Clinging to Gospel Hope through Exam Week Stress

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I took a seat and opened my laptop, feeling a sense of trepidation growing by the moment. Too much homework, not enough time. Two tests, two exams, an essay to write and two chapters to read, but I was stuck on one assignment that wasn't making sense. So much for my ideals of accomplishing it all quickly. Now I had to slow down, call the math tutor, and figure out what on earth I was missing.

During the moments things went as I hoped, it was easy to entrust my life, moment by moment, to the faithful God who created me. When the end of the semester rolled around, I found myself freshly faced with a temptation to cave to fear, anxiety and restlessness. God graciously allowed my sense of stress to reveal a need for further growth in my faith. Did I trust that God is good, in control , and knows exactly how to write my life story? Or was I quick to assume everything was going to utterly fall apart if I didn't take hold of the reins and hustle like mad?

Certainly, I must give my best if I expect good results in school, but there's a difference between a diligent heart that trusts God's hand over it all, and an attitude of fear that acts solely on an impending sense of doom.

I was living out the latter rather intensely that day.

My soul couldn't manage to find rest until I stopped and poured out my heart before God. "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken" (Psalm 55:22). God desires for my difficulties to draw me closer to Him; when we go through challenging seasons--in school or something else--He graciously presents the opportunity either for us to look inward or upward. Our situations of stress don't force us to become lacking in character, rather they reveal where our hope truly lies and who we actually are deep down.

I long for my moments of testing, stress, and challenge to reveal a heart that puts its utmost trust in God. That doesn't mean life always goes just beautifully and as planned, but that on both the bright and dreary days, I have placed my hope in the One who never changes.

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:17-20). are five ideas for cultivating a Christ-centered exam week!

1. Begin each day with God

Whether you find yourself easily accomplishing your to-dos, or struggling behind in the day, one of the best ways to keep your focus on God throughout it all is to begin each morning in the Word. Maybe you're like me and hate being overly rigid in your day-to-day scheduling. If that's the case, it may be hard to discipline yourself to start your day with a set aside time for pursuing Christ. But even those with a spontaneous sense about life need the vital refreshment of time with God. If He's worthy of our entire lives, He's certainly worthy of being pursued each day too.

Consider working through a Bible reading plan and reserving time for prayer as you awaken the morning. Though a thousand tasks await us as we prepare for finals, we can turn to the right place for strength, guidance and hope as we begin.

"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).

2. Cast your cares upon Him through the uncertainties

God doesn't desire for us to wait until we have it together to come before Him; it's in our brokenness and challenges that we come to know Him more intimately. When you feel overwhelmed, cast that care upon God. When you failed that test you really needed to pass, cast that pain upon Him. When you feel unmotivated to do the next thing, weary from months of study, cast your exhaustion upon Him.

Scripture tells us Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Is. 9:6); not only does God listen to us when we lift up our hearts before Him, it's His nature. He is the most loving, caring, kind and wise advisor and counselor we could ask for. His love for us is steadfast (Ps. 52:1b), He hears our prayer (Ps. 65:2), and He will never abandon us (Deut. 31:6).

"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12).

3. Pray through it

It's easy to go through the motions and just get assignments down, one after the next; but what if each bit of homework was the avenue of turning to God in prayer? We are used to searching out solutions to our problems: emailing the teacher, asking a classmate for input, having a friend proofread your paper, etc. and there's nothing wrong with any of those things, but what could it look like to turn to God in the moment of need? More than just asking God to help us with our own trials, though, are we praying for our professors, classmates, and those who attend our school to turn to Christ?

Charles Spurgeon brings some interesting perspective to why prayer is so vital in the moments it may feel impractical: "Not to pray because you do not feel fit to pray is like saying, 'I will not take medicine because I am too ill.'" When your exam has you too stressed? Pray. When you can't memorize one more medical term? Pray. Keep up this practice until it's your default response to bring your requests before God.

"The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16b).

4. Memorize passages of Scripture that help you resist anxiety

Do you feel more prone to panic during exams? Scripture isn't just for reading, but is also to be used for fighting back against temptation. You've probably heard it said that Scripture tells us not to fear over 365 times--we could use a different verse each day to guard our hearts against fear. Thankfully, exams don't occur 365 days a year, but when we prepare our hearts to resist anxiety in school, we can take this freedom, by God's grace, into other areas of life where we may also be tempted to fear.

Scripture tells us:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7). 

Choosing prayer over fear does not mean our problems in life aren't hard, they certainly are; but in our weakness, Christ is strong (2 Co. 12:9), and that is where our hope lies. From one question to the next, examining our knowledge from the semester, our tests provide the chance to cling to truth and reject fear.

"So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6).

5. Give thanks in the midst

When I'm head deep in algebraic graphing, the last thing I'd naturally want to do is give thanks! Perhaps if I could incinerate my math book and never have to take another course like it, I'd be compelled to rejoice. But when I'm in over my head in a subject I don't love? I tend to complain. Have you been there too, with mental lists of everything wrong with your class, what you don't like, and all the things you wish you could change? Such a class provides the perfect opportunity to praise God. The Lord doesn't want me to wait until I'm in my desired circumstances to give Him thanks, but right in the midst of everything that feels trying, I have so much to praise Him for! "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:18).

Instead of vaguely mumbling a little "thank you" here and there, think of what you can specifically praise God for. What is the most challenging part of your exam prep? Give thanks to God for how He's growing you through that. What assignments have taught you something interesting this semester? Express your gratitude to Him for providing that chance to learn. Have you met new friends or faculty who blessed your life? Praise God for those He has placed around you.

"I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds" (Psalm 9:1).

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