Friday, March 26, 2010

Testing 1,2,3

Today Mia came home from school bursting with excitement. She barely made it through the front door before she was yelling and waving a piece of paper frantically in her hand. It was her spelling test, and she got a 100% on it (including the word "balloon"!), and she was thrilled. When her grandma came over to pick her up to go shopping, I was trying to get Mia's shoes on her feet and her coat on, but all Mia wanted was to get that test so she should show it off.

I am extremely proud of her, of course, but especially so because I know how she did on last week's spelling test: 67% or a D. Mia didn't even take that one of our her folder to show me. It bothered her, and I was bothered as well, because I knew that it was partly my fault. Every week her teacher sends home a list of spelling words, and last week, we didn't practice them at all. She'd been doing so well on previous tests, that I didn't give much thought to it, and it showed. This week Mia didn't want that result again, so she practiced and her effort was worth it; she aced the test!

This is a very simple case of cause and effect, but one that when it comes to faith, I think we sometimes forget. In reading The Message Bible, I find that Eugene Peterson, the author, often words things so differently that it opens my eyes up to something mind blowing. In Psalm 119, he refers to God's Word (aka, law, revelation, word, etc) as a textbook. Verse 65 says: My troubles turned out all for the best— they forced me to learn from your textbook. Verse 121 adds: ...teach me from your textbook on life. I'm your servant—help me understand what that means, the inner meaning of your instructions.

I love this word choice, because I think it really helps to put the Bible into proper context. In the school of life, the Bible is the textbook on which every exam is based, and if you aren't studying, you probably aren't passing.

There are a ton of references to testing in the Bible:

Moses spoke to the people: "Don't be afraid. God has come to test you and instill a deep and reverent awe within you so that you won't sin." Exodus 20:20

God, your God, is testing you to find out if you totally love him with everything you have in you. You are to follow only God, your God, hold him in deep reverence, keep his commandments, listen obediently to what he says, serve him—hold on to him for dear life! Deuteronomy 13:1

I can see now God, that your decisions are right; your testing has taught me what's true and right. Psalm 119:73

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. 2 Corinthians 13:5

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2

Jesus' temptation by Satan is referred to as a testing, and each time, Jesus responded from the textbook - he quoted Scripture and defeated Satan's testing.

In school, a test is a teacher's way of evaluating a student's understanding of the material. If the student fails, there are usually two explanations: the student didn't do the work, in which case he/she will have to repeat it until they get it correctly; or the student didn't understand the lesson, so now the teacher needs to spend some time working with the student ensuring their comprehension. The tests given to first graders are not the same given to fifth graders or freshman; each test is tailored specifically to the student's ability.

God's testing of us mimics this model in many ways. If we fail the His tests, it's because we didn't pay attention while He while was trying to teach or we need Him to teach us in a different way. And because He loves us and genuinely wants us to pass, He's going to give us every opportunity to do so. He also doesn't throw the same test at those early in their faith journey to those who are farther along on the path.

One of the biggest differences between school tests and godly tests are that the evaluation is not for God's information, but for ours. He knows that state of our heart, but we need to be tested for our own growth. When I see where my faith is lacking or where I am failing Him, that's where I apply the most effort to make change.

When tests come our way, it's not easy to consider it a gift the way James would have us do, but we should keep in mind, that each test does come from God and that He gave us the ultimate cheatsheet: the Bible, every answer we need is in it! He isn't going to wait until the day of judgment and then give us one huge test. The test is every day, every moment. We are constantly being tested and graded. The blessing is that as long as we're trying, God's not going to fail us, but wouldn't you rather ace the test rather than get by with a D?

I think that the verse above from 2 Corinthians really captures the spirit of what I'm trying to say today. Pay attention to the tests God is throwing at you and grade yourself. Be honest, using Jesus as your crib notes, and if you are coming up short, then it's time to study! Immerse yourself in the Word, make it your textbook for life. And if you find yourself facing the same test day after day, it's because it's one you haven't passed yet, and God's not going to let you move on to the next class until you've passed this one. Take a good, hard look at any tests that seem to be recurring and then look for similar topics in the Bible. Find stories that relate to the place you're in and see what you can gain from them.

I'm proud of Mia for applying this lesson on her own. She didn't study and received a poor grade, so she took the time to study and aced the test, and now she's reaping the rewards. I have tests of my own that I've been failing, and I'm not ashamed to say that in this case, I'm using my seven-year-old daughter as my instructor, and it's time for me to hit the Book!