Each year it is the same. Four months invested into impressing habits - "don't talk in the hallway", "walk on the red line", "close the door, please", "get the trash off the floor", "bring a pencil to class" - are washed away in two short weeks at Christmas break. Now, those who know me best, or really at all, know that I am the last person to preach the gospel of routine, but I see and understand the importance of structure, discipline, and most importantly, rules.
Whether you're starting a new job, learning a new game, or attending a new semester of college, the first and most necessary thing you need to understand are the rules. It is the agreed upon way the collective will operate. Without rules, there is chaos, anarchy, and purposelessness (totally a word - I looked it up!). We may not always agree with the rules, but whether we admit it or not, we all are looking for rules to govern our experiences because the right rules, procedures, and routine, provide purpose, direction, safety, and value to each and every experience we have.
This is why the day we come back from Christmas break, I revisit my classroom rules. Before my students walk in I say the exact same thing I say the first day of school. "Welcome, sit anywhere you'd like; don't move the pillows." Secretly, this is the first pre-rule (this one is definitely not a word) I give to find out who my "rule breakers" might be. The next thing I do is remind students of my callback. It teacher terms, a callback is a call-and-response to hit the pause button on class. I countdown from five (5,9,12,4,3,7,1) to one, clap my hands, and smile, expecting my students to do the same; if there is one thing that is done every single day in my class, it is this.
With the help of Shia LeBeouf, I again tell my students to "just do it", just follow the rules and this class will be amazing. They have to trust me; they have to follow; but, I promise I know what is best. Then I passionately convey five simple rules that I feel have a purpose, place, and context far beyond my classroom. The first of these rules: I will be ready.
So much classroom time is wasted on the search for pencils. It would be easy to reprimand a student for this, but like Paul, I am the chief sinner. Some 20 years ago during my time as a sixth grader, the phrase most consistently uttered from my mouth was "Hey, can I borrow a pencil?" In middle school vernacular this roughly translates to "Hey, can I lose your pencil, too?" If this didn't work, I would have to waste time searching the floor's boneyard, go back to my previous class, or as a desperate last resort, embarrassingly entreat my teacher. Class didn't stop for me, and many times it left me furiously catching up on note-taking (back before you could just press a share button) or simply lost.
Jesus gives a parable for the unprepared in Matthew 25. Instead of children looking for pencils, he tells the tale of ten virgins who headed to an evening wedding feast. Five come prepared, bringing enough oil to last the night's long journey, (or undoubtedly wait on the bridal party to take pictures), but the remaining five didn't bring enough oil from their lamps. They implored the prepared portion of the party, but to no avail; they only had enough for themselves. The ill-equipped five are left to backtrack to the previous town to make a purchase. By the time they have made themselves ready to revel in the celebration of the friends and family, it is too late. Every one, including the five prepared traveling companions, is celebrating without them. They are not recognized by the one standing at the door, and ultimately and disappointingly turned away.
Pencil and oil are such trivial things, yet they foreshadow a much larger story. When you become unfaithful to caring for these items, you are signaling you haven't made any preparations for the important happenings in the near future. In a similar way we neglect the "little things" that collectively make up our spiritual lives and disciplines. Have you laid your day before you, praising God, praying for provision, asking to be led away from temptation, and for him to guide and direct your path (Matt 6:9-13)? If not, you are not ready. Have you spent time with a devotion or reading that you can use to edify, encourage, or to give an answer for the hope you have (1 Pet 3:15)? If not, you are not ready. Are you investing the talents that God has given you - your effort, your time, or your money - into glorifying His kingdom (Matt 25:14-30)? If not, you are not ready. Are you living with urgency in your actions and your words because his Kingdom is coming soon (Rev 22:12)? If not, you are not ready.
Did the five virgins not want to dance, feast, and celebrate? Doubt it. Do my students want to be behind in class? (maybe, but) Doubt it. Do we want to miss out on the Kingdom of God? Doubt it (seriously). Yet to be ready we must make daily preparations in our actions, not simply profess our faith. Desire is not enough. Daily renewal (Rom 12:2), preparation (Prov 16:1-3), and sacrifice (Luke 9:24) make us ready for the moment whenever it comes. Don't be caught unprepared, wasting key moments searching for things you should already have. Bring your pencil. Bring your oil. Bring His word wherever you go. Be ready.