A Gospel Prayer for the Completion of Homework
It’s 2am on a Sunday night. The paper is due first class on Monday morning. Mark sits with his head in his hands, scouring the pages for typos. “What if my arguments aren’t any good?” he thinks to himself. After making several changes, he is exhausted. He turns off the light and starts to make his way to bed to catch a few hours of sleep. He lays there, heart pounding, turning the paper over in his mind. Eventually, unable to sleep, he gets back up to work on it some more. “It’s just not good enough.”
We’ve all been there. Whether you are a student trying to finish a homework assignment, an adult getting ready to do a presentation at the office, or a minister preparing a sermon, we can all be paralyzed by having to turn something in.
Our students live in a world that says that they are defined by their performance. Their day-in and day-out is, even if not intentionally, fueled by competition and merit. But the Gospel is Good News to the heart bound by anxiety. Listen to the words of Jesus.
Who is God?
“Look at the birds of the air,” says Jesus. “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matt. 6:26). In teaching his followers to guard their hearts against anxiety, Jesus points first to the character of God. God is a Father who provides. Birds don’t need to run around worrying themselves about food. They don’t plant food or farm it. They simply know that their food will be there for them. Why? Because God cares enough for the birds, and all the rest of his creation, to provide for them.
When we worry about assignments or anything else, we are demonstrating unbelief in the goodness in God. Rather than relying on Him, trusting that He will care for us, we pore over all the possible outcomes in our minds. Ultimately, Jesus says that worrying can’t add a single hour to our lives, but we do it anyway. Understanding and putting faith in the goodness of God will help us to be less anxious.
Who am I?
But God doesn’t only care for us as if we were any other part of creation. God’s people have a special standing with God that Jesus points to. “Are you not of more value than [birds]?” he asks. The answer is, “Yes!” Students need to understand that, not only is God the Creator and sustainer of all things, but He cares for us especially because we are His children. Students who are in Christ are children of God.
In another illustration in Matthew 6, Jesus talks about his provision for the grass of the field. He uses the argument, “If God clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you?” If God cares for all of creation, how much more he cares for His own children!
As followers of Christ, the cure for anxiety lies, not only in the person of God, but our identity in Jesus. Our identity is not in our job, our family, or our grades. Rather, our identity is held in our relationship with our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. School is based on merit, but in the Gospel, we freely receive the perfect merit of Jesus. While our grades may not all be perfect, our standing before God is perfected in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When students are tempted to put the highest stock on their grades, they will be ridden with anxiety. But in the Gospel they can find rest.
What is it all about?
Not only a right view about God and about ourselves will help with anxiety, but a right view of our lives. Intense anxiety over grades reveals a misunderstanding of the purpose of life. If my life’s purpose is to get good grades, then a bad grade destroys my life.
But if my life has a different, greater purpose than grades I will be less anxious, and more importantly, it will direct me to spend my energy on what is most important.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” In other words, Jesus points us to what our life is truly about. We are called, not to be fixated on our most basic needs like food and clothing, nor by merit or reputation, or anything else. Instead, we need to line our hearts up with the Kingdom of God. Our Father will take care of the rest.
I had coffee with a student not long ago, during which he expressed to me his anxiety over getting everything just right, and the difficulty of putting an assignment to rest. These prayers came out of that conversation. We created a card for our students to help them remember all of this as they enter into and complete assignments.
A prayer for starting homework:
Father of wisdom, you have created me for good works that you prepared for me to walk in before the foundation of the world. In Christ, I have newness of life, your Holy Spirit living within me, and the call to point everything that I produce to your glory. Let me work not for man, but for you. And as I complete the task before me, let me be conformed further to the image of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you. Amen.
A prayer for finishing homework:
Father of glory, I have done this work to the best of my ability. Now I ask that you would allow me to rest, knowing that you are sovereign over all creation, including the outcome of this assignment. Thank you that, while I deal in a world of merit, you freely give me the merit of Christ through his death on the cross. Help me now to stop working, guard me from worry, and help me to rest, knowing that my worth comes first and foremost from who I am in you. Amen.