December of 2020 is not only a time to eagerly await turning the calendar, this is the opportunity to take our final exam. How have we conducted our lives, and how will we prepare for the coming days ahead?
It is worth noting Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t include final exams in the lyrics of “My Favorite Things.” I endured examinations as a student, often murmuring along with fellow students about the lack of their necessity. During my brief tenure as an adjunct college professor, I found them equally painful.
However, life evaluations and examinations are profitable. Scripture encourages us toward self-examination. Paul described the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity for believers to examine themselves (1 Cor 11:23-28 NASB). In his second letter to Corinthian believers Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5 NASB)
In the spirit of healthy self-examination, we offer our version of a 2020 final examination. Our limited exam proposes six questions focusing on the motives driving our life and the actions flowing from these motives.
Have I (we) pursued God passionately?
We believe this question cannot be answered in a checklist of our faithfulness in church attendance or daily private time. Both are important, but our question probes a bit deeper. Why are we practicing spiritual disciplines? Are we pursuing God, or are we pursuing God’s blessing?
The distinction may be seen through two Old Testament passages, 1 Samuel 13:14 and Psalms 37:4. Both passages offer great promises. When the Lord sought a man after his own heart, he appointed him as a ruler over his people. The Psalmist declared that God gives the desires of the heart to the one whose delight is in the Lord. If our motivating drive is for God to give us our desires or expand our territory, we believe we have wandered down a dangerous path. Our goal must be God himself! When God is our delight, he will give us himself. Nothing can compare!
Have I (we) shared generously?
Generosity is a virtue to be identified and pursued in and of itself. True generosity permeates all of life, it is not limited to finances. Once again, Scripture offers great promise to those who share life’s blessings with others. Malachi 3:10 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 offer examples of the blessings that flow to those who are generous. However, true generosity is not the practice of a bargain we attempt to strike with God. True generosity is not a quid pro quo, where we await an accounting of how much more we have received than we have given. Have we given generously? If not, how will we move in that direction?
Have I (we) spent frugally?
Here, 2020 final exam moves into more practical questions. This question simply requires us to look into our financial balance sheet. Have we reduced our indebtedness this year, or have we increased our credit card balance? Is our lifestyle creating or relieving financial stress? Have we differentiated between our family needs and wants? Have we passed along this information to our children and grandchildren, or have we relied upon them to learn solely by osmosis?
Have I (we) planned prudently?
In this question, we turn to our plans for the future. Have we increased the balance in our emergency fund and our retirement fund? If not, will we commit to changing our finances now? Have we adequately assessed and addressed our family needs if something should happen to us? Do we have adequate life insurance, health insurance, auto coverage, and homeowner’s insurance? Is our will in place, and is it up to date? These practical questions are vital. They are, too often, ignored.
Have I (we) engaged our career energetically?
Are we contributing to a positive environment where we work, or are we a source of complaining about a supervisor or work environment? Are we seeking to grow on the job? Do we artlessly put in our time? Are we developing our skills, making ourselves more valuable to our employer, ourselves, and our family? We do not encourage anyone to ignore issues of sexism, racism, or a toxic environment. We do hope to address how issues are approached. If we are striving to seek personal growth, increased productivity, and positive solutions to issues, life generally moves in a positive direction.
Have I (we) stewarded our lives deliberately?
Have we cared for ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually this year? Are we getting proper rest and exercise? Are we eating a balanced diet, or do we grab food on the go? Are we engaging in our hobbies in a healthy manner? Have we ignored time off and time away from work due to the vagaries of 2020? This has been a challenging year for everyone, more challenging than any in remembrance. Work furloughs, office stress, and how we have handled them have often left us with a bit more weight and more stress than we intended.
Our exam is self-graded, so it demands brutal honesty. If we find ourselves needing change, will we embrace change? Changing nothing and hoping for the best is not a suitable solution. We are as weary of the ups and downs of 2020 as anyone. Let’s do our best to make 2021 a more predictable year.