Leaving Behind A "Checklist" Faith
I made a to-do list yesterday of all of the things I have to write, create and do over the next couple of months in the midst of a couple of weeks of vacation, short trips, meetings, events and the like. It's a long list. It takes up a whole page at least.
I made the list because I realized I needed something to help me keep all my tasks organized in such a way that I could begin to work ahead some, and to mark and measure my overall progress. I completed and checked off six tasks yesterday. There are 36 more to go.
At some point I will finally reach the end, and cross off the last task--for this list. I just now realized I probably need to make a new list for October and November, because those months are bound to be just as busy as August and September. Oh, and then there's December... probably going to need a new list just for December.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining in the least. There's a lesson in this that is invaluable for those of us who want to follow Christ more intentionally and fully.
You see, in so many aspects of our life we need lists, we need to be able to mark our progress, to show that we are getting things done. And honestly, it feels kind of good to check the tasks off of those lists, doesn't it?
But when it comes to following Jesus, the "rules" are a bit different. Following Jesus isn't an exercise in checking off boxes.
I used to think differently, to be honest. For much of my early life I had the impression that being a Christian was all about the checklists.
Sinner's Prayer: check. Baptism: check. No "rock-n-roll" music: check. Church attendance: check. No "hanky panky:" check. No booze or cigarettes: check. No hanging out with sinners: check. Bible reading: check. Pray: check. Get right with God once a month: check.
There's a certain sense of smugness, feeling of superiority that creeps over you when you think you've got all of those boxes checked on your Christian "to-do" list. I know, because I've felt it before.
In Jesus' first century Jewish context there was a group of people who spent a lot of time worrying about checklists when it came to their faith. These people were known as Pharisees-- a name that has become synonymous with a "holier-than-thou", hyper-critical, exclusive and hypocritical kind of faith.
Once, Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee who was checking "pray conspicuously in public" off of his list, which apparently the Pharisees were kind of known to do:
What Jesus taught was that God has little use for our checklists--God desires a broken, contrite and humble heart. And when our hearts are broken over the things that break the heart of God... when we humble ourselves to God's will and not our own... when we realize that we simply need God and not a checklist that we think will get us to God...
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” - Luke 18:9-14
That's when everything changes for us.
May you set aside your faith checklist today and every day. May you spend your time desiring God, seeking God, realizing your need for God. May this desire, search and realization enable you to embrace disciplines and attitudes that connect you with God in fresh new ways.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.