Monday, November 19, 2012

Quick, Easy, Relentless Accountability

Like a lot of other Christians I know, the word "accountability" tends to make me cringe. When I say "accountability" in this context, I mean the idea that, in an attempt to hold oneself to a change in behavior or thought patterns, you ask another trusted person - a good friend, family member, pastor, etc. - to hold you to your stated desire to change. This other person would become your "accountability partner," someone who knows that you are struggling to make this change, and is willing to ask you hard questions about your progress...or lack thereof.

Some of my less-than-enthusiastic response to the concept of accountability is no doubt tied to the remnants of a sinful, rebellious heart that wants very much to hold onto a shred of the ungodly but all too common worldview that proudly waves its fist and proclaims, "Hey, back off! This is my life! I really don't need anyone looking over my shoulder!"

It is, in fact, a heart attitude like the one that I have just described that will end up defeating the entire purpose of just such a program, no matter what it is. Any accountability program you put in place can be (and will be) defeated if you are not wholeheartedly "all in" on the idea. The most obvious way by which accountability can be bypassed, of course, is simply by lying to our friends. But other ways are just as easy (and sinful); software-based monitoring programs can be deactivated, meetings and lunches scheduled for the purpose of checking in can be skipped, and so forth.

All that to say that whenever anyone approaches me with at least some desire to enter into an accountability relationship, I tend to look for the weak spots, those areas where black-and-white tends to dissolve into gray. Because, at best, we are all a mixed bag when it comes to making hard changes, I know that someone who has a willingness to be open and honest on Monday about some change they want to make in their lives might very well by Friday find their enthusiasm to be accountable to others waning. So while I know that accountability is primarily a matter of the heart and not one of finding a foolproof piece of technology, I still want whatever barrier we set up to "last long enough" such that this brother or sister in Christ might actually come to their senses before they complete whatever scheme is intended to defeat monitoring.

All of which leads me to say that thus far I have been very impressed with the The Pure App for iPhone and Android. The genius behind the Pure app is its simplicity. In the case of Christians maintaining accountability with one another, "less is definitely more." In the past couple of weeks, I have used the Pure app myself as a means of steering clear of any/all refined sugar for a "fasting period" of 90 days. Other guys I know have used the app to help them maintain purity in other ways.

The program gives users the ability to define the question(s) asked and frequency of the message. You can set up the Pure app to ask you anything; one could in fact use this app to light up a smart phone once a day with the very basic question, "Have you spent any time praying or reading the Bible today?" The Pure dialog screen forces you to pick an answer - Yes or No - and then e-mails your response to a friend who has agreed to work with you on the desired change. By choosing both the question asked and the targeted accountability partner, a Pure app user has effectively placed themselves in a position where he or she needs to weigh the importance of staying faithful regularly to something they themselves have designed, putting themselves in the position of maintaining faithfulness...or knowingly lying to a trusted friend.

The system is not perfect, by any means, but in addition to a brain-dead-simple interface, the simplicity and effectiveness of regular reminders - daily, weekly or monthly - is something that prevents getting to the end of a day without checking in. This, for me, is the single best feature of using the Pure app; it overrides our "tendency to forget" those things that we might be tempted to bypass. And, very helpfully, it takes no time at all to quickly respond to the Pure app message and get back to my work day. So there is very little excuse not to follow through. (I barely have time to become distracted or annoyed before the check-in process is over and done with!)

I'm certainly not pretending that installing the Pure app on your smart phone will solve all of your accountability issues or remedy any of your failings as a human being. It for sure won't. The primary problem in your life (and mine) is battling back against our fleshly desires, however they may manifest themselves in your life. It really doesn't matter if your problem is maintaining sexual purity, remembering to pray regularly for loved ones, or simply staying away from too many jelly beans. As the Beatles so famously have noted, we all need a little help from our friends.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Galatians 5:16-17 (ESV)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

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