INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

Whenever we read the bible, we are faced with a number of situations closely related to our own. Within the history, stories, songs, poems, wisdom, letters, apocalyptic, etc., we can see people going through the same things that we face.

Oh yes, over the years, time has moved on. And over the years the context has changed. But the everyday issues of our struggle to find purpose and meaning in life—our search for God closely tied with our search to find ourselves and our relationships with other people and the struggles of life—hasn’t changed much at all.

As a consequence, the bible is just as relevant to us today as it was in the days that it was written. Or even before that, when it was passed down by word of mouth from one generation to another.

When we read the pages of the bible we find words of comfort. But we also find challenges. And the two most import challenges are: firstly, to accept God as our lord and saviour; and, secondly, to constantly review our position as we travel along faith’s journey.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the bible—being a hodgepodge of different documents accumulated over the years—it doesn’t necessarily provide us with an easy scheme we can work through to check how we are going. So, what I thought I’d do is to put some kind of checklist together—but based on biblical principles—as a means for us to see just how we are progressing.

So, however inadequate, I’ve come up with fifteen questions. Five questions each regarding our relationship with God, our relationship with other believers, and our relationship with people in general. And I thought we’d see how we go.

[Get people to fill in questionnaire]

A Spiritual Check List

Please indicate a, b or c, as appropriate

A. My Relationship with God

1. Where does God fit into my life?
a). He always comes first
b). It depends upon the occasion
c). He fits in, when I remember

2. How often do I pray to God?
a). Daily
b). Every now and again
c). Only when something goes wrong and I need help

3. How often do I read the bible?
a). Daily
b). Every now and again
c). Rarely

4. How often do I go to God’s church?
a). At least weekly
b). When it suits me
c). Only when I feel the need

5. How much do I give to the work of God’s church?
a). More than I can afford
b). Only what I can afford
c). A small amount only

B. My Relationship with Other Believers

6. Why do I go to church?
a). To worship God, to learn, and to encourage one another in the faith
b). To worship God and to learn
c). For some other reason

7. When I go to church, how much time do I spend with the people?
a). I always make time to talk to others
b). Very little. I usually get to church on time, and leave when the service finishes
c). None. I’m usually late, and leave early

8. How often do I meet with other Christians (apart from church services)?
a). I attend a regular weekly Bible Study/Small Group
b). I meet with others periodically
c). I don’t belong to any small group

9. How do I use my gifts to build up the church?
a). I am very active in using my God given gifts
b). I occasionally use the gifts that God has given
c). I don’t have any gifts to use

10. How much time per week do I spend with other Christians?
a). A lot of time
b). Very little
c). Hardly any

C. My Relationship with People in General

11. Is it obvious to others that I am a Christian?
a). Yes, because of the way I behave
b). Yes, but only because I tell people
c). No

12. What kind of people do I care about?
a). Everyone, without exception
b). Some people
c). My family and friends

13. When I give someone material and emotional support, do I give them spiritual support too?
a). Yes
b). Sometimes
c). No

14. Does my behaviour reflect Christian values?
a). I try to live according to Christian principles
b). I try to live in accordance with the laws of Australia
c). I sometimes stretch the rules, to see what I can get away with

15. Is there anyone I haven’t forgiven?
a). No
b). Yes, but for good reasons
c). Yes, and I refuse to forgive them

A. MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

1. Where does God fit into my life?
a). He always comes first
b). It depends upon the occasion
c). He fits in, when I remember

The most important commandment for Jesus was: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30). In other words, God should be in everything we do—every aspect of our lives.

When we are working out our programme for the week, God comes first—not other people, but God. God should have our priority. When we have to make decisions, either the big decisions like: “who do I marry, buying a home, what kind of lifestyle should I adopt” or even the small decisions, God should be part of all the decisions we make. The emphasis in Jesus’s words about loving God is on the “All.” All our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength. With every part of our being we are to love God, and to include him in everything we think and do.

God isn’t an optional extra. He’s not there only for when we need him. We should include him as the person we love in absolutely everything we do. Indeed, not only should we include him, but what should accept that what he says goes.

2. How often do I pray to God?
a). Daily
b). Every now and again
c). Only when something goes wrong and I need help

Prayer is the act of communicating with God. And how often should we talk to the person we most love? But every day.

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray – he taught them to pray daily. The Lord’s Prayer includes this line: “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Jesus didn’t say talk to God occasionally and ask for help only when you need it. Rather his emphasis was on daily prayer.

And the ingredients of this daily Lord’s Prayer include: Acknowledging who God is; praising God; looking forward to the resurrection of all believers; asking God to supply our needs for the day; asking God for forgiveness for the things we have done wrong; and confirming that we have forgiven others who have wronged us.

