My Story - Week 2: "I Decided to Stop"
Today we are going to continue the sermon series that we started last week, a sermon series that is going to take us all the way through the month of January. This series is entitled, "My Story: Living the Story You Want To Tell."
The beginning of a new year often prompts us to reflect on our own stories, and how we might begin to write new chapters in the story of our life. The truth is, everyone of us has a story. Some stories we are proud of, and others we'd rather not tell. I don't know about you, but I have plenty of stories that I would just as soon forget.
I know that even the dark chapters of my life serve their purpose in moving the story forward, but they aren't the ones I want to go back and read again, if you know what I mean.
Last week we learned something very profound. We learned that the decisions we make today determine the story we tell tomorrow. We talked extensively about why it is so important to start--to start the kind of habits and practices that will be life-giving and transformative. And then to make the kinds of decisions based on those habits and practices that will help transform our stories for the better.
This week we are going to be focusing on this very important truth--a truth that is loosely borrowed from a great preacher I admire, Andy Stanley. Andy wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Principle of the Path, which was baed on this simple, but profound premise: DIRECTION NOT INTENTION DETERMINES DESTINATION.
A few years ago, my wife and I were driving to an event that was being held in a location we were unfamiliar with, and we didn't have very good directions. I had my brand new iPhone that was equipped with Apple Maps. The problem was Maps wasn't that good at the time, but I was so stubborn about my Apple loyalty, I wouldn't admit it. Rather than listen to my wife and use the GPS in her car, I doggedly relied on my iPhone to guide us.
At long last, and after many twists and turns we finally arrived at a dead end on a dirt road next to some farm. "You have arrived." my iPhone announced. I will never forget the look on my wife's face when we heard those words. The problem I had was that the DIRECTION we were going determined our DESTINATION even though it was my INTENTION to get where I wanted to go.
And I also learned a valuable lesson or two. GPS often has limitations, and I probably needed to listen to my wife the first time. To her credit, she had the patience to wait and see the whole thing through before saying anything.
Direction not intention determines destination is a truism that lands on us in so many areas of our life. How often do we say things like this after we've done something incredible stupid, hurtful to others or self-destructive: "That's not really who I am." or "I didn't intend for that to happen." "I didn't really mean that." "That's not what I had in mind."
But our direction, not our intention, determined our destination.
Maybe it's time we stopped and changed direction. The title of my sermon today is, "I Decided to Stop" and I want us to struggle with this very important question--"What is getting in the way of what God wants us to want?"
If you feel like the destinations you are reaching in life are not exactly where you intended--you're not alone. Many of us struggle with this, and countless people before us. In fact, we have a great example of someone in the Bible who had to make a serious change, who had to decide to stop in order to arrive at a better destination.
In Exodus chapter 18 verses 17-24 we find the great Hebrew patriarch Moses struggling with his own directions and intentions.
Moses led a few hundred thousand people out of slavery in Egypt and then spent the next forty years leading them through the wilderness, listening to them gripe, helping them to see God, begging God to spare them in one breath, and condemning them in the next. Moses was also the only judge, jury, justice of the peace, whatever you want to call it for all of those people. His days were spent--from sunup to sundown--listening to issues, problems, grievances, etc.
His father-in-law Jethro showed up at the camp one day to check things out and see how his daughter and son-in-law were getting along with the thousands of people they were leading. When he saw what Moses was doing, he was appalled. It was Moses intention to lead the people of Israel effectively, but the direction he had chosen was leading him to burnout, or worse.
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” 24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.Here's the truth about what was actually going on here. Moses took great pride in doing everything himself. When you read through the life of Moses you get the idea that he was the kind of guy who lived by the mantra, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." His intentions were good, but the direction he was leading was going to lead him to burnout.
In addition, he was not allowing for the wisdom and leadership skills of others to be used for the benefit of the common good. There were capable and wise people among the Hebrew people, but Moses hadn't been giving them a chance to use their gifts. If you had asked him why he was hoarding all of the power for himself, and denying others the blessing of being able to use their leadership skills for the glory of God and the benefit of the people, Moses probably would have said something like, "That's not really who I am." "I didn't mean to do that." "I didn't mean to..."
In the end, however, Moses stopped what he was doing, he changed direction and took his father-in-laws advice. And as a result, he was able to focus on the areas of leadership he'd been neglecting and begin to lead more effectively and wisely. He had to stop doing what he was doing, in order to do what God really wanted him to be doing.
So what does all this mean for you and for me? Well, it helps us to understand there are two basic reasons for us to stop if we are constantly reaching a destination that we aren't intending.
First, you don't know what you're missing if you stop. Every single time in my life when I have stubbornly decided to continue doing what I was doing even though I wasn't achieving the goals I wanted achieve, I have neglected to think clearly about what I was missing out on by stopping.
Moses was so caught up in simply doing what he thought he needed to do, that he was unable to see how much more healthy it was for him to delegate his authority, give himself some rest, lead more effectively and be the kind of man that God wanted him to be. His pride, his stubbornness, his busy-ness all of this was getting in the way of what God wanted him to want.
The second reason we need to stop is because we don't know what it will cost if we don't. Moses was headed for burnout. He was on his way to a scenario where he started making bad decisions, handing out improper judgements and leading his people to the wrong places. He couldn't see where the destination that his direction, not his intention had determined.
Think about this in your own life. Play a decision forward if it helps. What about a decision to overeat? Overeating on a constant basis without stopping leads you to a very unhealthy place. How many of us wake up one day and realize that over the past few years we've gained twenty pounds overnight? We didn't mean to do that, right? But the direction, not our intention determined our destination.
What about smoking? Abusing drugs? Looking at porn? Criticizing our spouse? What about overspending? What about hanging around all of the time with negative and destructive people? Play those decisions forward to their logical conclusion. Most of us don't do this, but what if we simply asked ourselves this question: "Where is this going to lead me?"
Direction not intention determines destination.
If our direction dictates our destination, why do we keep wresting control of our life away from God? get down to brass tacks. What does God want you to want? Seriously, what do you think that God wants you to want? What sort of direction does God really want for your life?
What are the things that bring your life peace, joy, purpose and hope? What would you define as "lovely, pure, beautiful and good?" using the words of the Apostle Paul.
So if those are the thing that God wants you to want, what do you think is getting in the way of what God wants you to want? What is that God wants you to stop, so you can change the direction of your life to reach the destination God wants for you reach?
What if 2016 became the year that you looked back on as the year you decided to stop plotting a direction that was leading you to the wrong kinds of destinations. What if you decided to actually be the person you keep claiming that you are? What if you stopped saying, "That's not who I really am," and simply began living like the person God intends for you to be?
I know it's hard to stop. I struggle sometimes to be my best self. I often find myself saying to my loved ones, "That's not really who I am." I miss the mark as often as I hit it, I'm afraid. But the first step in this process is to simply admit that you need to stop. And then to fully embrace a new direction plotted by the One whose GPS for your life is always on point.
Let me tell you something. Every single time I've dropped my own desires, pride and stubbornness in favor of embracing God's direction--it's been the right choice. Every single time. Is it finally time for you to stop and change direction? Is it finally time for you to stop living a life based on intentions, and instead step fearlessly forward in the direction God has determined for you in order to reach your very best destination?
Because it's direction not intention that determines destination.