Taking Inventory

From April 1975 until September 1983 I managed two different Christian Bookstores; in Jackson, MS and then in Bloomington, IN. This was before personal computers and bar code reading cash registers. Knowing the value of the books, Bibles, gifts, and music in the store was particularly important and we attempted to do so using “ledger” systems.

At least once per year I hired RGIS, a company that specializes in inventory services, to come in and “take inventory.” Eight to ten “specialists” would spend 6-8 hours handling and counting every item. The result was a breakdown which revealed the value of every department in the store: children’s books, greeting cards, Sunday School curriculum, etc. There were times when we discovered more Bibles than usual had been lost to shoplifters (the most stolen item in the store) or that we had a lot of money tied up in slow-moving commentaries.

Taking inventory was paramount to staying in business. Without solid numbers, managing cash flow and planning future purchases was nothing more than a guessing game.

As leaders we must take an honest inventory of ourselves and the Kingdom responsibilities God has entrusted to us. Only people who don’t care fail to take inventory; to honestly look at themselves and evaluate their priorities, finances, time management, family, relationships – using the immutable template of God’s Word as the standard.

“The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.” Psalm 11:4-5 (NIV)

“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.” Psalm 26:1-3 (NIV)

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NIV)

Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (MSG)

Here are some practical suggestions for taking inventory:

  1. Pray – spend more time listening to God rather than talking to Him.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Read the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12) as if they are a personality profile. How are you doing?
  4. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) SLOWLY and reflect on how those attitudes and actions are at work in your own life.
  5. Consider what a Spirit-led life produces (Gal 5:16-26) and determine what results are produced in your relationships.
  6. Find at least three people and ask them to “take inventory” of your life using questions 3-5.
  7. Do something about it.

This is a tough exercise; it reminds me of the discomfort I experienced when looking at the inventory totals in the store. One leader states it plainly: “facts are our friends.” Avoiding inventory only reinforces my assumptions and distorts any decisions I make based on my perceptions. Facing the realities revealed through evaluation always results in confession, repentance, changes, adjustments, and renewal.

Personal inventories are often painful but it’s a valuable pain – the kind that helps us avoid pain in the future that could be much worse.

”Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me . . . “ Psalm 139:23 (NIV)