I love the outdoors. When I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, there was a National Park trailhead not more than 30 seconds away from my home. I could hike to my heart’s content, inhaling the woodsy fresh scent of the Ponderosa pines, their fallen needles cushioning my every step as I explored the beauty around me. The night sky was so clean and clear, I could see the milky way galaxy just walking out into my backyard. If I took even a few minutes of time, I could easily find a falling star to wish upon. It was, in a word, gorgeous!
I have also lived in places that were anything but gorgeous. There was no innate beauty around me to admire, no nearby natural escapes to wander through. The main parts of town looked unkempt and forlorn. The landscape was monotonous, boring.
I have found life can be much the same way. What God wants for each of us is a beautiful, amazing journey along a pathway specifically designed for us. Yet all too often, we get so busy making our plans, setting our goals and striving for some future date or situation, that we miss the daily choices and decisions God lays before us that allow our forward movement toward that beautiful, rich path. Our life begins to feel like drudgery because we keep treading the same old rutted, well-worn road we understand but don’t deeply enjoy. We know we want better, but we don’t stop long enough to listen each and every day for the ways the Lord is trying to direct us to the bountiful journey He has marked out for each of us. Personally, I have found the difference maker to be intentionality. Yet before I dive into what true intentionality looks like, let’s look at what it’s not. It’s not you running around doing whatever you think is the quickest, best solution to your given situation. It’s not coming up with a laundry list of items that you find yourself buried under. And it’s especially not you taking control of your situation.
A few things happen when we do that. Change can feel scary. When you default to doing what you understand (which brings comfort since you understand it), you’re less likely to find a different outcome. It’s doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. It’s frustrating. It’s defeating. It doesn’t move you forward. If we make a huge list of all that needs to change, we get overwhelmed. We begin to close our eyes and wish for escape; we paralyze ourselves and then we can’t move forward.
When you take control of the situation—using your solution instead of falling to your knees, crying out and waiting for God’s solution—you settle for less. Your solution may actually work, but it will never be as powerful as God’s solution for you. It will never move you as far forward as God can. Plus, your solution requires you to have the strength and will to change yourself. Personally, I don’t ever seem to have enough internal juice to do so. In fact, some researchers put the failure rate of self will at 97%. But being intentional with God allows you to tie in to His strength and will, which is infinite and mighty. His solution is one that lasts, one that will transform us and move us forward.
Intentionality is all about making plans with God instead of making plans and hoping God will somehow come along for the ride. Regardless of my circumstances, if I’m intentional about them with God, the good times lengthen and the challenges, however deep, become easier to navigate. Intentionality in itself is discovering through prayer and reflection with God what steps you need to take and how you will need to take them. It’s more than making plans; it’s making God central to your plan making. It is a process that grows and evolves with you over time as God directs your steps. I look at being intentional from two different angles – internally and externally. If I’m trying to change, if I’m looking for a different result or outcome, I start off by digging in deep about why I got to where I am in the first place (the internal). What’s going on within my heart and my mind? Why have I been content to stay in a dark place, for example, or to react or to constantly run around like a crazy person with no breathing room in my life? What are the internal drivers behind my situation? For me, sometimes it goes back to lack of self-worth, or from needing to be a martyr because I somehow see my God-given needs as expendable. I can see strands of fear – fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of success, etc. It can come down to feeling entitled, like I’m owed something, even though I know very well there are no guarantees in this life. There are many, many “whys” that can lurk around in my heart, but intentionally tackling these issues with God and with the people who love me are a huge piece of what propels me forward and allows me to invite in true growth and change. Once I get the “why” in a given situation, I’m much more equipped to handle the “how.” I pray through it, break it down into manageable steps. I ask God for wisdom and insight, for direction and guidance. And then I sit back and listen. I listen for the ways the Spirit may be nudging me forward, or for that sense of rightness that comes from making a strong decision from a position of faith. Somehow the more I practice this discipline, the more the answers seem to not only flow, but actually work, and work well. I am continually amazed at how God will put the right people at the right time in my path that give me the solution I needed, or the next step I should take, or the exact word of wisdom I was hoping for. I also dig through the scripture, looking to see what the best selling book in all of human history, the Bible, has to say about my situation. Am I dealing with anger? There’s great suggestions in there. Someone who is cheating me or being abusive? It’s in there. Money issues? There are practical steps for me to follow woven throughout. Liars? Corrupt business partners? Crucial turning points? Going to war for someone’s soul, even if it’s my own? It’s chock full of great wisdom and practical advice. And the scriptures that really hit my circumstance like a hard-driven home run I post around me in conspicuous places, keeping that idea in front of me so it doesn’t get crowded out by the white noise of life. Being intentional is a mindset and a process. It says yes to including God and fights resolutely to keep self-will at bay. Remember 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:
“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”
Intentionality is all about doing just that—using God’s divine Spirit that He has placed in each and every one of us to free us from the yoke of slavery the world would put on us, and to liberate our hearts and minds for something far greater than we could ever obtain or become on our own.
God has a great path marked out with your name on it. It will stretch you and challenge you, but it will fulfill you and inspire you, too. It will not be a perfect path, but you’ll find the myriad of blessings in the imperfections and learn to lean into God more closely. And you will find that with Godly intentionality, you can leave those well-worn dusty roads of mediocrity behind.
For Further Thought: What are some of the areas in your life that you keep off limits to God? Is it dating? Your work? Your anger or addiction? For me, it’s the need for expediency. I want my answers yesterday, so I’m rarely as patient as I know I should be. Whatever it is, bring it to God this week and invite Him in. Intentionally dig into your internal drivers and begin asking God to help you draw up your plans of attack. Remember: “The Lord knows how useless our plans really are. How blessed the man you train, God, the woman you instruct in your Word, providing a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil,” (Psalm 94:11-13). I’d love to hear how it goes!