The Intentional Life

One of the faults of modernity is the lack of purpose. The majority of western civilization is set up in such a way that even “scraping by” means living beyond what kings of yore would have imagined.

When there is no struggle, complacency sets in.

Complacency is slowly killing the Western church. Gently floating along the waves of feminism and culture, the Christian church compromises again and again, until we have a culture of Being Nice overriding the the Gospel. Think of it; in the majority of Christian churches today, you are likely to be condemned by fellow ‘believers’ for, say posting something against homosexuality or Muslims on Facebook. Never mind that Scripture is clear, Christians today have completely lost what is Loving versus what is Nice.

Why is this? Because we are complacent, comfortable; because we are coasting, going through the motions. We have everything we need, there is no longing for Christ. We accept subtle messages embedded in pop culture, we assume that scolding articles written in left-wing newspapers have some authority on what is and what is not Christian.

Your life must be intentional.

You must get up every day and understand there is a battle to fight. Without knowing the Word, without keeping your mind on your vision, without asking for direction from Almighty God, you will fail.

Christian Men, you must lead your families. If you do not have a vision for what your family is and should be, you will wake up one day with grown children and a distant wife, and you will wonder what happened. Your family is like water; you as the husband are the container. If you provide a solid framework, a foundation, your family will take the shape that you provide.

If you are undisciplined, if you are indecisive, if you float from task to task, day to day, if you don’t know the Word of God, your family will dribble all over the place and make a mess.

Again, your life must be intentional.

What has God called you to do?

If you don’t know, look to Scripture. Christian culture today has fallen prey to an unbiblical perspective of “seeking God’s will,” whereby you simply look through the Bible to find verses that support what you were going to do any way. Ask any college-aged man who has had a Christian girl break up with him. I guarantee it was presented as “God’s will” for their relationship. It’s not her fault, it’s God’s.

Look to Acts. How long did Paul try to get to Rome? Or, when Paul wanted to go Bithynia, they were prevented. What happened next? They continued to act. Instead of preaching where they thought they were going to, they continued to preach where they ended up. There was no paralyzing struggle about “wondering what God wants me to doooooo”.

That is how God’s will manifests when you don’t have a clear calling.

You must act.

Your life must be intentional.

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Context Switching

You’re bad at multitasking. Don’t buy the myth that you’re not. You can’t really, even, do multiple things at once. You can switch between them, relatively rapidly. Right now, reading that first sentence, it’s likely you had a thought: “Well, I’M not bad at multitasking.” Most likely following it up with “But everyone else, is though.”

You’re not a special snowflake.

Research is clear on the topic, human brains aren’t really capable of doing multiple things at once. Every switch between tasks comes with a cost. You only have so much willpower in a day. You only have so much ability to get things done. Chipping away by choosing to pretend to multitask hurts your effectiveness, in your work or ministry.

Obviously, this is exacerbated by our level of technology. Naturally, cell phones and social media are prime culprits. Compare your opportunity to focus to that of your ancestors. In an agrarian society, you would not be switching tasks frequently. Instead of a measure of seconds between work and the ding of an incoming email, or the ring of a phone, you would have been doing one thing in the field for hours on end. Most likely, you’d be hot and sore and hungry, so your air-conditioned office certainly has it’s advantages.

But focus interrupts would come rarely and require full attention. Which is what your brain is good at. Say, for example, you’re plowing in spring time, and your plow catches and breaks. The task switches to another task of equally high importance. You can’t keep plowing until you fix the plow. And because you don’t have a Home Depot around the corner, fixing the plow is going to take some time.

Now, instead, your focus is constantly being subdivided, often by tasks that have no clear level of importance. EVERYTHING is important. This email. A sale offer. This call from another department. A tweet from some famous person.

Context switching is tiring.

It takes an iron will to maintain focus in the 21st century.

So develop your will.

You have the ability to take back that focus. You may not ever work on a farm, and may be impossible to truly step aside from your phone, but start with not inviting in more distractions.

Try not accepting the mailing list invite. Try disabling notifications. Try quitting your browser instead of keeping the Gmail tab open all the time. Set a timer and check back in an hour. These are all small steps that can begin to allow your brain to stay focused on one task at a time, give you better quality work and a shorter time to getting into the ‘flow’ state.

