I recently preached a message that talked about living a life of checklist Christianity: the idea that we can somehow achieve what God has asked and required of us simply by living according to a checklist of religious activity.
Some of these checklist items include going to church once in a while (or even every week), giving some money to charity (or even being a faithful giver), helping with ministry in the local church (or even teaching a small group each and every week). Each of these things are checklist items that often make their way on to our Christian Checklist.
The idea is simple: if I do these things, or even some of these things, then I am doing "good."
I love to create lists. I use them to keep myself on track and to make sure that tasks are completed. I have even been known to put something on my list, just so I can cross it off and feel good about what I have done. Pathetic? Probably.
My list, however, is not what makes me successful. My list is just a part of what I am doing. I am still capable of completing tasks without the list, and just having the list does not ensure the tasks are completed and completed well. The key is what is happening in my heart and mind. Did I do these things correctly or did I just do them to get them done? Did I give these things my best effort or was my goal to simply cross another item off the list?
Too often, we approach our Christianity as a checklist and our motivation is to simply check things off our list. Did I go to church this month? Yes. Have I given money back to God? Yes. Did I help out with ministry? Yes.
Here's the truth: I went to church once this month, and that was only because I knew that my friends were going to be there and they asked me if I was coming, so I felt stuck. I gave, but it wasn't proportionate to what God has blessed me with. I basically tipped God for his good service. I helped out because I was pressured into doing it. I guess if my kid is going to be involved, I'm going to have to pay my dues somewhere along the line.
Do you see the problem with all of this? None of these actions came out of a desire to serve, to be part of a fellowship, to respond obediently to God, or to give glory to God for what he has done. Proverbs 21:3 says that God is "more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices." The sacrifices we make are still a part of our life: the sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure. But what matters most is doing what is right and living in a way that is glorifying to God.
Here's the kicker: when we are truly doing what is right, seeking God's face for all aspects of our lives, and when we desire to glorify God - to really glorify God - all of these other things become the byproduct of a true follower of Christ. You will desire to be in the fellowship of believers, so coming to church is not a chore, but a blessing. You recognize God's faithfulness in providing abundantly for you and you choose to be obedient in your faithful tithe and offerings. Your desire to minister will be born out of the recognition that God has equipped you to do a greater work.
God wants your life, not just your sacrifice. This is what he is most interested in.