But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.

                                                                         —Beverly Sills

“Take out a piece of paper and pencil…”

On the face of it, the teacher’s words always seemed innocent enough. But as a child they always struck a chord of fear in my heart (and, judging from the expressions on their faces, in the hearts my classmates as well). For as all students well know, the directive to take out pencil and paper is inevitably the prelude to one of childhood’s most dreaded experiences: the pop quiz.

As a child, I assumed the reason why my teachers persisted in giving us pop quizzes was that they enjoyed making us suffer. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the otherwise sweet and amicable Mrs. Day or Mrs. Brown sitting at home, passionately pondering new ways to make our lives miserable. “Oh, I know!” I could hear them gleefully saying. “I’ll ask to name the capital of Madagascar and identify three of Costa Rica’s chief exports and list all the prime numbers between 1 and 100! That should make the beads of sweat pop out on their little brows!”

As an adult, I’ve come to understand how silly these childhood perceptions were. Teachers (with perhaps the possible exception of my 7th Grade History instructor) don’t give surprise mini-tests because they enjoy making their students miserable. No, it’s because they care about them and want them to learn. Pop quizzes encourage and motivate students to be diligent in their work and keep up with their studies, rather than waiting to the last minute and trying to learn their lessons right before big exams. Those little tests are meant to prepare students for the larger tests that are sure to come later.

Because He loves and cares for them, God does much the same thing in the lives of His children. In the course of our daily living, God allows situations and circumstances to occur that serve as pop quizzes that test our progress in learning and obeying His Word.

For example, the rude driver that cuts us off in traffic can be seen a mini-test to see whether we’ve learned the lessons of “love your enemies” and “bless and curse not.” The unexpected inconvenience and expense of a broken appliance or a leaky roof tests our willingness to “give thanks in all circumstances.” The hassle of spending hours on the phone trying to straighten out a billing error or a problem with insurance claim exams our ability to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”

When barraged by these kinds of small challenges, there is a temptation to think that either God or life is conspiring against us. Like schoolchildren, we may feel that these things have somehow been designed simply to make us suffer. In truth, however, the exact opposite is the case. God doesn’t want us to suffer; He wants us to grow. As Ephesians says, God’s desire for us is that we will “continue to grow in faith and understanding of the Son of God” so that “we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.” Out of this desire, God allows us to experience these life mini-tests because He knows they will prepare us for the big tests that are sure to come our way.

The book of James puts it this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

M. R. Wells echoes these thoughts when he explains how life’s frustrations are mini-tests meant to prepare us for the larger challenges of life:

If I can’t thank God for a power outage, what will I do if I get cancer, or a loved one dies, or my home is badly damaged in a fire? If I don’t learn patience in the small annoyances, how will I have patience and endurance when a big trial hits?

Rather than feeling irritated or discouraged, the next time life seems to ask you to take out a pencil and paper, be grateful that God cares enough to prepare us for the really big tests by allowing us the practice runs of our pop quizzes. After all, like any good teacher, God’s desire for His children isn’t that we suffer, but that we pass on to the Higher grade!

Pastor Michael

 


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