Now the importance of prayer—communicating with God—can’t be understated. After all, prayer is not just about us talking to God, it is also about God talking to us. So much so, that the Apostle Paul urged in his letters many times the need to be devoted to prayer (Colossians 4:2).

3. How often do I read the bible?
a). Daily
b). Every now and again
c). Rarely

The words of Paul to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and instructing in righteousness, in order that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Of course, in olden days when literacy rates were low, it was one of the responsibilities of the priests or clergy to read the bible for the benefit of their congregations. When that didn’t happen, disaster struck.

Several times in the Old Testament the scriptures were hidden away or lost, and were obviously no longer read to the people. And on one such occasion when the scriptures were found after some years absence, and subsequently read (2 Kings 22), it became obvious that the people had strayed from God’s ways. People had stopped worshipping God, they had stopped meeting together, they had adopted behaviour and practices totally inappropriate, and they had replaced God with other idols.

Of course, these days with high literacy rates, and easy access to bibles, we have no such excuse. Because if we want to know more about the God we love, if we want to know more about ourselves and what God expects, and if we want to know what exactly it is that God wants us to share with others, why wouldn’t we take the study of the bible very seriously indeed.

4. How often do I go to God’s church?
a). At least weekly
b). When it suits me
c). Only when I feel the need

The fourth of the 10 commandments states: “Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy. You are to labour for six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You are not to do any work—you, your son or daughter, your manservant or maidservant, your animals or any alien living with you. For the LORD created the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, in six days. But on the seventh day he rested. For this reason, the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11).

Having worked in a number of rural communities, I think it’s one of the ironies of life that God gave this command to a group of people who herded sheep, goats and cattle, but had no gates or fences either. There’s an element of trust tied up in this command. The command to stop work one day each week, and to set it aside for the public worship of God.

This is God’s church, not mans, and regular weekly worship is therefore important in our relationship with God. We need to worship the person who should be number one in our lives, and we need to trust in God the things that we leave behind in order to join in worship together.

5. How much do I give to the work of God’s church?
a). More than I can afford
b). Only what I can afford
c). A small amount only

The Old Testament practice of giving was to tithe—to give a tenth of one’s income to the service of God. Of course, in those days you gave a tenth of your crop or a tenth of the new born animals. Nevertheless, from Leviticus we read: “All the tithes of the land, whether from the seed of the land or from the fruit of the trees, belongs to the LORD. It is holy to the LORD.” (Leviticus 27:30)

Now the important thing here isn’t the amount (the tenth). Rather, what is important, is to whom the money was given—to God. The money wasn’t given to maintain a building, or a congregation, or to be used with certain limitations. The money was to be given to God, to be used as he directed.

The amount we give to God’s church then, reflects our attitude to God. And in particular, it signifies the value we place on our relationship with him. And that’s why I have a problem with fundraising. Because fundraising is about getting others to contribute to the costs of running a church, which is not what giving is about at all.

Now the Old Testament example was a tithe—a tenth. Or if you wanted to pay your share in cash rather than in animals and crops, then you had to add a fifth on top of that. But in the New Testament Jesus raised the bar even further. Because as he stood at the temple and watched people bring in their tithes and gifts, he saw some rich men give what they could afford, and he saw a poor widow give what she couldn’t.

And this is what he said to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than any of the others. They all gave from their abundance, but she, from her poverty, put in everything that she had live on.” (Mark 12:43-44).

The Christian model for giving then is for our gift to reflect our love of God.

Scoring
OK so those are the 5 questions about God.

For each letter you can score the following points:
a = 10 – which means you’re well on track
b = 2 – which means you’ve started to progress, but you have some rather large hurdles to jump
c = 0 – which means you’ve got a long way to go in your Christian journey

There’s a maximum score of 50. And depending where you are between the range of 0 and 50, will give some indication of where you are in your relationship with God.

B. MY RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER BELIEVERS

6. Why do I go to church?
a). To worship God, to learn, and to encourage one another in the faith
b). To worship God and to learn
c). For some other reason

We have already covered the need to meet together in terms of worshipping God. We have also covered the need to learn, so we can grow in the faith. The third aspect of corporate worship however includes the need to meet together to build up and encourage one another. And this is spelt out in the letter to the Hebrews, but as a response to people ceasing to meet. I quote: “Do not stop meeting together, as some have become accustomed to doing. But let us continue to encourage one another—and more so, as you see Judgement Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25).

For many people church is something they can take and leave. And theologically we are saved by faith, not saved because we go to church. For other people church is still a very private matter. It’s about what they can get out of it for themselves, rather than what they can contribute. And that can be reflected in the following attitudes: Faith is private; communion is something that is done as a private devotion; and there is no need to be actively involved in the spiritual life of the church.

