Where We are Headed
Jesus taught a parable of two men: a priest and a despised tax collector. If we were to retell this story in today’s culture, the story might take place between a righteous, religions person and someone who the world may consider an outcast. Here’s my version of how Jesus’ parable might read in today’s culture:
“The righteous, religious person stood by themself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like all these others. I don’t cheat; I don’t steal; I don’t commit adultery; I’ve never killed anyone; I live by the Ten Commandments; and I’ve always been a good Christian. I’m certainly not like that dirty, addicted person I saw standing outside the church doors this morning, begging for money! I lead my family in prayer before meals; I give ten percent of my income to the church, and I try to be a decent person.’ But the addict stood at a distance, afraid to draw near, and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed to God. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner. Nothing about me is good. I’ve made a mess of my life. I’ve been addicted, divorced, imprisoned, and homeless.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you, this sinner, not the righteous, religious person, returned home justified (made right) before God. For those who celebrate themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be celebrated by Me!” (Based on Luke 18:11-14).
We often look at the “righteous,” “religious” person as the model for life in America – a man or woman who has it all together. Maybe a great marriage and family; successful well-behaved kids; a great job and career; money in the bank; a home in the suburbs; and a future that looks bright. We measure our progress in the Christian life by how we are attaining to what we believe is God’s “checklist.” Yet, in truth, God isn’t interested in all that. In fact, quite the opposite. The Bible tells us that those who think they’ve got it, haven’t really got it at all!
God desires our humble admission of our weaknesses. We are justified – made right before God – as we humbly admit from our heart where we fall short. In this transaction, we are given access to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit causes our lives to change from the inside out, through the inward reality of Christ living in us.
So how can we actually measure our progress in this journey from brokenness to wholeness, and in the Christian life in general? It’s safe to say it’s more than merely setting boundaries, learning new rules, or even walking in obedience to God’s word while refraining from evil. The measurement of a changed life is someone who seeks to live by the principles that reveal the heart of God: walking by grace, thankfulness, and unconditional love. As more and more of our life comes under the authority of God’s word and principles, we will produce more and more fruit in our relationships with others.
Life is all about priorities. We have only so much time in a day to accomplish things. We only have so much room in our hearts to carry things. We only have so much energy to focus on things that need to be done. That is why the structure of our priorities will determine the order of all practical functions of our lives. For example, if we’re compelled to please people, our activities and the balance of our lives will be built around that priority. If we’re driven to success, all of our activities will move us toward that objective. Every aspect of our lives will submit to what or who we choose to put at the top of our list of priorities!
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