The Stretch: Direction, Not Intention

We all have good intentions for our lives regarding relationships, reputation, career path, financial status, the impact we have, or legacy. Most of us have even better intentions for our future – get out of debt, get in shape, lose 15 pounds, develop or improve a skill, be in a healthy relationship, or find peace and happiness.

This is also true about the church. We all want the best for now and hope for the best for our future. We have good intentions.

The problem is that there is always a gap between our intentions for what is going to happen, and what actually happens.

Certainly, there’s the element of the unknown, the future, things we can’t control, or circumstances we can’t predict. But even in those things, there’s something we can take responsibility for, and ownership of, us.

The challenge comes when we look at the gap between what we envision will happen and the groundwork we’re actually laying to make it happen. We might think God will show up and do the hard work, so we don’t have to, but that’s not how it works.

God will show up, just differently. We see a consistent pattern of God meeting people who are moving in a direction with consistent, small steps. That’s the stretch.

The Book of James is one of the earliest writings to the early Christians. The church was beginning to experience difficulty and persecution, so the price of living for Jesus has increased. When that happens, a gap opens between our intentions and actions.

James 1
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, 24 after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.


Direction, not intention, determines the destination.

This isn’t just a spiritual principle, it’s a life principle too. James stresses the importance of action over mere intention. Listening to the Word without acting on it is futile. True direction comes from actively living out the call of God, which constantly pulls us away from something, and toward something – a destination.

Not choosing a direction IS choosing a direction.

Think of what would happen if you let go of the steering wheel while driving. You will arrive somewhere, but not the same place as if you held onto it. Not choosing the direction leads you in another direction.

The passage emphasizes that our path and actions ultimately determine our destination rather than our intentions, desires, or hopes. Listening without doing is deceiving yourself, but the point of deception is that you don’t know it’s happening.

We all want blessings in our lives. James suggests the way to receive them is to act, not intend. We live in a culture and world of good intentions – things we want to do, are going to do, and hope to do. Saying “maybe” or “one day” is what fills our calendars, relationships, and lives.

But for many of us, those are merely words. They aren’t lies or said with malicious intent, but we’ve deceived ourselves into believing that if we intend to do something, it’s the same as doing it.

Think about the New Year’s gym-goers. Those who buy a gym membership to fulfill their New Year’s resolution. They had the best intentions, wanted the right thing, and felt the right feelings, but most deceived themselves.

The problem with feeling something without doing something about it is that it begins to protect us against doing something.

Jeremiah 17
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?


What is deception? It’s when we take something that’s untrue and wrap it in just enough truth to sell ourselves on it. We hear the word “deceitful” and immediately think evil or conniving.

Deception isn’t just blatantly evil, so we often miss it. It's subtle. If it were obvious, we would recognize it, but it’s simply when the direction we’re going is different from the direction our intentions tell us we’re going.

We end up excusing most of what we do and that’s the problem. We’re constantly trying to justify the direction of our lives, “This is the reason that things are the way they are, and I am the way I am.”

James 1
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.


You have to get rid of something to receive something.

Anyone with a green or greenish thumb knows you must clear out weeds and bad soil before trying to grow something new.

James 1
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, 24 after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.


Most of us sneak a peek in the mirror before leaving the house or when we just merely pass by one. What’s the purpose of mirrors?

  1. See things as they really are.
  2. Notice things we aren’t aware of.
  3. Give us perspective.
  4. Alert us to danger (rearview mirrors).

James tells us that the Word of God does these same things in our lives. The mirror gives us reference and perspective, but then we must do something with it.

Don’t just look in the mirror, respond to it. Do something about it.

Americans love a good experience. Whether that’s food, dining, movies, sporting events, concerts, church, worship – we’ve become mirror connoisseurs.

As Christians, instead of responding to what we see in the mirror, we fixate on the mirror itself, picking out what we like and don’t like. We’ve been to every Bible study, heard every sermon, and read every Bible study and book, and we know what we like and don’t like in our religious experience.

James’s response?

James 1
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.


Blessing is not just connected to a state of being or feeling but to an action.

So, if we want to consider ourselves blessed, it’s not just what we feel or some state of existence. It’s about what we do about it.

Long Hill Chapel wants to be a church where God is at work. Our intentions are good. But wanting it is only part of the story. Just as in our personal lives, LHC needs to move in a direction as well. And a lot of the time, this feels like hard work.
 
God does the work. We set the table.

LHC is a church that’s invested in making our place exciting and impactful – a place where you want to invite your friends, and that’s welcoming to others. A healthy way to grow a church isn’t through advertising, it’s through the experience those have in their own lives and in the community that they can’t help but invite others in.

That invitation doesn’t just stop with visitors coming to a service. God is always inviting each of us to take that next step. We can all think and feel the right things about these things, but we need to move in a direction to do something.

So, which direction do you need to move?

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