However, church is as much about meeting and encouraging one another. As it is about worshipping God and learning.

7. When I go to church, how much time do I spend with the people?
a). I always make time to talk to others
b). Very little. I usually get to church on time, and leave when the service finishes
c). None. I’m usually late, and leave early

Now this question relates to question 6, in terms of the appropriate times to meet with the people in the congregation to which we belong. After all, we can meet some people at other times. But apart from worship services, when do we get to see the people we worship with, to encourage them as they progress along their spiritual journey, to thank them for their participation in the life of ourselves and others, to hear their concerns—the things they are going through, to hear their needs in terms of both practical help and prayer needs, and to know if they need help in their spiritual growth, or to help them back on track?

Time before the service begins, and time after the service ends, are appropriate times that can be used for such purposes. And the added advantage for those who arrive early is that people can be warmly welcomed as they arrive. And that makes a major difference to how friendly or otherwise a congregation is to visitors and newcomers.

8. How often do I meet with other Christians (apart from church services)?
a). I attend a regular weekly Bible Study/Small Group
b). I meet with others periodically
c). I don’t belong to any small group

The practice of the early church was not only to meet in the synagogue daily, but to meet outside the worship services themselves. Their habit was to meet together in small groups in people’s homes. In fact, they more than met, they shared meals together. From the Acts of the Apostles: “Day after day they continued to meet together in the temple, and broke bread in their homes. They ate together with glad and generous hearts, praising God, and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to those who were being saved, daily.” (Acts 2:46-47).

One of the features of all healthy churches—and a feature of all churches that are growing that I know of—is that they are based around the idea of small groups that meet regularly on a weekly basis. Now that doesn’t stop all the people coming together to worship on a Sunday, but it’s in the small groups that growth takes place.

Small groups are more intimate and create the right environment for people to care. Small groups are places where nurturing in the faith best takes place. And small groups are places where it is easier to introduce people who are not Christians. On the other hand, churches without small groups tend to struggle, because they have poor networks in regard to caring, nurturing and growth.

9. How do I use my gifts to build up the church?
a). I am very active in using my God given gifts
b). I occasionally use the gifts that God has given
c). I don’t have any gifts to use

Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of ministry, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all things in all men. But to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good. To one person the word of wisdom is given through the Spirit. To another the same Spirit gives the word of knowledge. To another is given faith by the same Spirit. To another the one Spirit gives gifts of healing. To another they are given mighty powers, to another prophecy, to another discernment between spirits, to another speaking in different tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives to each one, as he sees fit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

According to Paul, we all have gifts, and they have been given not just for our own edification but for the benefit of the whole church. (And incidentally that doesn’t just mean the local congregation.)

To start with, we may not be sure what that gift is—and we may need others to help us in recognising what that gift is—but we each have been given something special to help in the life, and the growth of the Christian church.

10. How much time per week do I spend with other Christians?
a). A lot of time
b). Very little
c). Hardly any

This question is more a summary of the previous four, but it goes a little further. Because we’ve dealt with how much time we spend with others before, after, and during worship services, we’ve dealt with meeting together in small groups, and we’ve dealt with using our gifts to build up and encourage others.

But apart from that how much time do we spend with other Christians? Caring. Looking after their needs. Or simply just being with them, like-minded people together.

Scoring
OK so those are the 5 questions about our relationship with other believers

For each letter you can score the following points:
a = 5 – which means you’re well on track
b = 1 – which means you’ve started to progress, but you have some rather large hurdles to jump
c = 0 – which means you’ve got a long way to go in your Christian journey

There’s a maximum score of 25. And depending where you are between the range of 0 and 50, will give some indication of where you are in your relationship with other believers.

C. MY RELATIONSHIP WITH PEOPLE IN GENERAL

11. Is it obvious to others that I’m a Christian?
a). Yes, because of the way I behave
b). Yes, but only because I tell people
c). No

Jesus’s words: “A new commandment I give you: You are to love one another. You are to love one another, as I have loved you. If you love one another, then all men will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35).

The way we behave will tell people—Christians and non-Christians alike—whether we are Christians or not. What we say we are—what we profess to believe—is one thing. But the only thing that really counts are our actions. And the only way people can know whether we truly are Christians, is not on the basis of whether we say we are Christians, it’s not on the basis of whether we go to church, and it’s not on the basis of our generosity to the church or other people, but it’s on the basis of whether people can really see that we love one another, in the religious sense of what it means to love.

There is a difference in the way that we use the term love today. Many people may go about doing good deeds—and in a modern sense are seen to “love” others. But that doesn’t make them loving in the biblical sense, and it doesn’t make them believers either. What Jesus is talking about is the need to exude the kind of love that only God can give. And if we do that, then it will be obvious that we are Christians.

