Checklists are nice things. They help me stay focused. They help me feel accomplished. They can motive me and drive me. I love to use checklists in my day to day life because they assure me I am staying on task and making progress.

But checklists don’t work for everything. I can’t love my wife via a checklist. She will not feel important or cared for if I just made sure all the boxes were checked off. In fact, she will feel the exact opposite. That is because checklists carry the danger of losing sight of what really matters. In a relationship, the caring for and serving of your loved one is important, and while that might come through certain actions, those actions are more genuine when they are not dictated by a checklist. Imagine a husband coming home having completed his checklist to please his wife, he has bought the flowers, he has taken out the trash, and more. But she doesn’t feel it or even on some level believe it. Because he hasn’t spent the time or had the consideration to listen or talk with his wife, to truly love her.

Checklists also don’t work for our relationship with God. We can approach our devotional life as a checklist. We pray. Check. We read our bible. Check. We go to church. Check. We give to our church. Check. We help out the poor in our community. Check. If we are not careful, we come before God with all the boxes (so we think) checked off but our hearts far away from Him.

This checklist mentality easily creeps into youth ministries and children ministries. It is easier in so many ways to view our responsibility as a checklist or a list of dos and don’ts. It can be easy to fall back on providing a checklist to younger Christians as well. But that is surface level at best and will result in no lasting change. This is what Paul speaks about in Colossians 2:21-23. These checklists or lists of dos and don’ts might seem wise but don’t have the power to change us.

A checklist without a heart change is giving a corpse a facelift.

Outward change completely misses the point. The Pharisees were condemned by Jesus for this in Matthew 23. And so many ministries can fall into this trap, that if they can get that youth to dress differently or stop smoking or stop partying than they have touched him with the gospel. All they have done is made a walking corpse look a little better.

Instead, we proclaim the gospel. We are sinners and Jesus died for sinners. We proclaim the truth and trust the Holy Spirit to work through the proclamation and through God’s Word to change hearts. Because that is what is needed. We need God to give life to dead sinners and that life changes them from the inside out. That life starts to be pumped throughout their bodies and into everything they do. This is something that defies a checklist because it is outside our control. But the truly amazing thing is that once that life is flowing, those items on the checklist start to be done anyway. Not out of obligation to a list, but because a life of loving Jesus naturally checks off the law of God. Paul says as much in Romans 13:8-10.

So we pray for a changed heart in those we love. We pray that God works powerfully in us to change us so that we can live for Him in everything. And we put the checklist down, trusting that if we live for Christ we will take care of what is important.