Whether school winds up being in-person or virtual this year, there is no denying that summer is coming to a close. And with the fall come all the stresses (old and new) of studying. As we cling to the last vestiges of summer, let’s consider one of the biggest stressors of school: grades.
As students, we are under constant pressure to get good grades. If we fail this class, we won’t be able to graduate. If we flunk this test, the teacher will think we are stupid. If we get an A on this assignment, we’ll earn our parents’ approval.
This pressure can be external—parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. Sometimes, our siblings put pressure on us unknowingly. When you know your older brother excelled in his algebra class and you’re struggling to get a D, the pressure of comparison is overwhelming.
Often, the pressure we are feeling is self-imposed. Most of the pressure I feel to get good grades comes from myself. I’ve been a straight-A student for as long as I can remember (let’s not talk about that anatomy test). I continually push myself to get an A on every assignment.
I didn’t see a problem with that desire until taking a Bible quiz for college last spring. I missed two questions, and because this class gave the option of taking the quizzes more than once, I did it again. I only missed one.
I remember getting frustrated and was just about to click the “retry” button when it occurred to me. It was just a two-point difference. Did it really matter that I missed one question?
My pride said, yes, it really, really mattered.
Don’t get me wrong, desire for success is good. Doing your best in everything you do is admirable, and biblical. The problem comes when success becomes an idol.
What is an idol?
There’s a song called “Clear the Stage” by Jimmy Needham. While I don’t necessarily agree with all the lyrics, part of the bridge clearly defines idols: “Anything I put before my God is an idol.” Anything we make more important than God in our lives is an idol. This includes good things like family, school, writing, music, sports, friendships, etc. If you put it before God, it becomes an idol.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” God must be first, everything else second.
If our drive and desire is simply to get good grades because it makes us feel good or makes us feel superior, our grades have become an idol. We cannot put our identity and value into our grades. Our identity, worth, and success are all found in Christ.
What is success?
True success is living a life pleasing to God. Scripture tells us to obey God and seek to glorify Him in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). This includes schoolwork! We should do our best on our assignments, but for Christ’s glory and honor, not ours.
When I was about to hit that “retry” button for my quiz, I wasn’t seeking to glorify Christ but to satisfy my ego. I wanted to think smugly to myself, “Ha, I got 100 on all my quizzes this semester.” It wasn’t about Him, it was about me.
Paul tells us in Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” We will find true success only when we seek the Lord with all our heart and pursue His honor above our own.
Your value does not come from getting good grades. Our ultimate worth is found in Christ. As Christians, our salvation is secure and nothing we do or don’t do can affect the permanence of it. No matter our grades, God loves us the same. No matter our interests, careers, or degrees we are cherished.
So yes, do your very best this school year. But don’t put your grades before honoring Christ. Spend your time trying to please Him. And every time you start to obsess over success, turn your eyes off yourself and onto your Savior.