You know how the sermon goes—“Don’t be a checkbox Christian.”
I’ve heard and read this well-meaning advice many times.
Here’s the theory. There’s danger in believing that living by a list, whether on paper or in our minds, will lead us straight to a mansion in heaven with an inground pool and humongous home theater.
Morning prayers? Check.
Read a few verses in my favorite book of scripture? Check.
Went to church on Sunday? Triple check.
Peter, polish up those gates! I’m on my way.
I get it. Avoiding this checklist mentality is great advice if these habits of spiritual obedience are a natural part of your life.
We’re told not to just spit out a prayer to check a box. We should really talk to God. Let him hear us and then allow ourselves to hear him.
We’re taught not to just read a few verses so we can pat ourselves on the back and feel good all day long about nibbling on the word. Instead, we must take the time to feast upon the scriptures. Not because it’s on our to-do lists, but because we’re hungry for more.
We hear that we shouldn’t just attend church so we can call our moms on Sunday night and tell her we were in our usual pews. Of course, we ought to go to church so we can worship and embrace our brothers and sisters who’ve been praying that someone will see them, give them a hug and remind them that God’s love is real.
Yes, we should all aspire to deeper motives and greater spiritual authenticity.
But what if we’re not ready for that?
What if we don’t remember the last time we had a deep conversation with God?
That’s all right. He does.
What if we don’t even know where our Bible is?
That’s all right. He does.
What if we haven’t been to church for so long that we’re not worried whether people see us, we’re worried whether they will recognize us?
That’s all right. He never forgets a face.
It’s certainly true that living by a list does not promise a reunion with God. I believe he wants us doing the right things for the right reasons. But for those of us who have not yet mastered these beautiful habits—and there are many others—we simply have to start somewhere.
So, what’s my advice? Let’s grab a pen. Let’s make a list.
If we haven’t prayed in so long we wonder if he’s listening, say a prayer, check the box and listen.
If our childhood Bible is covered in dust and the pages groan when we wake them up, let’s add reading a verse or two to our lists.
If we haven’t been to church recently, let’s get there this weekend. Then let’s not be afraid to congratulate ourselves! We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.
How about we try the same thing next week and the week after that? Soon, we won’t need a list in our head, on paper or anywhere else. In time our eyes, minds, and hearts will be pointed up instead of down.
Let’s make today the day admit to ourselves that we’re doing much better than we think. And God won’t judge us for doing even better by checking a box or two as we build habits.
Finally, if we hear someone criticize the notion of checkbox Christianity, let’s all pull our lists out and tell them we’re happily on our way. Then let’s thank them for loving us and let’s work hard to love them back.
Love. Yes. Let’s all add that to the list, too.
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Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author, columnist, and speaker. His newest book “A Letter to Mary: The Savior's Loving Letter to His Mother" is now available for preorder on Amazon. Subscribe to his weekly columns, join him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.