The One Who Holds Me Accountable
“I need someone to make me accountable,” Jim Martin said.
He and I had known each other for a few months, but we had never talked seriously before. Then one day in 1976, we sat together at a luncheon meeting of local pastors. I was a Presbyterian and Jim was a Lutheran. Our churches were located a ten-minute drive from each other.
“I know I need someone who’ll make me face myself and give account of my faithfulness to God.” Jim then asked me to enter into a covenant with him.
I felt honored.
Jim struggled with reading his Bible every day and with not allowing “preacher things” to crowd out his devotional time. “I know that if I try to set aside time seven days a week, I’ll fail,” he said, “but for a start, I want to be able to commit myself to reading my Bible and having personal prayer time four days a week. When we meet, I want you to ask me if I did.”
As much as possible for the next nine years, until Jim accepted a pastorate in Michigan, we met weekly. Both of us made our accountability session a top priority in our lives. Sometimes our meetings took place over lunch; many times we ran six miles together at noon instead of eating. Occasionally, we met at the end of a busy day. But we met faithfully. And we talked.
Jim and I learned a lot about each other over those nine years. Jim is about six feet, three inches tall; dark; blue-eyed; handsome, with one of those magic smiles; and quite articulate. When Jim hadn’t been faithful, he didn’t have to tell me. I could tell by his evasive tactics. After I caught on, however, I was able to cut through his defenses. Once I asked, “Jim, do you want to tell me or should I tell you?”
We laughed. Jim wanted me to be there for him, but it embarrassed him to say, “I didn’t make it this week.” More than once, he admitted, “Even though I know you understand and you’re my friend, I feel as if I fail God and you when I don’t live up to my commitment.”
I had my share of spiritual failures as well. It wasn’t any easier for me to confess to Jim than for him to open up to me. But we did it.
A few days ago while thinking about those days, I read the words of the apostle Paul about the concept of accountability. He wrote that he had visited the church leaders in Jerusalem to talk to them about his ministry. Apparently, they had limited their preaching to Jews, and Paul had reached out to non-Jews (Gentiles). He writes, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I have run, or had run in vain” (Gal 2:1-2, NKJV).
His words tell us that Paul went to the top men of the Church to make himself accountable. Or as one of my friends said, “It was Paul’s reality check.”
Even Jesus was concerned about accountability. In defense of his ministry he said, “John [the Baptist] was a lamp that gave a lot of light, and you were glad to enjoy his light for a while. But something more important than John speaks for me. I mean the things that the Father has given me to do! All of these speak for me and prove that the Father has sent me” (Jn 5:35-36, CEV).
Jesus tried to make them see that he had been accountable to God and had been found faithful. He didn’t simply preach or do miracles, but he did only as his Heavenly Father directed him. He was saying, “I’ve been accountable, and John is my witness.”
I’ve also learned something myself about this matter of accountability. In the past, no matter how high I scored on my spiritual accomplishment report card, I had the sense that I should have done more. I should have tried harder.
I wonder if some of that is a result of our modern culture. I heard on the radio that a man had received a card from a business associate in Thailand. The card ended with the words, “And I wish you a busy life.” The words perplexed the recipient until he realized that the third-world citizen had picked up something about Americans. We constantly grumble about how busy and harassed we are, and we say we have no idea how to cut down on our load. But that’s not really true. Keeping busy makes us feel important. The busier we are, the more significant we feel.
I understand that card’s message. For years having too many things going has been part of my problem with accountability. I’ve made myself busier than God intended me to be. Sometimes I’ve even decided to get “more spiritual” by increased reading and longer praying.
If those desires come out of genuine hunger or need, that’s wonderful. But sometimes we decide it will make us more spiritual or more important or more rewarded in heaven. Maybe we even believe that God will love us a little more if we do more.
I wish I could say sincerely, “Well, Lord, I have been faithful in everything.” Aside from the fact that such a statement smacks of pride, those are difficult words for me to speak. I’m constantly conscious of not measuring up. The words from the Book of Common Worship state my case too well: “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done….”
Even when I feel I’ve had a good day spiritually and really tracked with Jesus Christ, a nagging voice inside whispers, “Yeah, but you could have done better.”
Strange. When I talked today to the One Who Holds Me Accountable, I didn’t hear the Bible verse, “Well, done, good and faithful servant” whispered (see Matthew 25:23). Neither did I hear, “Oh, Cec, you failed again. I’m disappointed in you.” But I sensed God’s pleasure that I want to live a life of commitment and accountability.
I ask God to make me accountable for my actions and for the way I use the hours of my day. At one time I was much like Jim, who expected some kind of rebuke, or maybe a lecture on how to get his act together. Yet the more I walk with God, the more I understand divine ways. Instead of rebuke, I receive acceptance and affirmation. Sometimes, it’s true that I need to stir myself a bit. It’s easy to get complacent in life. But I often pray, “God, I stop all the unnecessary business and give myself to you.”
On my best days, when my energy is still high and I’m ready to go out and do everything again, and also on those days when I’m exhausted, I feel his hand on me and an inner voice says, “Be at peace. Rest.”
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. —1 CORINTHIANS 10:31, NKJV God, make me accountable to you for everything I do; in giving my mind and my body rest. Thank you for being such a loving Master. Amen.