You know how the sermon goes — “Don't be a check-box Christian.”
I've heard and read this well-meaning advice many times.
Here’s the theory. There’s danger in believing that living by a list, whether on paper or in our minds, will lead us straight to a mansion in heaven with an inground pool and humongous home theatre.
Morning prayers? Check.
Read a few verses in my favorite book of scripture? Check.
Went to church on Sunday? Triple check.
Peter, polish up those gates! I'm on the way.
I get it. Avoiding this checklist mentality is great advice if you are an active, faithful Christian and these habits of spiritual obedience are a natural part of your life.
Don't just spit out a prayer to check a box to start or end your day. Really talk to God. Let him hear you and then allow yourself to hear him.
Don't just read a few verses so you can pat yourself on the back and feel good all day long about nibbling on the word. Instead, take some time to feast upon the scriptures. Not because it's on your to-do list, but because you're hungry for more and you realize how your life will change if you immerse yourself in those pages.
Don't just go to church so you can call your mom on Sunday night and tell her you were in your usual pew. Go to church so you can worship and embrace your brothers and sisters who are praying that someone will see them, say hello, give them a hug and remind them that God's love is real.
Yes, we should all aspire to deeper motives and greater spiritual authenticity.
But what if you're not doing any of those things in your life right now?
What if you don't remember the last time you had a deep conversation with God?
What if you don't even know where your Bible is?
What if you haven't been to church in so long that you're not worried whether people see you, you're worried whether they will recognize you?
My advice? Grab a pen. Make a list.
It’s certainly true that no list will bring you long-term peace in this life and a reunion with God in the next. I believe he absolutely wants us doing the right things for the right reasons.
But for those of us who have not yet mastered these beautiful habits — and there at many others — we simply have to start somewhere.
Yes, if you haven't prayed in so long you wonder if he's listening, make a list and say a prayer and check the box.
If your childhood Bible is covered in dust and the pages groan when you wake them up, add reading to your list. Just choose a verse or two.
If you haven't been to church recently, add it to your list and get there this Sunday. Then don’t be afraid to congratulate yourself. You're where you're supposed to be.
Then do the same thing next week, and the week after that, and the week after that until you don't need a list in your head, on paper or anywhere else.
Soon your eyes and your mind and your heart will be pointed up instead of down.
Go. Make today the day.
And if you hear someone criticize the notion of check-box Christianity, pull your list out, share it with them and tell them you're happily on your way.
Then thank them for loving you and work hard to love them back.
Love. Maybe add that to the list, too.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author, columnist and speaker. His newest book is “A Letter to Mary: The Savior's Loving Letter to His Mother” . Subscribe to his weekly columns.