For more than twenty years, Dad ran his own business-- Tucker Office Equipment, Inc. This was a true family business: Mom ran the office, my Aunt Audi ran the office supply department, and both my sister and I worked at “the shop” (short for "sweat shop") at various times in our lives. I drove the delivery truck all through my high school years; at one point I wrecked it 3 times in 2 months (never my fault, of course). I once asked Dad why I made only $1 an hour while everyone else made at least minimum wage. He told me, “Because everyone else can be fired!” Made sense to me.
One of the things that I helped Dad each year (even before I was old enough to officially be on the payroll making that $1 an hour) with was his yearly inventory. Every ever, every single typewriter, adding machines, dictating machines, mimeograph machines (if you don’t know what these ancient devices are, just Google them) and every other machine in stock had to be documented and accounted for. My job was to put my hand on every one of those machines and call out the model and serial number for Dad to write down in a ledger. That required me to climb up stacks of teetering boxes or scaling up old, rickety shelves back in the somewhat inadequate warehouse. I think there was some kind of law that required the top boxes in the stack of machines to always be turned so that the serial number was on the back and bottom of the box! Taking inventory was both uncomfortable and even a little bit dangerous.
And it still is today. Paul ends 2 Corinthians with a warning for his readers to take inventory. As I re-read 2 Corinthians 12-13 this morning (our daily reading), I was reminded again of how personal a letter was 2 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians often sounds academic as Paul answers questions and polemic as he encourages them to change. 2 Corinthians sounds like Paul has a tear in his eye as he writes. As he closes 2 Corinthians, Paul is preparing for a third visit to Corinth. The last visit did not go well (2 Cor. 2:1), and he fears he will have to deal with some people who have still refused to repent of the rebellious attitudes that have threatened the church. So he tells his readers that they needed to take inventory of themselves to see where they are spiritually--
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6)
Were they still in the faith? Were they making spiritual progress? Were they some of the ones with whom Paul would have to deal when he got to town? They wouldn’t know unless they examined themselves—unless they took spiritual inventory.
We need to do the same thing. Where have we been and where are we going? Sometimes we fool ourselves by simply comparing ourselves around us are doing. Paul had already warned the Corinthians about this comparison game-- "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." (2 Cor 10:12)
It’s hard to take a realistic spiritual inventory, to look deep into your own heart and see where you are and where you are going. You may find yourself on top of a stack of shaky boxes teetering back and forth; you may even find yourself falling… or that you have already fallen. But if you don’t take time to examine yourself, how will you ever know where you are?