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I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Every year, I write up a self-evaluation for the elders on how I am doing as a pastor, looking at my leadership in the church across various categories like discipleship, evangelism, worship, and my own personal relationship with God. And every year I write out the highs and lows, the successes and failures of the past year, trying to give myself as fair a review as possible.
Soon after I wrote up this year’s evaluation, however, a question began to nag at me: by what standard am I evaluating myself? Or to whom am I comparing myself?
As a Christian, it is critically important to hold two truths in tension when evaluating ourselves. The first is that we are perfect in God’s sight. We are justified, declared righteous, solely on the basis of our trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There is nothing we can do to add or subtract from that. The final grade is already in, and we have received the A+.
But the second truth is this: now that we are justified, the standard by which we evaluate ourselves is Jesus Christ and His sinless perfection. We do not evaluate ourselves by what other people expect of us, nor by what we expect of ourselves. And any complacency, any notion of “I’ve reached my goal,” any resting in our current spiritual progress, is antithetical, downright offensive, to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, we are justified by faith - praise God! - and the forward steps and backward stumbles do not change that one iota. But the call on our lives is to reflect the image of God to this world, to live like Jesus Christ, and therefore the call is always to come up higher, to take up our cross, and to continually repent of sin and walk in His footsteps.
As I took those two truths to heart, I began to write out once again a more honest evaluation of my life and ministry. Here is just a portion of what I wrote, on the subject of my prayer life:
In his personal time, Eric wants my presence, but he is not willing to labor, to battle, to travail in prayer. He has little concern for the salvation of unbelievers or for the spiritual growth of his church, or he would be interceding for them whenever he could. He is playing at prayer without understanding its power. He believes that he can do life and ministry on his own, without my help. Or, worse, he does not really care what happens, as long as he gets a paycheck. He does not understand all that I have in store for Him, all I could do, if He would dedicate himself to prayer. He wastes his time on things that make no difference eternally, seeking his own pleasure and comfort instead of taking up his cross and sacrificing himself in prayer for the good of this world. If he would pray, I would fill him with my Spirit. I would give him vision for his life, vision for his family, vision for his church. I would give him passion, an unction, an anointing, so that he could overcome his fears and walk in faithfulness to me. Eric wants the easy route, the road with minimal pain or opposition. Eric needs to heed this call to enter the battle, or one day either I will remove him from his position or he will look back in agony at all the opportunities he missed and wasted.
I know that some of you have perfectionistic tendencies, and that in order to escape your self-condemnation, what you need to believe more than anything is the justification piece, that the final evaluation is not on the basis of your performance but on Christ’s finished work on your behalf. But for those of you who are more like me, who already trust in God’s approval of you, I encourage you to get ruthlessly honest in your self-evaluation. Do not measure yourself against the performance of others, or even by your own standards. The call is to be like Christ. As the 20th century British preacher Leonard Ravenhill put it, “There are three persons living in each of us: the one we think we are, the one other people think we are, and the one God knows we are.” Get on your knees before your holy God, and pray along with the Psalmist:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
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