) and to immediately drive to Seattle’s Children's Hospital for tests and treatment. This was an hour drive, and like normal, our gas light was on. While I gassed up our car, I remember very clearly a conversation I had with God. I told him that if we was going to take my son from me, then I was done with this ministry thing. Sure, I would still be a Christian, but being someone who would share God’s hope and grace with others, no way!

Well, the short version is that God miraculously protected my son and ended up with zero kidney damage from this deadly bacteria. Our church family in Olympia loved on us, prayed their guts out, and showed up for us when we were in the hospital. Their depth of faith and character pulled us through this difficult season.

People in my church have walked through a wide verity of tragedy. And one thing that is consistently true, is that God seems to always show up and provide the needed strength and faith to the people who walk through the valley of death. What I soon realized, is that this chapter in my walk with God was a test. A test that I clearly failed. What I thought was true about my faith and my character was put on full display and reflected back at me. I was so quick to throw away history and perspective in my walk with God. I had zero trust in the presence, healing and comfort of the Holy Spirit. I realized that if I was going to be the pastor that God is calling me to be, then I need to be a man of deep faith and deep character. I needed to go back to study hall, to the gym, and intentionally grow and develop my faith.

Seeing tests as a spiritual discipline:

God’s desire for us is to be sanctified and to grow in his image, to be people of deep faith and character. and unless we are tested, we will never know how we are really doing. Thankfully, the tests that God gives to reveal this are never final exams. His tests are pop quizzes and check-ins.

Instead of running away from tests in our faith, we should actually welcome them. People who grow in depth and character in their faith are people who welcome examination. They are people who have made a habit of self-reflection. They reflect upon their day and examine all of the pop quizzes God puts in their way.

Tests are not awful. Tests reveal who we really are, what we really know. If we don’t like tests, it is because we don’t like what they are reflecting. My desire is to welcome tests and welcome what they will prove true about who I am. To celebrate when I succeed, and work hard to develop when I fail. And thankfully, through Jesus, God’s grace covers all the results whether they are A’s or F’s.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know m anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. - King David (Psalm 139)