Exams. Five letters that turn our blood cold. The pressure to perform. The stresses of revision and all night library sessions. The constant fear of sleeping in and turning up with no trousers on… (Erm, maybe that’s just me?)
When exams come around, everything else gets put on hold. Our friends don’t have time to come to events, or read Uncover. And if we’re honest, telling other people about eternal life just isn’t our priority when exams are looming and coursework is due.
But Jesus has good news for us in the stresses of our lives, a radical message that reshapes our revision and reorders our priorities.
In 1 Peter 1:3–4, Peter reminds us of the new identity we have as Christians:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
We who once were far off have been brought into God’s family. We’re adopted as his children, given a whole new identity and a right to call God “Father”. This new identity is based on Jesus, not what we do, so it’s true every day, whether exams or holidays. We don’t define ourselves by our exam results or how well we’ve kept our revision schedule.
This new identity brings new privileges: hope and inheritance. One of the scariest things about exams is that if we don’t get the result we want, our future plans are jeopardised and dreams taken away. But Jesus offers us a hope that’s secure and inheritance that can’t be taken away by failing an exam. Our standing before the Father is based entirely on a test that’s already been passed with flying colours, proven by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Our new identity also brings a new lifestyle. We’re set free from working to define who we are, and given an new commission: “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
So how can we keep reaching out with the gospel during the busyness and stresses of exams? Peter’s answer is simple: living lives so full of hope (1:13, 2:12) that others will ask us about the hope we now have (3:15).
Here are three big tips for living lives of hope during exams, as we pray for opportunties for examgelism:
1. Study hard
An obvious way we can display the hope we have is in our attitude to our studies. As God’s children, we’re commanded: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters’. Because our performance doesn’t define us anymore, we’re set free to enjoy our studies, even amidst the frustrations. It can be easy to grumble and groan along with our coursemates, but our new attitude should be one of thanksgiving to our Father, that we get to learn more about his world and shape the mind he has given us.
2. Keep doing the usual stuff
In our determination to study hard, it can be tempting to change all our priorities when exams come around. But the security of our new identity gives us a steadiness in priorities. God’s commands for us to spend time in his Word (see Psalm 1), prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and going to church (Hebrews 10:25) continue, and we’d be fools to neglect these blood-bought privileges for the sake of a few extra marks! Meeting with Jesus is our greatest priority and greatest privilege, no matter how busy we are.
3. Rest well and set boundaries
Because our new identity has been accomplished by Jesus, we’ve got nothing left to add and can rest in his finished work for us. We can demonstrate that sure and certain hope by setting boundaries on our studies and continuing to make time for rest and refreshing activities. Setting boundaries may mean taking a day off a week to remind ourselves of our greater spiritual rest, or may just be making time to go for a run or catch up with a friend over coffee. Very few of us can do more than 8–10 hours of useful, productive study per day, so planning time for other things needn’t cost us our best in studying. Resting doesn’t just mean binge-watching Netflix, but putting our normal work aside to serve God, others and ourselves. As we show in our timetables that we have a greater hope than our exam grades, friends are bound to ask us why.
When I was a first year student, the head of the college sent a letter round telling us not to get too stressed about our exams. In ten years time, he told us, we’d neither remember nor care about the grades we got.
The exams seemed big at the time, bigger than anything I’d ever done before. How could I ever forget? But he was right. A few years later, I can’t remember how I did. Those grades have faded. But I’m looking forward to an inheritance that never will.
Eleanor Kain is a former Relay Worker with Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and Andy Holt is a Staff Worker with Christian Unions in Aberdeen. They've shared their top tips with us on living and speaking for Jesus during exams.