Make Something

How much time do you spend consuming? TV isn’t necessarily evil, it depends on what you watch. Likewise with movies. Reading is often held as a higher good, but the same standards apply. Crappy romance novels or pulp action can be fun but are not much different that watching a corresponding genre movie. Either way, escape is necessary, and enjoyable, in the right quantities.

“The right quantities” is something we have a hard time understanding in this hedonistic age.

Like sugar. Sugar is delicious, but you know our lives are super saturated with it already. So too with consuming.

Creating something requires synthesizing thoughts and articulating ideas. Taking pieces you’ve picked up elsewhere, putting them together, then turning it around and looking at it. Conceptually: does the idea hold up? Or, practically:  Did the person who’s DIY you read actually have correct instructions?

In an argument with another person, it is important to restate your perception of the issue at hand. Writing can be simply be restating what you perceive to be the existing problem. Teaching some one else a concept you know helps you realize the depth of your own understanding. Writing provides the same insight.

Human beings were made to create. To make things. To have tangible results.

“But I’m not a creative person,” you whine. Or, “I’m tired from work/life/school, I just want to not think.” Your hands, your mind are supposed to making things. What you make may be a garden. It may be words on a page. It may be a wood project. It may be a functioning vehicle. It even be code written for some kind of software project, though tangible creations tend to offer more satisfaction.

You, right now, have more time on your hands than people at nearly any other point in our history. Most likely your basic needs are met by your job. You have hours a day you could be improving, that you could be creating.

So what’s stopping you?

In the Grind

Any discipline can be a grind. If it were easy, everyone would be in shape. Everyone would be out of debt.

The real discovery of who you are comes not only in the midst of adversity, but in the midst of drudgery. Your body would rather eat the ice cream instead of saying no, you would rather sleep 10 more minutes than getting up and going to the gym. There is a voice, different than the one that whines “This is HARD!”. There is a voice that says “But you ate well yesterday. You stayed focused on your vision yesterday. Take it easy today. Take it easy at least for right now.”

Both voices tell half truths, but both will lead you astray. Of course it is hard. If you did well yesterday, that much is true. But doing well yesterday is no reason to stop today. Let that success build success, rather than be a reason to fail. Like temptation to sin, at least with sexual sin in particular, is to indulge after you’d blown it. “I already looked at porn once today, so today is shot. May as well do it again.” Motivation for improvement is no different. Failing once can be accidental; failing again is clearly a choice. Your character and your path must continually be chosen.

We live in an age of unprecedented prosperity. The jokes about “first world problems” point out the symptoms of our excess. We live in an era, at least in America and the West, where there is so much food the poor are more likely to be obese than too skinny. At any moment, there is an endless array of distractions available to you. Entertainment options our ancestors not only could not have dreamed of; but to have the time to choose, instead of scrabbling to keep alive.

These things are hard because they must be; if they were easy, there would be no growth. No growth, and you’ll stagnate. You’d already be satisfied, you’d already be fit.

But letting the grind get the best of you is how you ended up where you are now. So choose to continue, it takes more than the one time decision to make a change in your life.

The Chasm

Christianity is based on the understanding of the enormous, unsurmountable distance between your own thoughts and actions, and the holiness that God requires. You know, sin. Most Christians are familiar with “the bridge illustration” which is this premise illustrated, usually in napkin form.

This chasm cannot be crossed on your own; Christ’s sacrifice alone is large enough to cross the void. This is clear.

However, being aware that sin creates the space between who we are and what we ought to be manifests in smaller ways.

You are utterly aware of what you should be doing with your time. Deep down, when the temptation to visit corners of the web you should not, when Netflix helpfully prompts you with What’s Next, when your work is not to the level you are capable, when you pull out your smartphone as your child asks for your attention, you know that you are made for more.

Outside of eternity in heaven perfection will never be achieved. But one day, Christian, you will be held to account for what you have done in this life. Does working a job that seems meaningless, living for products to buy, and watching other people live their scripted lives on TV seem like a good use of it? Can you look back on your life with pride? Can you even look back on your week, even the past day, and say “I used my time well, I have run the race to the best of my ability?”

I doubt it.

Check in to the moment. Right now, is what you are doing moving you closer to your goal? What is God’s vision for your life?  Do you have any sense of vision for your life?

It’s time to find that vision. It’s time to grab ahold and fight for it to move forward. Don’t wait.