Can you remember those stressful times of preparing for a test at school? After weeks of attending class, listening the teacher drone on about some topic, reading the textbook and working through questions or equations, next came the test.
I can still vividly recall exam week in college, cramming for one final after another, hoping to absorb and then regurgitate the right answers to earn a good grade. By the time exam week had ended, even without knowing my grades, it felt as if the world’s weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My brain felt like mush, as if I’d squeezed out the last ounces of knowledge.
Recently, however, I was reminded that unlike in academics, everyday life typically operates in reverse fashion.
Tim Kight, a consultant and motivational speaker who can encapsulate important principles about life and work in pithy phrases, recently observed, “Life works backwards. First it gives the test. Then it gives the lesson.”
That’s true. As parents, we teach our children the importance of obedience. We tell them to clean up their rooms, and if they do so, we’ll take them for ice cream. It’s a test. If they do as asked, they get ice cream. If not, visions of sweet frozen treats go unfulfilled. We’re trying to teach them that at every level of life, whether in school, at work, or even when stopped by a police officer, it’s wise to do as we’re told.
These days, some young people seem to think when you start a career, you start at the top – and move up from there. However, in many work situations, new employees are asked to carry out mundane jobs. They might think such tasks are beneath them. “I didn’t go to school to do this!” But this might be a test. If they do the work well and without complaining, the boss might decide they deserve greater responsibility.
In marriage, couples eagerly exchange “I do’s,” but inevitably there comes the day when they think, “I did?” The happily-ever-after phase of being married abruptly ends with a serious argument, a seemingly irresolvable disagreement, or even an act of betrayal. Alas, another test. Do they give up, shouting the oft-fatal words, “I want a divorce!” or do they determine to work through the conflict, whatever it may be, to find reconciliation? The lesson? The only bowl of cherries life hands you is in the supermarket’s produce section.
We see the ”first comes the test, then comes the lesson” throughout in the Bible. In fact, it pops up often the opening book of Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, then says, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). He might as well have said, “This is a test!”
He gave the first humans full run of the idyllic garden with only one caveat: “You see that tree over there, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? That’s off limits. Every other one is yours.” As commentator Paul Harvey used to say, “And now…the rest of the story.”
Adam and Eve decided the all-but-one command wasn’t to their liking. “Who is God to tell us what we can and can’t do?” they thought. So they ate of the tree, succumbing to Satan’s temptation, and we’ve been paying the penalty ever since. God’s lesson was simple: When He makes a command, He’s serious.
In Genesis 16 we read that Abraham (Abram) and his beloved wife, Sarah (Sarai), had been unable to have children. However, in the next chapter the Lord informs them that even though they’re advanced in years, they will indeed become parents together, having a son they were to name Isaac. Hooray!
But in Genesis 22:1-18 we find God giving Abraham a very disconcerting command. “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” What?! Our first reaction is, “How barbaric!” But soon we discover this was another test. The Lord wanted Abraham to demonstrate his trust in Him. He did, and God provided a substitute sacrifice, a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. The lesson: When you put your faith in the Lord, He always keeps His promises.
In Genesis 37-42, we read about Joseph being tested repeatedly. Despite betrayal by his jealous brothers, being sold into slavery in Egypt, and then wrongfully imprisoned, he was ultimately elevated to prominence, second in command only to Pharaoh himself. The lesson? If you remain true to the Lord, He will work through you in ways you could never imagine.
There are many other biblical examples, but I think of impetuous Peter boldly declaring to Jesus Christ, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you” (Matthew 26:35). Curiously, Peter created his own test – one he failed miserably in denying Jesus three times later that same night.
From that tragic test Peter learned how incapable he was in his own strength to carry out the grand work Jesus would assign to him and the other disciples following His crucifixion and resurrection. We see a humble and repentant Peter being reinstated in John 21:15-19 when Jesus says, “Feed my lambs…. Take care of my sheep…. Feed my sheep…. Follow Me!”
These have a moral for us all. Are you going through a test right now, perhaps wondering, “What’s going on? Where is God in this? Why me?” Just remember, He’s most likely trying to teach you something. First comes the test – then comes the lesson.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is email@example.com.