Mission, Life, Leadership

What If the Real Test Isn’t the Final You’re Preparing For?

It’s finals season. Libraries are packed, and stress weighs heavy in the air as students anticipate what grades they will receive and what they could mean for the future. Sound familiar?

Semester after semester, this cycle repeats. But what if this mindset is completely wrong? What if the real test isn’t the exam you’re preparing for, but the preparation itself?

Sound crazy? Keep reading.

The Parable of the Talents

How should we prepare for finals? The answer is in the Parable of the Talents (see Matthew 25:14-30), in which a master entrusts three servants with a certain amount of talents (an ancient unit of currency): five talents, two talents and one talent respectively. While the master is away, the servant with five talents trades with his talents and earns five more; the servant with two talents earns two more; and the servant with one talent digs a hole in the ground and hides his master’s talent. When the master returns, he commends the servants who increased their talents and criticizes the servant who failed to put his talent to good use.

While this is a well-known parable, we often miss one of the main points. Normally we focus on the difference between the servants who put their master’s money to good use and the servant who didn’t. What we miss is the end result for the two servants who used their talents wisely.

Look at it closely. The servant who started with five talents and wound up with ten is told, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” The servant who started with two talents and ended with four gets the exact same praise — even though he ends up with less than half the amount as the first servant!

In our culture, that should blow your mind. It’s like saying a college football team with a 10 – 2 record is equal to one with a 4 – 8 record. It simply doesn’t make sense. But that’s because God isn’t concerned about results. He’s concerned about forming our hearts.

What does this mean for finals?

What does this mean for finals? Simple: The results don’t matter. Instead, focus on honoring God in the process of studying and then trust that God will honor the results, no matter what they are. Remember, “[i]t is the Lord Christ you are serving…not human masters” (Colossians 3:23) — in other words, not your professors, future employers, grad schools or egos.

But hold on a second: Before you take this as an excuse to close up the books, kick back and just trust God to hike your GPA, Colossians 3:23 also reminds us that “[w]hatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” We’re called to work hard. Even the two-talent servant was expected to double his gifts. At the same time, we’re also not meant to stress about the results.

So, if you’re a “two-talent” at organic chemistry, honor God fully with your preparation even if your grade results in something less than an A. If you’re a “five-talent” at organic chemistry (if that is even possible!), also honor God fully with your preparation even if you are confident you’ll ace the final exam.

Why is developing this mindset so important?

I know this isn’t easy. It’s hard for me to break out of the belief that I need to be “successful” as the world deems it. But this lesson is so critical because it doesn’t just apply to finals, but to grad schools, jobs, internships — even marriage and parenting. In every aspect of your life, honor God in the process and trust Him in the results.

Learning this lesson also frees you to be a light to your fellow classmates who are stressing out about their grades and what they could mean. You’re an oasis of peace because your grades don’t define you. You aren’t your GPA: You are a beloved child of God.

So — whatever the subject, whether you’re a “two-talent” or a “five-talent” — serve God in your preparation. Trust that, as you head home after finals are over, He will be saying to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…come, share your master’s joy!”

Have a blessed finals season!