We know where good intentions lead…
The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but we can’t do without them. Not that you asked, but I suspect hell is also paved with bad intentions. Good intentions are good. It’s just that good intentions alone are not enough. We must add to them our attention.
Even that is not enough.
What we need are not “good” intentions but “God” intentions — seeking what God intends for us to do and then giving our attention to those and to God Himself. Then they can become actions and achievements — and success. But let me give some good examples.
Good intention + attention = success
My recent mishap in yoga class is still in my thoughts. When my shoulder healed, I cautiously resumed my fitness activities, tentatively testing my injured shoulder to see if it were healed. I returned to yoga — timidly. But both the caution and the timidity caused me to pay attention to what my body was doing.
As I did yoga, I listened intently to my instructor’s cues to “stabilize your shoulders”: “without moving them, move your arms away from each other,” “without moving them, spin your fingers out,” “move your hands and your feet toward each other,” etc.
I gripped the floor through the mat’s surface with determination to stand strong. I isometrically moved my arms and hands and feet as she directed. I noticed how my shoulders strengthened their stance, my core engaged, my muscles worked.
My intention — my good intention — was to remain stable even if my mat was slick. My attention to my body as I moved into and held each pose made my good intention happen. Good intention + attention = success. I stayed strong and did not fall.
That formula for success also works for my spiritual “success.” (As a Christian, I believe “success” is doing what God asks me to do to the best of our ability. Our, meaning the best that I can do with Him.)
This is my third year reading the Bible using the Bible in One Year by Nicky Gumbel via the Bible App. Until November of last year, however, only partial attention joined my good intention. In fact, I often listened to the devotion and Scriptures as I walked or drove, and I rarely took time to reflect on what I’d heard.
Convicted, I’ve changed my priorities, putting God rather than fitness first. And I have gotten less physically fit, which means my clothes fit less comfortably. But giving Him quality time, true quiet time, has satisfied my heart and mind.
My good intention — to read the Bible through in a year — only fed my deepest need for Jesus when I gave reading and reflecting my full attention. It is easy to go through the motions without giving those motions intention and attention. Sometimes we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing!
We need an instructor
When my yoga class returned early this year, attendance was thin. On days when we had only four people, we took what I call a “field trip to the wall.” It was different. It was fun. But it challenged my body and mind and proved an excellent teacher, along with my already excellent yoga teacher.
My instructor would have us use the classroom wall, maybe a folding chair, maybe some blocks to do the same poses we might have done without props on our mats. We’d also direct our attention to the mirror to watch ourselves.
Each of those props — and the mirror — reflected one truth to me: I was a cheater.
Oh, I had good intentions every time I arrived at class. I even paid attention to my body. But using a chair back to guide my forward fold made my hamstrings cry. I hadn’t been hinging at the hips and stretching them. I had been curving my back to reach my feet. The prop forced me into proper position.
My instructor had me view my side plank in the mirror. Only then did I see how my body sagged, evidence I wasn’t engaging my core. Pressing my foot against the physical wall during Warrior Three showed me I had managed the pose previously only by twisting my body.
In other words, even good intentions with good attention may pave the way to hell. We also need a guide to train us and provide feedback along the way.
Props, a mirror, and my instructor’s feedback help me see the truth in yoga. A deep sense of joy and peace — better than I’ve ever known — accompanies my focused reading of God’s Word and reflection. I invite God to be my instructor during those quality times.
I submit to my yoga instructor’s teaching because I want to do yoga well. When I leave class and go about my daily life, I try to incorporate what she’s taught me as I walk or stand or even sit. I put my shoulders back, engage my core, think about the position of my head. But it’s easy to hunch my shoulders, slump in a chair, and otherwise live as if I’ve never had yoga instruction.
Likewise, when I put away my Bible app and my journaled prayers and begin the rest of my day, I try to keep God’s Word in mind. But instead of walking in God’s strength, I tend to walk in my own. And fail. God intentions and good intentions get no attention. Instead I react to the urgent, pressing moments of the day and fail to do what’s most important.
Here’s the thing: I can’t take my yoga instructor with me through the day. I can take my life instructor. If I am a believer in Jesus, His Holy Spirit lives in me to be my instructor — and not just for a 60-minute class twice a week. Jesus called Him the Helper:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).
The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He doesn’t force His will on me. He is available to instruct and remind me, but I have to invite Him. Yes, as a believer, I have the Holy Spirit — but does the Holy Spirit have me?
How can I live in such a way as to remain aware of my Teacher’s presence and walk in His strength?
When I began this blog post, my aim was to point to the simple equation I used above: good intention + attention = success. I wanted to discuss goals (good intentions) and how giving goals attention results in action steps that lead to success.
But that isn’t enough. We need God intentions — not just good intentions. (I discuss how we must hear God before we can trust and obey in this post.) We want to seek God’s assignments for our days and lives and then attend to them. Even that isn’t enough if we try to go it alone.
We need to give attention not just to our good, God intentions, but also to our Instructor. (Yes, capital I.)
Be attentive to ‘who’ not ‘what’
When I practice yoga (which I only do in a class setting), I have the privilege of a living standard in the form of my instructor. She doesn’t describe poses; she does the poses. She doesn’t just model the poses; she cues us how to get into the pose and hold it correctly. When she sees me perform incorrectly, she shows me my error and how to fix it.
At the end of class, Susan always says, “Thank you for sharing your practice with me. Namaste.”
I am sharing my practice with her. Not just taking her class and going through the motions, but allowing her to guide me and correct my yoga practice, as needed. Submitting to her instruction.
Just as I intentionally go to yoga class and give my attention to an instructor who can guide me and provide feedback for my success, I want to invite the Holy Spirit intentionally into each day. I want to give Him the attention, not just give attention to my good intentions or what I hope are God intentions.
My yoga instructor coaches me into poses. The Holy Spirit coaches me into positions where I achieve success for God’s glory. Both of those persons only coach me because I seek to be coached. If I attend yoga but do my own thing instead of accept my instructor’s teaching, I have no benefit being there. If we’ve received Jesus as our Savior and, thus, have the Helper, the Holy Spirit within but don’t accept His teaching and His moment by moment presence, we don’t benefit as we might.
“Spending time in the presence of God is the most important activity of your life,” said Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London and author the Bible in One Year plan. “You need God’s presence in your life more than you need anything else. But where do you find the presence of God?”
He suggests spending time daily in God’s Word and in prayer, and as we pray, we should ask specifically for God’s presence.
“God is always present with His people today by His Holy Spirit. When you pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ you are asking for an increased sense of the presence of God.”
Come, Holy Spirit. Give me an awareness of God’s presence and His desires for me. I want to do what God wants me to do, His intentions rather than my good intentions. Set my mind on things of the Spirit. Help me attend to you and your leading so I might glorify God in all I do.
I tend to be a people pleaser. I am a good student in yoga because I want to please my instructor. I am a good employee because I want to please my boss and those who benefit from the work I do. I am a good wife because I want to please my husband.
How about you? It seems that we “people pleasers” may be able to put that tendency to good use — or God use — and please the Holy Spirit inside us. Surrender to Him and cultivate that relationship. Practice His presence and hear Him say, as does my yoga instructor, “Thank you for sharing your practice with me.”
It is part of the formula for success.
God intentions + attention to our Instructor = success.