In our overly busy day, we are more prone to succumb to the winds of whim and the tyranny of others. It is very easy to drift or to lose our bearing entirely. Therefore, we must purpose to be intentional Christians. Pastor John Neal of Covenant PCA in Midlothian, Virginia encourages our intentionality in this interview.
UCH: What do we mean by intentionality?
JN: Living intentionally means to live self-consciously on purpose. It carries with it the idea of being purposeful in what we do. We are always doing something for some reason whether we are consciously aware of that reason or not. In Tit. 3:8, Paul exhorts Titus in summary of all he has been saying, “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. The word translated devoted by the ESV or be careful to, as most other modern translations is literally take thought to do good”. He doesn’t just say, insist on these things, but for them to take thought to do them. There is a common human tendency to fail to give much thought to what we do, or plan to do the good we do know we should do.
We tend to suffer from what I call fuzzy thinking. Our lifestyles will reflect our degree of intentionality. If we just aren’t thinking very far ahead and we don’t plan to do what it takes to get there, we will not likely make much progress in the good we know we should do and even want to do.
In contrast, living intentionally is living with clear goals in mind, and thinking through what we must do to reach those goals. It means taking the time to prepare our hearts by preaching the gospel to ourselves daily, and to be doing the little things daily that are necessary to accomplish the bigger things. It means, making a plan and sticking with it, not necessarily rigidly but consistently. This idea is summed up in the Pr. 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
UCH: What should we be intentional about?
JN: Here is where preparing our hearts comes in. First, we should be intentional about our hearts as we seek to be intentional about our good works. The Macedonian Christians were a great example of being intentional about the right things. In 2 Cor. 9, Paul wants to give the Corinthians time to prepare to give the gift they had promised, not only the money but their hearts, as he says in verse “so that it may be ready as voluntary and not as an extraction…or as in verse 7 not reluctantly or under compulsion. The reason he offers is that God loves a cheerful giver. It takes some time and effort to get our hearts in the right frame, not just for giving money, but for any good service for Him in our lives. We, of course, should take our goals from scripture. As followers of Jesus, we should take our priorities from Jesus. He makes clear to us the importance of those priorities reflecting the heart-level motives as he defines them. What is more, we should be intentional about living by the heart level motives through the means he provides, and that is specifically by faith in Jesus.
UCH: Why should we be intentional about it?
JN: We make much use of a couple well-worn sayings in our church that reflect the biblical principles of scripture. The first is, “If you fail to plan you’ll plan to fail.” The second, “If you aim at nothing you will surely hit it.” Everyone knows that accomplishing goals does not happen by accident. We are not likely to stumble into them. This flows out of what we are as Christ’s disciples. The root of “disciple” is imbedded in the word “discipline”. Without the discipline of intentionally giving thought to what we do we are not likely to be faithful disciples, which if we are in Christ we will want to be. Paul often used the metaphor of an athlete to help us understand the training involved in the Christian life. He exhorted Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly, for physical training is of some value but godliness is valuable for all things, holding promise for this life and the life to come.” Indeed, spiritual training has great value for God’s glory and our joy but it requires intentionality.
UCH: Who should be more intentional?
JN: Simple answer, every one of us. NO one is exempt from its critical importance. Not even the apostle Paul was exempt, but rather, as he told the Philippians, this one thing I do (that’s intentionality) forgetting what is behind, I press on to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He kept his eyes intentionally and continually on the prize. This is so important if we hope to obtain it as fully as we are called to. This is the essence of living intentionally. All of us are admonished in regards to enduring and completing our own personal race to, fix our gaze on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. We all need to intentionally look to Jesus because he has already conquered and we stand in his victory! (Rom. 8; Eph. 6:10-17)
UCH: What are 3 simple ways to be more intentional?
JN: 1. Make a simple plan. Write it down in a journal that you will keep notes in and review daily. Include thoughts about scripture and books you are reading.
2. Talk to someone else about your goals and ask them to hold you accountable and give them permission to talk about your heart struggles and practical struggles in keeping to your goals.
3. Know how to and continually, daily, preach the gospel to yourself daily, and Pray for help.