Have You Checked With Jesus?
As a youth pastor, students who spend any amount of time with me will inevitably hear me say that I believe self-assessment is a spiritual discipline. It becomes far too easy to become complacent in our own relationships with Jesus. We go to church, read our Bibles, find a routine, get stuck in a rut and don't realize that while we think we are good we really aren't.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about sin, about being bad. (Though sin can creep in.)
You don't have to be BAD to not be GOOD.
This isn't about losing our salvation after all, its about a personal relationship that is lacking...or dying. Because that's what Christianity truly is, not religion but relationship. I am not just a church-goer. I am, or at least want to be, a Jesus-follower.
Following Jesus isn't always easy and sometimes we stop following Him and don't realize it. We were walking with Him, hand in hand. Then, one day, we look up and our hands are at our sides and we've sat down along the road (or ran ahead). There is now distance between us and Jesus and how much depends on a lot of things, but is any distance between us and Him okay? I want to stay close and if I'm not it isn't because Jesus pushed me away.
Staying close to Jesus means paying attention.
Those same students who will tell you I talk about self assessment will also tell you it usually comes before or after me telling them that we shouldn't assume us and Jesus are okay until we have asked Jesus.
The assessment of our personal relationship with Christ isn't a question we answer, but rather one we ask Him.
Maybe it's not just one question, but many. Here are some to start with.
1. What am I withholding from Jesus?
We all want to give it all to God but there are times fear and doubt or even selfishness keep us holding tightly to certain areas of our lives. We don't trust God with certain sections of us or we don't want to change certain things so we keep them in our own hands. But God wants all of us, holding back a piece of ourselves from Him only keeps us at a distance.
Let go of those areas. God can be trusted with all the parts of you.
2. What have I entombed?
In the story of Lazarus, Jesus seemingly gets there a couple days too late. Lazarus's sisters are understandably frustrated and broken. They tell Jesus if He had been there, their brother wouldn't be dead. We tend to look at their words with a little bit of judgement because we know the end of that story, but they didn't. Too often we offer God the same attitude without even realizing it.
Something happened, we were hurt in some way and God didn't sweep in to the rescue like we wanted Him to. He didn't fix things like we think He should have, or we can't see His goodness in our pain and so we take that hurt and seal it behind a stone in our heart. The rest of us goes on like nothing is wrong but that piece is dying and the stench of death will leak out to the rest of our soul until we find ourselves at a distance from God because of anger, bitterness, or resentment toward others or even Him.
God is standing outside that entombed place calling out to us, ready to heal. Let Him.
3. Where have I been looking?
Comparison is a dangerous game. It gets us looking at others rather than at Jesus.
After all, my ultimate goal, whether I will ever reach it or not, isn't to be like the best Christian in my church, it's to be like Jesus.
But if I can see where I am better than so-and-so I feel better about my own shortcomings.
Matthew chapter 7:3-5 basically tells us to stop it. I get that it can be appealing to point out all the little bits of sawdust in someone else and miss the whole plank in our own lives. It gives us a false sense of accomplishment. We can forget for the moment that we aren't as close as we used to be because we don't seem as far away from Jesus as our neighbor. But our perception is flawed and we are missing opportunities for our own spiritual growth by settling for just better than them rather than seeking all of God. Don't be so busy worrying (or judging) others and their view of Jesus that you lose sight of Him yourself.
The flip-side of this is equally dangerous. We get our eyes on other Christians. We see how passionate they are, how deep their relationship appears, how much they seem to have it all together and we feel like we will never be like them. Without realizing it we pause in our own walk with God feeling like He could never love us the way He must love them. We see ourselves as disappointments to the Maker so we pull back from Him.
Jesus isn't comparing you to anyone else. He will never ask you to be more like them, only to try your best to be more like Him. (In the words of my mentor, it isn't about perfection but direction, so be okay with being imperfect as long as you are keeping your eyes on Him.)
4. Have I mistaken busy for better?
As a person who's vocation is pastoral ministry I can struggle with this a lot, but it applies to all of us. We mistake ministry for personal relationship. Don't get me wrong, ministry is important and we are all called to it in some way. We should be sharing the Gospel. I think serving in your local church or volunteering in outreach and missions is so important. But those things should not and can not replace your one-on-one time with God.
We can't get so caught up in attendance and small group leading and worship team singing, and all those other good things that we forget to open our Bibles and get on our knees daily. My nephew has said, "the devil doesn't need to make you bad if He can make you busy." Understand, the enemy is fine with you being busy with church stuff as long as you don't realize that you sat down in your personal walk with God. He doesn't need you to stop being a christian as long as he can get you to be a lazy one. I mean no disrespect, but for most of us, myself included, we work really hard at jobs and even at serving but we get real lazy when it comes to the daily work of this us and Jesus relationship. Why? Because we tell ourselves that it's ok but it isn't. It's good, but it isn't all that we need. Eventually it will no longer even be good. That area of ministry where we were once so fulfilled will become a place of misery because we left Jesus behind. We will get burned out on the thing we once loved.
Maybe there are more questions. I guess the point of all of this is to ask them. I can only tell you to start with Jesus. Stop assuming that everything is okay, that you are exactly where you should be and doing what you should do and ask Him. Don't get fooled by good and assume that it equals God. Don't let comfort keep you from all that God wants for you. I know giving Him everything can be scary. I know forgiveness can be difficult. I know it can be uncomfortable to deal with our own failings. I know setting the right daily habits isn't going to be easy. It will all be worth it.