Have you ever heard the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are?” It’s a catchy way of saying that you get where you are going – which seems really obvious, right? It’s not, actually. How many times do we look at our life and find ourselves baffled about how we got to the place in which we find ourselves?
- How did my health get so terrible?
- Why don’t I have friends?
- Why can’t I stop shopping, drinking, worrying, moving from one romance to the next?
- Why can’t I seem to hold a job?
- Why do I move from one bad relationship to the next?
- Why don’t I feel close to God?
- Why do I keep finding myself in the same kind of bad situation over and over again?
None of set out to reach a point where we ask this kind of question – none of us said, “I'd like to go there!” So what happened? We are going to talk about Biblical principles for living* that will help us take the things that are within our ability to change and in a practical sense begin to experience the kind of life God intends for us to live.**
Paul talked a lot in Colossians about how a Supreme God does a work in our life to make us something new. It is only because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that we are saved and made right in the eyes of God. Our souls are changed because of the work of Christ. Followers of Christ are part of what Paul calls a “new humanity” that is no longer enslaved by sin, but is free to live as God made us to live. God is a God of grace who gives the gift of true, eternal life to those who place their trust in Him, but he also offers wants us to flourish in this life before we enter eternity (John 10:10).
Christ has freed us to become the kind of person we need to be, but we have to choose the path that gets us there. This is a crucial truth about life. God has given us the ability to impact the quality and direction of our life by the choices that we are able to freely make.
“Guide me to walk in the way You commanded because I take joy in it. Turn my head and my heart to Your decrees and not to sinful gain. Keep my eyes from gazing upon worthless things, and give me true life according to Your plans.” (Psalm 119:35-37)
“Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead, and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth, and you will safely reach the end of your road.” (Proverbs 4:25-26)
“So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)
We never drift in good directions. One of the first things they teach us in Driver’s Ed is that we have a tendency to drift in the direction of things that have our attention. Our attention determines our direction.
“I have pointed you in the way of wisdom; I have steered you down the path to integrity… Pay attention to all the words I am telling you. Lean in closer so you may hear all I say. Keep them before you… set them safely in your heart. For those who discover them, they are life. They bring wholeness and healing to their bodies. Above all else, watch over your heart; diligently guard it because from a sincere and pure heart come the good and noble things of life… Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead, and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth, and you will safely reach the end of your road. Do not veer off course to the right or the left; step away from evil, and leave it behind." (Proverbs 14:11, 21-27)
So often we say, “I want to be healthy. I want to be a husband that my wife admires (or vice versa). I want to be a dependable employee. I want to know my Bible. I’m really capable of a lot. I could make a difference. If people could just see the real me, they would see what I have to offer the world.” That may well be true. If you feel that way, keep feeling that way. And if you are a follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the truth in the BIble will work in your life to help you flourish.
Just remember: Our attention trumps our intention every time. No matter how strongly we feel about what we are capable of being and no matter how much we know the power of God can transform us, until we can recognize the ways in which our choices have brought us to where we are, we will probably not have much success in making the kind of choices that will take us where we need to be. We have to turn our eyes to things of worth and focus on Christ so we can stay on the path and not drift. That’s why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Our attention determines our direction, and OUR DIRECTION DETERMINES OUR DESTINATION. Paul wrote in Galatians:
“Make no mistake: God can’t be mocked. What you give is what you get. What you plant, you harvest. Those who plant seeds into their flesh will only harvest destruction from their sinful nature. But those who plant seeds into the Spirit shall harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. May we never tire of doing what is good and right before our Lord because in His season we shall bring in a great harvest if we can just persist.” (Galatians 6:7-9)
We are all currently experiencing a particular destination: health, friendship, a steady job, meaningful relationships, a genuine connection with God. If our lives had a rearview mirror, we could see that, by every step we took to get here, we chose a direction. We are going to end up at new destinations, and the same principle will still apply. That’s the way God designed life to work.
A number of years ago I arrived at a destination called Burnout. I finally had to take seriously that fact that I had to change my exercise and eating habits, as well as how I managed my time. I had known that for years. In my rearview mirror the direction I had chosen was clear. I didn’t need advice about what happened. I didn’t even need a solution – I knew I had to eat better, exercise more, and rest. I experienced an important truth about life: Our freedom to choose does not free us from the practical consequences of that choice. So often, our default is to choose the path that has our attention – and it’s usually the one that feels easy or good or even right in the moment:
- I think I’ll eat nachos in front of the TV like I did all last week.
- I think I’ll stay home because I am more comfortable when there’s not people around.
- I think I’ll just keep shopping, drinking, moving from one romance to the next because I feel better for a while.
- I think I will keep looking up porn – it’s just entertainment, right?
- I think I will keep going, going and going because I want to accomplish a lot with the time that I have.
And then we get frustrated because our health is shot, and we have trouble making friends, and we are spending or drinking or sleeping our way into compulsions or addictions, and that porn we thought was entertainment has become an addiction and just corrupted our thought life, and we drift away from God or our families… And in moments of clarity we ask, “Why is this happening to me?”
Because something the seemed good caught our attention, and that turned us in a particular direction, and then we were at a destination we never planned on – but there we are. We are harvesting what we planted. Do you want your character or your situation to change? You have to acknowledge whatever unhealthy habits have had your attention and direction, then change what you plant so the harvest can change.
QUESTIONS ABOUT ATTENTION***
- What are the things that have your attention right now? (Hint: look at your time and money).
- Are you paying attention to the right things?
- What are some things right now that deserve your attention? What doesn’t?
- What does a spouse or close friend have to say about these questions?
QUESTIONS ABOUT DIRECTION
- Has anyone confronted or affirmed you recently about a relationship or lifestyle issue?
- Does your spouse or close friend keep bringing up the same thing (with either admiration or concern)?
- Are you getting to defensive over things that “are no big deal"?
- Are you responding with intentions (what you hope is your destination) instead of being honest about where you are (where your steps now are taking you)?
- Where do you want to go in life? What kind of person do you want to be? What hard choice must you make now so you don’t pay even more later?”
* This series is based on one of Andy Stanley's books, Principle s of the Path. I highly recommend you buy it and consume it!
**Just to be clear: we’re not talking about inexplicable health issues, or abuse, or investments crashing because the economy crashed. We will be talking about ordinary moments of life when we freely make decisions to do a particular thing and live a particular way free of emotional or physical coercion.
***Some of the questions on attention and direction are from Stanley's book; some are mine.