Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pastor's Corner by Nick Stumbo

The theme of this month’s HOUSE is about being intentional. How do we stay spiritually awake and vibrant in a day and age where lethargy and consumerism of the soul are commonplace? I appreciate Jim Venable very much for his willingness to share about the journey that they have been on; a commitment that forces them to be intentional. I know that many others of you are on a journey where you have intentionally built great discipline into your life, and for that I applaud you!

As I think about intentionality, two thoughts come to mind. First off, I believe that all of us, on some level or another, really want to be intentional. We want to move with precision and purpose, knowing what to do and when to do it. We desire that sense of each new day fitting into the greater picture of an overall progression in our life, like a series of musical notes moving together in harmony. If our kids are out of control, we want to be intentional to create the kind of structure they need to succeed. If our finances are upside down, we want an intentional plan to right the ship. If our life of faith feels dim, we want patterns and spiritual disciplines that draw us close to the Savior.

I say we want these things. We desire to be intentional. But then, we actually attempt to be intentional. And as my experience usually reveals, we find a most interesting dynamic at work. This led to my second observation: being intentional is hard work! All of these ideas and thoughts we have about intentionality look good on paper and sound great over a cup of coffee, but put into practice…well… that requires effort, energy, and perseverance, doesn’t it? Everyone wants financial peace, but to actually quit spending in order to get there can be a real pain. We want our children to behave, but to actually say "no" to them and set hard boundaries is a real challenge. I want my spiritual life to be vibrant and bright, but to actually get up early or make space for it disrupts my happy routine! What to do?

As we live in this tension between the intentionality that we desire and the ability to actually put it into practice, let me offer these four words of advice:

1. You have to be CLEAR. Plans fail more often than not because of too much ambiguity. We know in general where we want to change, but this will not create change. As you can see in Jim’s article, the book Radical gives a very clear plan. Your plan doesn’t necessarily need to be specific to the last detail, but it must be clear. So, for example, if you want to grow in your faith, it is far too vague to say "I will spend more time with God." Okay, great. When? What does "more" mean? It would be far more helpful to say "I want to spend 20 minutes each morning reading Scripture and in prayer." Whether it’s parenting, finances, or faith, a clear plan will get you going.

2. You must have SUPPORT. We tend to have very individualistic mindsets. This means, we think that if we make up our minds to do something, this will be good enough to get it done. Not necessarily so. Think of the frustration that will ensue if one spouse has made a parenting or finances plan, but the other spouse is either unaware or unsupportive. This is where we get the phrase, "beating your head against a wall." The significant people in our lives, particularly those who will be affected by our decisions, must be aware of and on board with our plan to be intentional. Do you need to get up earlier? Then make sure your spouse or kids or friends are a part of the plan and can help you carry through.

3. You need to be ACCOUNTABLE. We might be tempted to think that support and accountability are one and the same. They can be, but that’s not always the case. Let me put it this way. If I have a plan to get up at a certain time each day, I will definitely need my wife’s support. But it may not be healthy for her to keep me accountable. This could create an unhealthy dynamic in the relationship where her questions or accountability might feel more like judgment or criticism. You need to give someone the permission to keep you accountable and be very specific about what their role will be. One other note: it is not good to tell someone else, "Check up on me and see how I’m doing." In this statement, we put the responsibility for accountability on them, rather than on ourselves. We need to take the personal responsibility for our own change. It is far better to say, "I will call you on such and such a day and tell you how it’s going. Would that be okay?"

4. You must have GRACE. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of people’s change efforts coming to a screeching halt because they failed one time. Why do we think that as flawed human beings if we decide to change, it will happen immediately? The reality is, we are still the same flawed human beings, and even our attempts at change for the good will be flawed! That’s the nature of change. Pick yourself up and start over again. Realize that God sees your heart and loves your desire to do what’s right. Set aside guilt and shame and keep moving forward after a misstep. Change is the result of consistent, intentional effort made in the same direction over time. Perfection is not required.

May God bless you and strengthen you during this Lent season. Whatever change goals you are pursuing, may you find his Presence giving you all that you need.

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