Today was the final exam for my Access students! I created the test this past week, with five different parts regarding what we’ve learned this year: continents, holidays, American history, Pen-pal reading, and Pen-pal writing (plus extra credit!). Last week, I gave them all a list of the important words we’ve learned this year so they could study on their own and prepare for the test. Ultimately, the students in this class don’t necessarily receive a report card grade, and even the in-class grade is not mostly determined by this test. But either way, these students take tests pretty seriously, and they were nervous despite my assurances that if they listened in class and knew the important words, they’d be fine.
A few of the girls, a few minutes before class began, came up to me with begging voices, asking, “Why do we have to have a test?!? Why?” I told them that I wanted to see how much they’d learned, but that I also wanted them to just do their best. I reassured them that if they didn’t do well on this test, it was okay; I knew how they normally studied hard in class, so this test wouldn’t form my only impression of their knowledge. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted them to see how much they could do, and be encouraged!
At the beginning of class, Todd helped me communicate the basic rules. No cheating, no looking at each others’ tests, etc. They all said, “We know, we know.” I told them that if they were caught cheating, they would get an automatic zero. When they seemed surprised, I told them that if they cheat and get 100%, I don’t want their test. But if they do their best and only get 10 correct, I would rather have that than a copied test. I wanted their best, not necessarily perfect results. Or, best case scenario, both.
Then the testing commenced! It was hard, and I think they realized that they could have committed themselves more during class time in order to learn these words. With Class 1, my lower level students, I was happy to see them getting a lot of correct answers, which showed they had really studied over the weekend. Class 2, the generally higher level class, surprised me with how many of them so quickly gave up on their answers! They were required to stay and work on the test for 45 minutes, and half of them left as soon as the 45 minutes were done, leaving unnecessary blanks and easy mistakes uncorrected. For many after that, I made them go back and write more, because I knew they could. One girl especially adamantly told me she had finished, that she couldn’t do any more. I looked at the tiny amount of work, and looked her in the eye, and honestly asked, “Is this your best?” She stopped, looked at her work, and went back to her seat to do more of what I knew she was capable of.
I haven’t checked the tests yet, so I don’t know what the scores are like. But as I was waiting for the last few students to finish this evening, I thought about the spiritual parallel of this scene.
Our life as Christians has its own tests. Most of us don’t like the idea of tests because of the standardized, fill-in-the-correct-dot tests that tried to gauge our knowledge, though rarely accurately. But the Bible is full of references to testing. Psalm 139, famous for it’s “fearfully and wonderfully made” phrase, ends with “Search me, O God, and know my thoughts; test me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son is one of the most well-known and meaningful tests in the Bible. 1 Peter 4:12 says we should not be surprised by trials that take place to test us, and Scriptures in both the Old and New Testament numerous times refer to being tested as fine gold or silver. In John 6, Jesus asks his disciple Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The very next verse says, “[Jesus] said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” Job 7 actually says that God tests us every moment!
Maybe, since we have a stigma against tests, your first question is, “Why does God test us?” After all, He’s omniscient and all-knowing, right? Does He really need to see how we do on the test?
I think back to what I told my students. One huge purpose of this test (which wasn’t required for the program) was not to show me their ability, but to show themselves! Today, a lot of students learned that not paying attention in class and wasting time on the weekends doesn’t have good results when the test comes. However, a lot of other students learned that their commitment and dedication to learning has resulted in incredible knowledge and ability! I hope that most students left the classroom today encouraged by what they were able to do. And maybe that’s how God feels toward us too. Maybe He tests us mostly to help us see where we’re at spiritually. When struggles come, do we automatically turn to Him in prayer and surrender? Or do we freak out and flounder? When we’re faced with a temptation, do we know Who to go to for help? Or do we succumb?
As I was considering this, one of the last boys was working to finish his test. His face was full of determination, his pen moving purposefully, his mind clearly working as hard as possible. Simultaneously, one of the girls came to me and handed in her test, saying she was finished. “But wait,” I asked, pointing to a big empty part on the first page, “what about this? I know you can do this.” She sighed, took it back, and sat in her chair again.
I don’t know which of these students got a better score on their test, but I know which one was most pleasing to me. Jordan gave me everything he had, he put his heart in it. The girl only wanted to do enough to get by, not realizing that my hope wasn’t for her to get a certain minimum score, but for her to really invest herself.
I can’t help but think God feels similarly. He wants our hearts above all. The results of our efforts, the “score” on our test, are secondary (if that!). Rather, our commitment and desire to learn from Him and be with Him is of first importance. Let that be an encouragement and a challenge to you today: a challenge to give Him your best, and encouragement because you know He values you far more than your efforts.
Maybe you feel like you’re being tested by God right now. Remember that He is a loving teacher. Most of all, He just wants you.
(Oh, studying your textbook always helps. And asking your teacher questions.)