By Pastor Dan Christian
Do you remember what it was like to prepare for a science test in elementary school? Do you remember the pressure of final exams week in college? Were you the kind of student who studied diligently for weeks in advance, or did you prefer to stay up most (or all) of the night before, trying to cram as much information into your sleepy brain as possible? Perhaps you’re a student now, and the stress of exams is not just a distant memory but a present reality!
Regardless of our study habits, though, we face a similar process with every test we take. Prior to the test, there is a certain amount of information that we need to learn and understand, and there are certain skills that we need to master. After we’ve taken the test, the red ink on our paper makes it clear what information we do—and don’t—comprehend, as well as the skills we are proficient in and the ones with which we are still struggling. As much as we perhaps dread seeing our grade, those marks help us know where to focus our subsequent study hours.
One thing happens almost universally at test time: we pray. Even the unreligious student is likely to mutter something akin to a prayer when a test rolls around, especially if it’s a pop quiz or an exam that could cause them to fail the class. Only a few obnoxiously cocky students refuse to pray (and perhaps don’t even study). Everyone else studies hard and then “prays” they pass.
James 1:2-4 tells us that God allows us to meet various kinds of trials in our lives, and each of those trials serves as a test of our trust in God. These trials may be sickness or sorrow or struggle, but they may also be wealth or friendship or promotions—whether negative or positive, they test our reliance on God alone.
Seasons of change can be a kind of trial that God uses to test our trust in Him alone. The internal struggle, which we call transition, of coming to terms with the changes that are happening, can also be a way that our trust in God is tested.
Just like tests in an academic setting, we would do well to prepare diligently for the tests (trials) that God brings our way. Sometimes those tests are thrust upon us unexpectedly—like a sudden discovery of cancer—and other times the tests are anticipated, as is the season of transition that we as a church are walking through. We prepare for both the expected and the unexpected in the same way: there is information (truth) we need to learn and take to heart, and there are skills (habits) that we need to practice and master.
Our All-Church Bible Study last fall helped us begin the process of digesting truths and practicing habits that boost our trust in God, and this blog series is meant to remind us of those truths and exhort us to continue practicing the habits we have begun. But in one sense our study session is coming to an end and the test is being placed in front of us, so now we begin to see how well we have prepared. And just as we can’t help but utter some kind of plea for Divine mercy as we sit at our school desk with the blank exam staring up at our bleary eyes, so also as this test of transition truly begins, the best thing we can do is pray.
In the very next verse, after James describes various kinds of trials as tests of our faith that reveal where we are strong and where we need to learn and grow further, he says,
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)
Why? Because we want to do well on this test, but we lack wisdom.
Why? Because God is generous, and He does not shame those who ask Him for help.
Keep on praying.
Why? Because reliance on God doesn’t mean asking once and then doing the rest on our own; reliance means walking moment by moment with Him in constant dialogue as each new aspect of this change unfolds.
We’ve studied and prepared. Now the test is in front of us. Let us pray.