Perhaps you’ve heard this story before:
John heard something good in the sermon on Sunday and it changed the way he looks at life. He gives his life to the Lord and commits to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He’s going to spend time in prayer each day – he decides 20 minutes of silent prayer is a good place to start and he can build from there – and read at least one chapter of the Bible each day as well. He’s going to strive for the Kingdom of Heaven and so give up this sin or that. Everything is going to be different from now on. His friends wouldn’t really understand where he’s coming from, so he decides to keep it a secret between him and God, though he still plans to keep his friends – they’re not really bad guys anyways, but just unchurched. Maybe someday they’ll have a conversion moment like John did, and then they’ll be able to talk about things like this openly. Until then, John will stick to his private commitment and go from there.
A week later, things are going pretty well for John. He’s stuck to his 20 minutes of prayer and he even read two chapters of the Bible instead of one a couple times this week. Then one evening after work John sits down to watch his favorite TV show, but remembers that he hasn’t yet spent his time in prayer for the day. He was looking forward to this TV show all day, though, and really wants to watch it. Besides, he can pray after the show; it won’t make any difference. During the show, the advertisements for the next show are very enticing and pique John’s interest. He’s got to see what happens! Pretty soon one show turns into three. As he’s getting ready for bed John remembers that he still hasn’t prayed and read the Bible like he committed to. He thinks to himself, “It’s been a long day and I really need to get some sleep. Besides, God won’t mind if I miss one day of prayer. This is between him and me anyways, so it will be alright.” John makes sure to pray the next day and read his chapter of the Bible. The day after that, though, John and his friends decide they’re going to go out for a little entertainment. Again, John forgets to pray and decides not to pray when he remembers before bedtime. Pretty soon, John starts to forget more often and starts to lose the habit of prayer he had been trying to form. Everyday he justifies his actions: “I think of God all throughout the day. He doesn’t mind if I don’t sit down for 20 minutes to pray. If he wanted me to pray like that, he would remind me. I hear passages from the Bible at church on Sundays; I don’t need to hear any more than that. God would tell me if I needed to change the way I’m doing things.”
How easy it is to fall away from the Lord! Soon enough John won’t find it convenient enough to go to church on Sundays, so he’ll justify his absence by noting the Lord’s apparent desire that he get a little extra sleep on Sunday mornings. If only he would have told someone else about his commitment to be a disciple! We need to have other disciples in our lives to keep us accountable to our commitments to the Lord! Imagine what it would have been like if John would have told a fellow disciple about his commitment to follow Jesus. This other disciple would have asked him periodically whether he was holding strong to his commitment, and would have encouraged him to persevere on the way to Heaven. Instead he so easily slipped away from the narrow path and ended up on the broad path that leads to the wide gate, which leads to destruction:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must find other disciples who will keep us from slipping away from the narrow road. It’s so easy to slip away! We must find other disciples who will earnestly hold us accountable in our errors, not out of spite but out of love for us.
Resolutions usually only work if I tell someone (in addition to the Lord) what I’ve resolved to do or not do, and if he or she holds me accountable. I might resolve to cease complaining about the weather, but that won’t matter if no one else knows. I’ll start to see how hard it is and so allow exceptions. Pretty soon those exceptions become the norm and I’ll find myself back where I started. My will power increases if I know I’ve got to report to someone who will prick my conscience if I mess up, or who will genuinely encourage me after I’ve messed up. Sometimes the Lord feeds us through other people, especially when we would rather take the easier road.