We have a list of people to blame for our troubles, addictions and dependencies or for every problem we can’t fix. For years, we’ve been saying, “If only he would…..” or, “If only she wouldn’t…” (You can finish these thoughts, right?)  We would love to make a fearless, moral inventory of everyone else—that sounds much more doable than making an inventory of ourselves. The thought that we are in some way responsible for our troubles is not only scary, it just seems so wrong. “It’s not my fault—it’s everyone else’s fault.” To begin to take responsibility for our own lives feels like it’s too much. We can’t change the way we think, so our spiritual life dries up and stops.

Maybe we stop because we don’t know where to begin. So let’s start with a question: What’s an inventory? Webster’s defines it this way: “an itemized list of current assets; …a list of goods on hand; …a list of traits, preferences, attitudes, interests, or abilities used to evaluated personal characteristics or skills.” In business, when people take inventory, they count everything in stock at that moment and make a list of everything they’ve found.

It’s time to take stock of our lives up to this point and make a searching, fearless list of the places we’ve fallen short. We use the word shortcomings; we could also use the words sins or failures. Yes, this is going to be a challenge. But the benefits far outweigh the discomfort or hurt. That’s a promise.

But how do we know what to include in our inventories?

Early in the history of the Twelve Step programs, people in recovery began their inventories by looking at how they measured up to the “four absolutes”: honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. These are positive absolutes, but they are absolutes that everyone fails to meet. So our inventories will include our failures to be honest, our failures to be sexually and morally pure, our failures to be unselfish, and our failures to love.


In John 8:31-59, Jesus is embroiled in a heated discussion with people about who he is. At one point, he says to them, “You are children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

In Luke 16:10, Jesus tells his disciples, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” Sometimes we shade the truth. Other times, we’re just plain dishonest. When we are overwhelmed by our problems, we lie not only to others, but also to ourselves.

Get a notebook. Write “Honesty” at the top of the page. Think back over your life and write down all the lies and dishonest things you’ve done that you can remember. Be fearless! Write it all down. Include names if that helps. You don’t have to remember everything—just get started.


In Mark 7:15, Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” His disciples didn’t understand, so Jesus explained his words. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer” (Mark 7:18-19). He was explaining that the Jewish food laws were no longer in force—the issue now was a heart issue. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Later in that same sermon, he makes a radical statement about purity: “If your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

These are harsh words from Jesus, but they illustrate how purity in thought an actions, including sexual purity, is to be part of our lives when we have turned our wills and ourselves over to God. Start a new page of inventory and write “Purity” at the top. Be sure to include your thought life as part of your inventory.


Jesus told the disciples, “Among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

If we are going to live authentic Christian lives, we must learn to turn from our selfish ways. To do this, we must face the facts by taking an honest, searching inventory of the pride that’s made a home in our hearts. Start an “Unselfish” page. In what ways have you acted selfishly, and how has that affected the people in your life? One of the most common selfish behaviors is to try to control other people, so include that in your list.


There is a lot of misinformation today in our culture about love. To many, it is just a feeling. If I feel loving, great; if not, too bad. But to look at love as an absolute, we must go beyond feelings and emotions. We must define love by our behaviors. John13 begins with the story of Jesus and the disciples preparing for their Passover meal in the upper room. John tells us that Jesus “loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end” (13:1). When the disciples arrived at the home where they would eat the Passover meal, there was no servant there to wash their feet as they came in from the dusty road. Because they hadn’t yet grasped the concept of serving one another in love, they all sat there with dirty feet. When Jesus came in, he demonstrated his love for them by becoming their servant and washing their feet. He showed his love by his actions. When you start your inventory page with “Love” at the top, you will be looking for ways in which you have not acted in love; you’ll be identifying behaviors that have sought to be served rather than to serve.

Honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love: These are the four absolutes in a life well lived. This is a serious challenge, I know. But we can do this. We can choose to stop justifying or blaming others for our actions. Submit this process to your kind heavenly Father and enjoy the healing and restoration that comes from a life of repentance and confession.

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Steve Arterburn is the founder and chairman of New Life Ministries and host of the #1 nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show, New Life Live!  the founder of Women of Faith conferences and serves as a teaching pastor at Heartland Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Steve is a bestselling author of books such as Every Man’s Battle and Healing is a Choice. The above excerpt is from his book The Book of Life Recovery. Steve resides with his family in Fishers, Indiana.