Raise your hand if you experience recurrent dreams about taking a test in a class for which you have not prepared. I have both hands raised. My dream involves sitting down to take a college final for a class that I had registered for, but never attended. Somehow I forgot, and now I am staring at the final with no clue about what to write. I hear from my alumni friends that this type of test anxiety dream is common. I’m sorry to tell you that you never stop having test anxiety, even if your last college exam was many (many!) decades ago.
Tests often make us feel unprepared. Even when we did attend class and study hard, the possibility of failure looms large in our minds when we open up the exam and read the first question.
I once completely froze in seminary when my Systematic Theology final included a question that asked “Who is God, and how do you know?” I know the professor expected a lengthy response quoting the various theologians we had studied all semester. We were supposed to defend our thesis with solid theories and attributions. All my brain could conjure up was, “God is love. I know, because the Bible tells me so.” At the end of the hour, it was all I had. Luckily, I had a strong A going into the final and the professor could not argue with my position, so I ended up all right. But even writing about that moment makes my heart flutter!
James 1 (Common English Bible)
2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy.
Tests as occasions for joy?? Speaking for myself, that is a big ask! Let’s read on…
3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.
This is a beautiful answer to our test anxiety issues. Tests produce endurance and endurance leads us to maturity, completeness, and WISDOM. And isn’t wisdom the goal? James contended that all we need to do is ask for wisdom and God will certainly give it. I should have asked for some when I took that final!
6 Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. 7 People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. 8 They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.
We know that doubt is often a gateway to learning, so what James may be suggesting is that we are not supposed to get stuck in our doubts. We should never doubt that God will answer us if we seek him. When our questioning minds lead us to further inquiry and wisdom-seeking, we come through it better prepared to understand. But stubbornly remaining in doubt can result in tossing and turning and never moving forward in our understanding.
Are you caught in a sea of doubt? Are you unsure of your faith? Does the idea of being tested in your relationship with God bring you anxiety? James invites us to persevere in our pursuit of wisdom as we grow in our knowledge of who we are, and Whose we are.
We are the children of God…of that, we can be sure. The rest will sort itself out if we continue to study and learn.
And guess what? You’ve already passed your finals…Jesus took them on your behalf.