Once there was a man who lived a life guided by a checklist. He did not always fulfill each item each day, but each and every day the checklist was his guide. All day long, eyes down, he navigated his life according to the inspired advice on the list. The man gained great wealth, and even some reputation among the people of his town, but at the end of his life he was no wiser than at the beginning, because the checklist was not enough. The checklist was his only friend, and he died alone. The end.

Is there anything handier than a checklist? But they can be deceiving. In the Old Testament the original checklist was ten items long.

Eventually it grew to 613.

We cling to our checklists because we like to think they help us manage life. We refine the lists, prioritize the lists, interpret our lists, and look down on other people’s lists. We claim to have special insight into the most important items on the list. The problem is there’s no such thing as a checklist for the desires of our hearts. You could check off every item on your bucket list and still die unfulfilled.

It’s true: we were created for a purpose, but you can be sure the Creator isn’t using a checklist to keep your life’s score.

Yet we like to keep score. It’s so much easier for us to keep our eyes on the clipboard. Give to the poor? Check. Relax one day a week? Check. Sacrifice? Pray? Memorize? Check. Check. Check. The checkmarks fall into a neat line from top to bottom. We start a new page each day. We smile at the winning streaks we string together; completely unaware the winning streaks came from playing the wrong game.

We like checklists because is it easier to relate to a book of rules than to relate to a living person. Checklists are unchanging and accessible. People are filled with mystery. Checklists are clear and unequivocal. Checklists make plain statements and tell us what to do, but there’s more to life than clarity, because people—even perfect people—present nonverbal hints and clues. Important things are not always listed plainly.

Checklists are easy; people are hard to read. Still, they yield rewards we never imagine. If we successfully keep a checklist, we have ourselves to thank. When we enter into relationships (especially a relationship with the Creator of the universe), we discover a world beyond ourselves.

What if we live our lives according the master checklist, but never meet the Master himself? Here’s one more item for the checklist: “Does anything on this list make an eternal difference?”

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