Several ago, many of us set a new year’s resolution to be more “intentional.” The only problem with that goal is that we have no idea what intentionality really is or what it should look like in our day-to-day lives.
Sure, “intentionality” is so broad that it could really mean anything you want it to. But let’s narrow it down together in a spiritual way.
Intentionality in the spiritual realm is actually OPPOSITE of what the world says it is because Scripture prioritizes matters of the heart over measurable life improvements. Our goal as Christians is not to improve our lives through intentionality (got the job, finished the laundry, made the friend, saved the money), INSTEAD it’s about preparing for our eternity through knowing and serving our Savior Jesus.
Colossians 3:23 reminds us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
Working and living for others involves several different areas of our lives:
Thoughts are the most immeasurable part of our lives and yet they are one of the most formative when it comes to our spiritual development.
Being intentional in your thought life is the starting point for everything else. I’m sure you can think of a time or two that your thoughts have gone astray. The problem with our thoughts is that if they’re not corrected, they can become consuming. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 provides us with the tools we need to combat an unintentional thought life.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
We might be living in the flesh, but the battle we truly face with our thoughts each day is spiritual. The power that we possess through Christ Jesus is supernatural and gives us the ability to destroy the strongholds in our lives. This spiritual warfare is won by taking our thoughts captive, recognizing where they are sinful, and submitting them in obedience to Jesus. This is the first step to intentionality.
I’ve taken a personal inventory of the things I put into my mind this week. Lots of it was work related, some of it was TV and podcasts, and others of it involved Scripture reading, prayer, and conversations with Mason.
You know what I learned? The things I put into my mind DIRECTLY affect how intentional I am about things.
Watching mindless TV, although it can be relaxing, causes me to be lazy and think about things that don’t matter. Certain social media or online inputs cause my anxiety and comparison to go through the roof. On the other hand, when I have deep conversations about Scripture with Mason or when I spend time with the Lord, those inputs cause me to worship and correct my attitudes and behavior to reflect the One who died to save me!
As believers, we need to pay serious attention to the things we allow into our minds and hearts, especially if it causes us to sin. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5:30, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
When we talk about intentionality in all aspects of life, we must also face the reality that being intentional in our faith and in everyday life often means CUTTING OUT things that aren’t leading us to holiness.
If we’re honest, we ALL struggle to spend personal time with God each day. It’s hard to make studying the Bible and prayer a habit.
There are so many fun things to do and places to go that seem more exciting or fulfilling in the moment than having a quiet time with God. But are we being truthful with ourselves when we say we don’t have “time” to get to know Him in the midst of our busyness?
Think about it. We still find time to brush our teeth everyday, and shower, and eat, and talk to the people we love. We usually wouldn’t get to the end of the day and say we just “forgot” to do those things. We make time for them.
Intentionality in spiritual disciplines requires a similar priority—we have to make it a habit! It doesn’t take as much mental energy to remember to wash your face everyday because you’ve made it a habit. It’s the same with spiritual things.
If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, then you have the JOY of spending your life getting to know Him and look like Him more each day, but it doesn’t come naturally. We must set God-honoring goals and priorities to combat our sinful tendencies. And we don’t do these things out of legalism but out of a changed and grateful heart, knowing God’s Word has ALL we need for life and godliness.
The fruit of this inward intentionality we’ve been discussing is outward results – AKA, obedience. “Obedience” is a scary word that our flesh flees from. We think back to our childhood when our parents told them to obey us and all the consequences that came along with that. The thing is, this parent/child relationship and call to obedience is similar in our relationship with God.
Obedience is God’s love language. Scripture talks over and over again about the importance of living a life in submission and obedience to God (James 1:22, John 14:23, 1 John 2:17, Proverbs 10:17).
Why aren’t we intentional to do this?
First, we don’t obey because we don’t know what God is asking us to do. He reveals all His instructions clearly in His Word, but if we aren’t reading it, we won’t know what to do. Much like a child who ignores his or her parents, a child of God who refuses instruction from His Word is on a path of pain and hardship.
Second, we don’t like to obey because it feels too legalistic. The truth is, obedience to God is much more about a heart transformed by the grace and love of Jesus than it is about checking boxes (go read Psalm 51:16-17 about the kind of sacrifice God *truly* wants). If you’re doing spiritual things because you feel like you *have* to, you’ve missed the point.
A few years ago, I was stranded in London alone. All British Airways flights had been cancelled, I missed my train, and my best friend was waiting for me hundreds of miles away in Scotland. I dragged my bag around the city until I found the tiniest hotel room (the kind I could afford). I slept restlessly and woke up to a 4 hour (standing room only) train ride to Scotland.
Do you think I was wondering how to be “intentional in my faith” in that moment? Definitely not. But it was in that moment that I learned a lot about the Lord’s provision in sudden fear and loneliness.
We ALL have moments like that one I found myself in across the sea. Some of us have moments like that every week! In the midst of it all, here are a few things we all need to know about being intentional…
Intentionality isn’t easy when life is busy and difficult. Part of growing in our faith is persevering in challenging moments. “Know that the testing of your faith produces endurance,” James 1:3 reminds us. Don’t give up in the hard times!
There is a lot to learn in every season. When I was on that train ride to Scotland, in the midst of all the various accents, I heard a familiar twang. Sure enough, one of the guys sitting near me was from Kentucky! I met this man and his family and they helped me get my luggage off the train once we got to Scotland. God reminded me that day that He will provide what we need and also *extra* blessings that we don’t even expect! We need to be observant and ready to learn the lessons He has for us.
You have to be practical. It’s better to set small goals that are actually realistic than it is to aspire to BIG things and not do ANY of them. That day in Scotland, in the midst of all the craziness, I still read my Bible and wrote in my prayer journal. It wasn’t lengthy or fancy, and I wouldn’t have won a spiritual award for my attitude that day, but I needed God and His Word to keep me focused.
Perhaps God has convicted you about one or more of these areas of intentionality – that you have been neglecting time with Him or that you’ve missed the point of doing things for Him. We ALL need to have refreshed perspectives on intentionality in our spiritual lives.
So why do we need to be intentional?
Colossians 3:17 wraps it up well for us: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Thoughts, inputs, disciplines, actions – they ALL matter to God. Each part needs to be sanctified and subjected to His authority as we strive to live lives that reflect Him and give Him glory.