“‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
Let me make this clear: checklists are my jam. I am one of those people who feels a special thrill each time I mark something off my list. Even the idea of making lists excites me. Grocery lists, packing lists, to do lists and definitely reading lists. You name the list, chances are, it will make me giddy.
Ironically, checklists are also one of my biggest stressors. Why? Unchecked boxes.
I’d like to say I am so efficient that when I make a list, I do so with honest, realistic expectations of what I can accomplish within a certain timeframe. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Confession time: usually I include more things on my checklist than I know is humanly possible to accomplish just so I have more things to check off my list. (I’m not sure the last time that actually happened though—checking everything off my two-foot long list.) Yes, I know it makes no sense. Yes, I know I bring it on myself. But, I also know I am not alone.
Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, you too find an odd satisfaction in creating lists and checking things off those lists. Even if you somehow don’t enjoy it, you know at least one person who does. Either way, you know lists are a part of life. They literally follow you everywhere.
Before starting preschool or kindergarten, our parents are given a list of vaccines we must receive upon enrollment. Once at school, our teachers quickly reveal their love of lists. Vocabulary lists. Spelling lists. Detention lists. Homework lists. School supply lists. As we get older, we add lists regarding extracurriculars and their subsequent requirements (i.e. what to learn before you start, items needed to participate and what to practice as you do). Soon we encounter lists of classes and tests we need to graduate, followed by college applications we need to complete. Once accepted, our chosen university unloads a tanker-full of their branded lists: textbook lists, general education class lists and major-specific class lists. Lists of what you need to bring—clothes, shoes, furniture, toiletries, etc. Lists laying out your next four years.
Finally we graduate and think, “Freedom!” Not so. The lists do not stop once we flip the tassel across our cap, they just transform into a different monster—"real world" lists like grocery lists, lists of bills and chore lists. To get married, we are bombarded with lists galore from who to invite to deposits and rentals. Even our marriage vows are a type of list. Our jobs demand lists to apply, to keep and retire from them. Then comes the biggest group of lists: those involving our kids. I won’t even get into those and the ones that come with aging.
No, you don't need to have your act together and live a certain way before you start your relationship with God. All you need to do is show up. It's literally that simple.
Hopefully you get the point. Lists are everywhere and their completion is imperative. (Have you started counting how many times I’ve used the word “list” yet?)
However, contrary to public opinion, there is one facet of life where lists are not required to “get in.” One does not have to update their resume or check 102 boxes to be accepted. This facet is called Church. Well, more accurately, a relationship with God.
No, you don’t need to have your act together and live a certain way before you start your relationship with God. All you need to do is show up. It’s literally that simple. It’s also exactly the request Jesus made to His original 12 disciples (Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-32; see also Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11, John 1:35-51). He didn’t tell them to attend church every week for a year and check back in after the year was up. He didn’t point out everything they needed to “fix,” then leave them to figure it out for themselves. He didn’t make them memorize a set number of verses and be ready to recite them on command. He didn’t even require them to fully understand or believe everything He said. Instead, He told them, “Come.” That’s it!
Jesus’ words were not about a religious checklist, but an invitation—to anyone! Down and out, up and coming, you name them, Jesus extended the same invitation to every kind of person (John 3:16). In fact, He was (and is) known for seeking the overlooked, outcast, forgotten and oppressed (Matthew 9:12-13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31-32). He is THE Advocate for the underdog, and He will do anything to make him or her feel loved (Romans 5:8, 8:37-39). He died on the cross for Peter’s sake! (Yes, for those of you who know about the Bible, I just made a Dad joke. No, I’m not sorry.)
All jokes aside, Jesus did die on the cross for Peter, just like He died for the other 11 apostles, for me and for you. He willingly took on our sins, though He knew no sin, and bore the punishment we deserve so that we can live the life only He deserved: eternal life in Heaven with God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22).
Jesus didn’t approach Peter with a checklist of things he needed to do or already have done before he joined Him. All He told Peter was, “Come, follow Me,” the same thing He told every other apostle.
In case you are not familiar with Peter’s story, his name was originally Simon before he met Jesus, and he wasn’t exactly the person you would think a perfect, holy God would choose. Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen, a low-class job in Jesus’ day. Since their job required them to constantly touch something dead (in this case, fish), they were considered ceremonially unclean until that evening (Leviticus 11:39-40). Therefore, each time a fisherman like Peter touched a captured fish—a.k.a. did his job—he would be considered unclean until evening. Each time he touched one dead fish. He was also blunt, impulsive and arrogant, and he came from Galilee, an area looked down upon by the people who lived in Jerusalem.
Jesus didn't approach Peter with a checklist of things he needed to do or already have done before he joined Him. All He told Peter was, "Come, follow Me," the same thing He told every other apostle.
Yet with all these “strikes'' against him, Peter was one of the first apostles Jesus called (Luke 5:1-11), one of the three within Jesus’ inner circle (Matthew 26:36-38, Mark 9:2-3, Luke 8:49-56) and a key player in the spread of the Gospel and the early Church (see the book of Acts). He was also one of the New Testament writers, something of which only two other apostles could boast (three if you count Paul as an apostle, and the Bible does).
This stinky, abrasive, sinful man is the one Jesus specifically sought and told to follow Him. No “Get your act together first, Simon, then come and find Me.” No checklist of things he needed to say or do first. Just two simple words, “Follow Me.” The same two words Jesus is saying to you.
He doesn’t require you to clean up your act or memorize the Bible first. You don’t even have to know the difference between the Old and New Testament. All Jesus wants and all He asks of you at this point is to follow Him (Matthew 16:24, John 14:6). Turn away from your old life and turn toward Him (Acts, 2:38, Romans 10:9). Keep your eyes fixed on Him and your feet moving with His. Give Him your heart in all its cracked, glued-together messiness, and watch Him accept it as if you had given Him a priceless diamond instead (Luke 15). Once you do, you will soon learn how much Jesus loves you.
Yes, He will accept you for the mess you are, but He won’t allow you to stay that way (2 Cor. 3:18, 5:17). He loves you, after all. Who allows the person they love to live chained to sin and the insufferable bondage it brings?
Just like Jesus did with Peter and every other person who has come to Him, He will transform you from the pathetic, messy lump you were when you approached Him into the priceless diamond He originally created you to be (Ephesians 4:22-24). His refining process is difficult and you will get banged up along the way, but the result will by far be worth it (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Revelation 3:19). Not to mention, you will have the greatest prize of all, a Father, Savior and Friend all wrapped in One.
God does not require checklists on your part to start a relationship with Him, but He does ask you to accept His invitation. This does not mean you say a simple, “Yes,” to Jesus, then you are good for the rest of your life and do not need to change. No, you do not need a checklist to know God, but God does have a checklist of ways He wants to make you resemble Jesus when you do. However, His checklist is absolute perfection and comes from a place of love (Proverbs 3:11-12); it will give you abundant joy and Him the glory He deserves (Hebrews 12:11).
Again, God handles the checklist, all you have to do is accept His invitation to a relationship with Him. This invitation will not only start the best relationship you will ever have, it will also allow Jesus to enter your heart and radically change you from the inside out. The moment you accept the invitation, God begins His work and your eternal address is changed from Hell to Heaven (John 3:16, 5:24; Romans 6:23, 10:13).
I love checklists, but I’m going with Jesus. What about you? Will you say yes like Peter, or will you stick to the world and its checklists?
English Standard Version Bible. (2001). Crossway Bibles.