Jesus taught us the power of a question. While the teaching of truth generically is necessary, a question brings the point home by putting one on the spot. It demands thought, puts the focus where it should be (Matthew 15:3), and cuts to the chase (Matthew 7:3). Let’s ask ourselves some questions honestly and push ourselves to better serve Jesus.
What has hindered me from obeying the truth? “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7). The Galatians’ problem was that some still wanted to cling to the Old Covenant. My problem might be TV, or a trait that needs to be overcome (grouchiness, laziness), or a habit. We all fight the daily battle of distraction. Too many earthly things compete for our attention, and that leaves spiritual priorities postponed. For a lot of us, prioritizing is the key to improving ourselves.
What will I wish I’d done 1,000 years from now? The Bible teaches us to look ahead—way ahead (Luke 16:25, Hebrews 11:9-10). If we’re wrapped up in the moment, we’ll make a bad decision every time. The lusts of the flesh look appealing in the short-term, but what will my perspective be 1,000 years from now, after my life on earth is over and my eternity is based on my actions? Is any sin worth committing? Can any short-term pleasure or profit outweigh eternity? When you face a temptation or a big decision, think ahead—way ahead! Think like Abraham, who “was looking for the city which has foundations.”
What’s my ratio? Jesus tried to get people to focus on spiritual things. When He visited two sisters, “Martha was distracted” and “worried and bothered about so many things” whereas Mary had “chosen the good part” (Luke 10:38-42). We fall into the same trap.
I read an article by Gary Henry (wordpoints.com) entitled “What’s Your Evangelism-to-Entertainment Ratio?” Calculating a ratio reveals the cold, hard numbers that pierce me deeper than the vague question, “What are my priorities?” To find a ratio, simply divide two numbers. For example, if my time spent reading a novel one week is 420 minutes (an hour a day), and my time spent reading the Bible is 20 minutes, then my “novel-to-Bible” ratio is 21-to-1 (420/20 = 21). In other words, I spent 21 times the amount of time reading a novel as I spent reading the Bible. As brother Henry’s article suggests, try to calculate how much time you spend in the areas of entertainment versus time spent talking about the Bible with others.
Embarrassed yet? Below are some suggestions of ratios for us to think about: (1) # of words spoken/emailed to others vs. # of words used in prayer, (2) Monthly budget for eating out/entertainment/clothes vs. Monthly budget for hospitality/giving/Bible study books, (3) Time spent on Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram vs. Time spent thinking about “these things” (Philippians 4:8), (4) Time spent planning vacations/trips vs. Time spent planning for gospel meetings, (5) Time spent on homework/exams vs. Time spent on Bible class lessons. The Bible does not give numbers for us to meet, and I am not suggesting we try to bind any. This is just an exercise to evaluate where our priorities are.
What would I think about someone else who made the same excuses I use? When King David had embroiled himself in a wicked mess of adultery and a murder, God used a noteworthy technique to help him see his own guilt. The prophet Nathan told a story about someone else committing a sin parallel to David’s, and David condemned that fictional man to death. Then came the truth: “You are the man!” (II Samuel 12:1-7).
That’s a great lesson for us. One “trick” to evaluating ourselves is to pretend we’re evaluating someone else.
Therapists use this technique by asking “What advice would you give to someone in your situation?” This helps us to throw away the excuses and look at things objectively. I might rationalize to myself, “But I don’t read my Bible because by the time we do this and this and this in the evenings, it’s bedtime.” But if I heard someone else say that, I’d probably think, “Well they just need to do whatever it takes…” I need to look at my life as an outsider—without knowledge of any excuses, just knowledge of the results.
Who is doing something better than me? This is not for the sake of measuring ourselves by ourselves (II Corinthians 10:12), but to obey the instruction in Philippians 3:17: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” It’s smart to take special notice of Christians who are doing well and imitate them!
Do you know someone who worships sincerely? Watch them. How are they doing it? What do they do before the service begins, or during the Lord’s Supper? Copy them! Do you know someone good at personal evangelism? Become a student of what they’re doing. Do they greet all the visitors? Do they ask leading questions? How is it that they always seem to end up talking with people about the Bible? Copy them!
I had the privilege of working with the preacher Dan Shipley during a couple of summers. I learned a lot about how to work with people just by observing him. He’d light up a room when he entered. He would say “Hi, how ya doin’?” to everybody in the hallway as he walked through a nursing home. His grin would send the kids giggling. He may have heard a little old lady tell the same story a hundred times, but he listened like it was the finest story ever told. And then, when he got into the pulpit, people listened because they knew he cared about them! That was a great lesson for this young preacher. I tell ya: you can learn a lot by looking at the good brethren around you.
Now that we’ve considered these questions, spend some time on your own trying to answer them honestly. Better to be embarrassed to the point of change now, than to suffer the consequence at Judgment!