Advice for students in exam season

It's that time of year again, so here are three articles to help those of you who are revising, and those of you who should be:
  1. A guide to doing more than just surviving/passing exams
  2. Practical suggestions from students on how to do this
  3. Does believing in God give Christians a get-out to explain away tough times?

A guide to doing more than just surviving/passing exams

You probably just want to get through the next few weeks, don’t you? Don’t fail, don’t go crazy – that’s the limit of most people’s ambitions for this time of year. I want you to do those things, of course, but I believe that God wants to use this time for more than that. Because He’s our loving Father, He is excellent at helping us through tough times and using those times for good. Here’s how...

I’d love for Romans 8:35-39 to dominate your thinking during exam season. It’s always true but this time of year its wonder can be even brighter in your life.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Here are two things to learn from that passage:
  1. You can’t fail being loved by God. This is a celebration of how impossible it is to be separated from God’s love. Despite all the difficulties described (many of which are worse than exams), Paul is emphatic that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Let the peace of this stay in your heart, remind yourself of it frequently and thank God that the settled intention of His heart is to love you, whatever is going on and however well or otherwise you are doing.
  2. You can do more than just survive this. Paul doesn’t say, “in all these things we will just about scrape through.” Why not? Because there’s a mighty and loving God involved: “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” This takes us from a survival mindset (“Just let me pass!”) to a victory mindset. More than conquering means not just surviving or defeating the situation but actually turning it to our advantage. (There’s a longer explanation of this point here.) God can take this very thing you’re most apprehensive about and use it to bring more peace to your life, and even use it to share His love with your friends who don’t know Him. There is nothing that His hands can’t turn to good. As you ask Him to do this, and co-operate with Him as He leads you, you’ll discover the truth of this.
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

Practical suggestions from student small group leaders at King's on how to do more than survive

  • Rest is important, 1. Take time off each day, you can’t focus on work without a good break. Sharing a meal with others achieves three things you need at once: rest, food, company.
  • Rest is important, 2. Get the sleep you need. Going to sleep and waking up at regular times helps most people.
  • Rest is important, 3. God says we should take one day off every week, Sundays are a good shout for this.
  • Know what time of day you are able to work the most efficiently. If you are a morning person, wake up early and get cracking. If you are an owl, work in the evenings. There’s no point trying to work at a time when you know you won’t.
  • Stay aware of the mission God has called you to and don’t let your ‘shadow mission’ have power over your life.
  • Keep going to small group and Sunday morning meetings: you’ll get blessed and refreshed there, and be able to help others too.
  • Think mission, 1. Invite someone to the Study Space at our building.
  • Think mission, 2. Offer to pray for someone who shares their struggles with you.
  • Tithe your time: give the first of your time to God, then work out the rest of your timetable.
  • Fresh air often helps you to refocus: go for a run, or a walk, or just stand outside for a while!
  • A healthy body gives you a healthy mind so do some exercise alongside eating well and staying hydrated.
  • Pray before you work and during work when it gets hard. Time with the Prince of Peace can give you proper perspective.
  • Give yourself treats to aim towards as motivation, for example checking social media and having a piece of cake after an hour’s work.
  • Start revising in small amounts way before your exam, when you’ll be able to take good breaks and have fun at the same time. That should save you from cramming and not seeing the light of day for a week.
  • Everything we do can be worship to God, including revision: “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Does believing in God give Christians a get-out to explain away tough times?

I was recently asked if believing in God is a psychological “get-out” for Christian students to explain away tough times, such as exam season. When things don’t go as we expect, do we just thoughtlessly say, “Well this must have been God’s plan” and carry on regardless? Here’s my reply...

I think that one of the big challenges of Christianity for very competent people (as lots of Edinburgh students are) is that the gospel says you need help. In fact you're desperate for it. The difference between Christians and some other people is that we’ve realised this. Human pride says that we don't need God: Jesus dying on a cross for us and sending us His empowering Spirit says otherwise. To be a Christian, therefore, is to have a hope outside of yourself.

I agree that Christians can sometimes use God as a get-out clause wrongly, when they casually assume that whatever they do, He will sort them out - a bit like an excellent butler. They can also seem to think that God has “a plan” which involves great things happening to them all the time. However, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified [i.e. be made more like Jesus]” - and that process can involve a lot of hardship! The Bible is full of stories of people whose lives didn’t go as they expected but who discovered God’s power at work in and through them despite this. This is encouraging. It also tells us that some people ruined their lives by rebelling against God. That is a warning.

Romans 8:28 famously says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good...” If you keep reading to verses 29 and 30 you’ll see that Paul's logic is this: if God has been good to us at all other times in history, surely He is being good to us today. That means He can take even massive mistakes, or disasters, and use them for good. He is a Redeemer, which means He specialises in turning ashes into beauty. This is our hope.

So you should work hard at your revision, but you can do so with the security that whether you pass or fail, you belong to God: “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).