You made it! The Summer Study is over, the Qualifying Test is behind you, and by now you’ve received your ranking, and along with it, either the thrilling news that you’ve qualified for the National Competition…or the disappointing and sometimes crushing news that you did not.
I personally have been in both of those shoes and so has alumna Julianne Wilkerson. Having participated in the National Bible Bee for 6 years, Julianne joins us today to share some of her story and some of the things the Lord has taught her through the times she did qualify, and the times she did not.
Julianne, thank you so much for being willing to share with us today! A couple of practical questions to begin with… I know it can be difficult sometimes to transition to the Fall after spending over three months doing the Summer Study—regardless of qualifying status. So would you mind explaining a bit of what life usually looked like for you after the Summer Study in the years that you qualified or were an alternate for Nationals, versus the years when you did not?
“Of course! The years when I qualified for Nationals, I was both very busy and very filled with the joy and wonder of being in the Word of God for so many hours. In some ways, the days were about fitting in everything that I needed to do, from school, to gardening, to spending time with my family, to studying the Nationals study passage, to memory work; but in other ways, the days were filled with working towards the wonderful time when I could just memorize. I would do my schoolwork and such in the morning and early afternoon, then the study passage, and then dinner and family devotions. After this, I would sit down in a quiet corner and begin to memorize. I was able to continue to memorize and meditate on the Word late into the night, as my family slept, and this was my favorite time. I would become so excited about the treasures I was learning, that I would have trouble just stopping to go to bed. This time, while one of the busiest in my life, was a blessing in that I learned the value of being alone with the LORD and walking with Him with a purpose.
The years when I did not qualify for Nationals, I had to learn to be ok with that. The thing that I learned through this experience is that if God didn’t have me qualify, He must have a reason. In 2020, my older brother qualified and I did not, by less than 1% point. This was hard on me at the time, because … why? Now looking back, I see how God used that year tremendously in his spiritual growth while I was able to do a lot of the work for a ministry he and I were doing in our backyard at the time.
Additionally, any year I did not qualify, I was able to focus that much more on doing things with my family and working on my school.”
You mention being able to focus more on school when you did not qualify. How about when you did? How were you able to balance school and other work with NBB studying?
“The trick for me is that I will only learn something if either I see the practical value in it or I am passionate about it. If I don’t have one or both of these motivations, it is really hard to make it stick in my brain. Thus, I used my passion and excitement about doing the National Bible Bee studying to motivate me to do my school to the best of my abilities. Because if I didn’t do my school, (and focus while I was doing it!), I was going to have to do some of it again the next day, and that would impact my NBB time on both days.”
Recognizing and harnessing the ways we can motivate ourselves is so helpful! So back to what you said about when you didn’t qualify, how you were able to do more other things with your family. In practice, what would that look like for you? What would be some examples of what your day-to-day life would look like with either situation—qualifying or not?
“The difference would be, I think, where my focus was academically and how free I was to do little extra things, like whop my siblings at Catan or go swimming. However, many things are the same whether I qualified or not. Having a daily time where I was just reading the Bible and praying, not even a NBB passage specifically, was key to how well the rest of my day went and my ability to handle stress. Another thing that stayed the same was being there for my family. Some really hard things happened in those different years, both when I was in Nationals and when I was not, and my family was and is always going to be at the top of my list. These are the people that God gave to me, for us to live with and love and take care of one another. Thus, time spent with them is a key part of my day.”
That is so crucial to our lives as part of the family that God has given us—prioritizing and developing our relationships with them. Along those same lines, how did you keep your focus correct and fixed on the true prize in the years when you had qualified and were studying like crazy?
“Keeping your focus correct is admittedly a big struggle. Hebrews 12:2 says “Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” As this verse shows, my whole aim and goal in all of life, NBB or no, is to keep my eyes on Jesus. Not only on Him or His life as a whole, but how Jesus was willing to lay down His life on the cross for me. And since He not only began to follow the Father and do His Will, but also finished the Father’s perfect Will for His life and His death, I can do these things as well. If my eyes are on Jesus, and I live not to do my will but God’s, then I have nothing to worry about. So anytime I would be discouraged, or overwhelmed with things to do, or lose sight of Who I was doing it for … this verse would serve as an admonition to me to bring back my focus to Jesus.
The reason for Nationals is not the prize money. It is not the socialization. It’s not the number of verses you can memorize. It’s not how smart you are. The whole purpose is this: To Know God’s Word, and to Make Him Known. Knowing God’s Word is not about head knowledge or perfect recitations. It’s about having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh. And then, it’s telling others what knowing Jesus really means. This is why the Father has left us here on earth … to “Go ye therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son , and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Amen! Praise the Lord that we can each seek to do this regardless of how well we do in any competition! In closing, could you share part of your story from your last year participating in the National Bible Bee?
“In my last year (2022), I couldn’t imagine not qualifying. If you’re counting placing 125 in 2020, which would have been an alternate in any other year, then I had qualified four years in a row. However, a place I was taking college credit through messaged me in June that the last date I could take any tests through them to receive credit would be August 21st. This meant I spent my summer learning Organizational Learning and Principles of Finance and not as much of the book of Ruth as I would have loved to. When it came time for the qualifying test, I had done all of the Discovery Journal and reread it, done several practice tests, and studied the Cross References the way I normally would, but only a couple of times through. I was nervous, to say the least, but I had a strange peace. If God wanted me to qualify, He could make that happen. He’s sovereign. I basically prayed and left it up to God. I knew my amount of studying didn’t necessarily merit qualifying, but with God all things are possible. And if it wasn’t what He wanted, I’d just have to roll with it.
The week the scores are released is always my birthday week. Every year I qualified, I found out on the 18th of August, between 6 and 6:30 pm, the very time I was born. However, this year it was the 19th of August, and I was way nervous. When, (finally!), the scores were released, I was thrilled to hear that both of my little brothers had qualified for the first time. However, I did not. I believe that God worked it out so that I would be able to be encouraged by the fact that they were competing, and free enough to help them study. All that I and my older brother had ever learned about NBB went into play this year. It was such a blessing to watch them learn and grow in Scripture, and to get to help just a little with that process. While it’s heartbreaking to lose your last opportunity, believe me, God had a reason. Not only was I able to help my siblings with their NBB studying, I was able to fully devote myself to my school. I did a little over 40 credits of college work from September-June, and now I have graduated with my Bachelors in Business. This time, while I would have loved to spend it on Nationals, was not wasted. God has His reasons for every little thing, whether we comprehend them or not, and watching Him fit the little pieces together into a beautiful tapestry is one of my favorite things to do.
So whether you have qualified this year or not, God is in it. He has a plan and a purpose, and He will work it out for good in the long-run. And yes, it’s hard, but praise the Lord for each season! Going through the fire is how we will become refined and perfected for God’s service.”
Praise the Lord for the ways He has worked in your life and will work in all of ours as well. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Julianne! Your testimony is such a blessing to me, and I pray it is to others as well. May we all make it our aim, no matter what, to know and glorify our God who is perfectly sovereign and the giver of perfect peace, and may we find our true reward in His presence!