For all the flak I’ve given modern education over the years, I have to admit, they’ve got something. My children attend a Christian school where the academic content is traditional, but the methods are shaped by “best practices” and a gentle respect for human development. And I’m so glad.

I went to my fifth grade daughter’s parent-teacher conference yesterday, and her teacher’s approach to educating was so refreshing, I had to pinch myself.

Her teacher shows me her most recent math test. There are lots of marks on the page, but I know what a struggle math is for my daughter, and I know she’s making progress….

But he quickly tells me not to worry, saying, “She actually made the same mistake over and over, and so I’m going to reteach the concept to her and let her redo it. But you’ll see she did a lot right.” Earlier this year he told me that a bad test result was not a mark against the student, but was information for the teacher. It showed the teacher where he needed to explain more or better.

Really? Since when? When I was growing up, a test was the final evaluation. A strike on the paper was a strike against the student. It shouted out, This is who you are. Too bad.

But nowadays, testing is more like a gathering of information on how to move forward, instead of a permanent stamp on how you will never move forward.

My older daughter who studied education tells me it’s a “growth mindset.”

I like that. It doesn’t leave me in the dust. It takes me by the hand.

And it got me thinking. I see the word “test” in the Bible a lot. God tested Abraham. God tested Job. God tested the Israelites. God tested Peter. God tests his people, including me.

But what if God has a growth mindset? What if God’s tests are more about gathering information on where we need to be taught, or retaught, or strengthened? What if they are more about moving forward than about flunking out?

That would be something.

What if God is more like a dedicated teacher than an angry judge toward his children? What if God is gracious?

I read this recently:

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you… And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:18-21

If God is gracious, that changes everything… how I think about the past and how I think about the future.

For this loving Teacher-God revealed in the scriptures causes me stop and reconstruct my many past failures. To see them not as defining moments of Who I’m Not. But as refining moments of Who God is Making Me to Be. Even now I hear His voice running through my stumbling history, gently restoring me, re-teaching me, never giving up on me, and moving me forward from grade to grade.

And this loving Teacher-God gives me courage as I look forward – courage to keep walking, to keep believing, and to keep relying on the Gospel of Grace.

Especially in the tests he gives.


  1. Thank you, Priscilla, for an enlightening article! The type of test you’re talking about is called a “formative assessment,” which gives teachers information about a student to help the teacher adjust the teaching while the learning is happening (as opposed to a “summative assessment”). I’m so thankful that God has a “growth mindset” toward us, and that he “takes us by the hand” as he refines us. Very helpful analogy! 🙂


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