12. What kind of people do I care about?
a). Everyone, without exception
b). Some people
c). My family and friends

It is very difficult sometimes to care for certain people. There are people who are very difficult to cope with; there are people who have unsavoury characters; there are people who have a very chequered past; there are people who are the product of an environment totally different to our own. And in all of this we may have been taught to be careful, to steer clear of certain people, or certain types of people. And it must be said, it’s often more comfortable dealing with those who seem to be on our level.

So much so that it’s easier to restrict the definition of the people that we should care for, in order to ease our consciences.

Unfortunately, this is the same background that the Teachers of the Law used in Jesus’s time to restrict who they should care for. Nevertheless, Jesus’s response was to tell a story—the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). And the conclusion of which is to do away with all the barriers and conditions, and to simply care for those in need—those who are worse off than we are.

And that’s certainly the example that Jesus was. As he cared for the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the outcasts of his society.

13. When I give someone material and emotional support, do I give them spiritual support too?
a). Yes
b). Sometimes
c). No

This, of course, is the common trap that most charitable organisations fall into. And church organisations that are funded by governments fall into this trap too. Because material and emotional support can only help a person so far. And from a Christian point of view it ignores the more important, and fundamental spiritual needs of a person as well.

That’s why when Jesus was at Capernaum. And when the friends of the paralytic lowered their friend through the roof of the house, as the only way to get him to Jesus, Jesus didn’t just say: “Get up, pick up your bed and walk?” (Mark 2:11). But he began with the words, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5).

From a Christian point of view, people need healing or help which is holistic. Giving people food and clothing is one thing. But if that is all, then there is something very deficient in our care.

Of course, which way around the help is provided will depend upon the occasion. Because someone who is hungry will not be receptive to spiritual healing while he remains hungry. Nevertheless, a spiritual component still needs to be included for it to be Christian care.

14. Does my behaviour reflect Christian values?
a). I try to live according to Christian principles
b). I try to live in accordance with the laws of Australia
c). I sometimes stretch the rules, to see what I can get away with

Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus: “Although you lived in darkness, you now live in the light in the Lord. So, live as children of light (for the fruit of light is present in all goodness, righteousness, and truth). Learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not be involved in the fruitless deeds of darkness. Instead, expose them. For even to speak of the things that are done in secret is shameful. And when the light shines on them, all these things will be exposed. (Ephesians 5:8-13).

There’s a difference between God’s way and man’s way. There’s also a myth that we live in a Christian country, and that Australia embraces Christian values.

Since the very beginning, people have been picking and choosing aspects of the faith they can accept, reinterpreting other bits they feel will be OK if only given a bit of a tweak, and discarding the bits that they feel uncomfortable with. And the history of the laws and people of Australia are no different.

God has set us standards to live by—his standards. We are supposed to live them and be shining examples to others of what it means to be a people of faith. That means they are not to be changed to suit ourselves, reinterpreted to give the meaning we are more comfortable with, or ignored where we find them too difficult.

15. Is there anyone I haven’t forgiven?
a). No
b). Yes, but for good reasons
c). Yes, and I refuse to forgive them too

This is a serious issue. And one that brings us full circle. Because it not only says something about us and our willingness to forgive, but it has implications on the depth of forgiveness we can expect from God.

More words of Jesus from the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we have indeed forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12). In other words, we ask for God’s forgiveness on the basis of how much we forgive others.

Forgiveness is at the crux of our relationship with God. So too should it be at the crux of our relationship with others, no matter whether they are family, former friends, or anyone who has done us, or others harm in any way at all.

Scoring
OK so those are the 5 questions about our relationship with people in general. For each letter you can score the following points:
a = 5 – which means you’re well on track
b = 1 – which means you’ve started to progress, but you have some rather large hurdles to jump
c = 0 – which means you’ve got a long way to go in your Christian journey

There’s a maximum score of 25. And depending where you are between the range of 0 and 50, will give some indication of where you are in your relationship with people in general.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Now as I said at the beginning, there is no check list recorded in the bible we can use to assess our spiritual health. So, whatever your score, it is not accurate indication of your spiritual life. Nevertheless, having used biblical principles, it should give us some indication of where we are in the faith.

If you add the three scores together you will get a score out of 100.

75-100 – should mean you’ve made real progress on your spiritual journey. (But bear in mind even a perfect score of 100 doesn’t mean you’ve come to the end of the journey—only that you are on the right track).

51-75 – means you’ve come some way, but that there are still major hurdles to be jumped. There are still elements of the faith you need to come to grips with.

26-50 – you may have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, but there remains much work to be done. Indeed, there may be a need to get back to the basics.

However, whatever your score, what happens next is up to you. After all, what does your spiritual life look like today?

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Posted: 30th May 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
www.brianacurtis.com.au

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