How do we get from “here” to “there”? Is there some shortcut or some magic path that will take us where we know we should be?
A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to speak to a group of Christian ladies about parenting intentionally: Making daily parenting choices in light of our goal that our children walk closely with God. As I was thinking a bit more about this, I realized that it is not just parenting where intentional living is necessary.
It is necessary in all aspects of life.
A few years ago, I experienced a lot of change. During that time, I started eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. While I am no binger, I would fill my plate with unhealthy things like potato chips (oh, how I love potato chips!!) and eat dessert every day–sometimes multiple times a day. I didn’t feel like cooking, so a few times each week, we’d go out or bring in takeout. I drank soda and sugar-laden iced tea. This became my lifestyle for a year or two. It was easy to fall into these habits because they were what my flesh called for. I was just obeying my flesh when it came to food.*
Unsurprisingly, I gained a lot of weight. I became uncomfortable and every step made my knees hurt. I hated photos of myself, trying on clothing was a torturous, discouraging process, and I couldn’t even hold my grandchildren without experiencing pain.
At some point, this past summer, this idea of eating intentionally took root. I knew that if I didn’t change, I would live like this for the rest of my life. And I didn’t want that. Oh, how I didn’t want that. So with fervent prayer and a little help from a weight loss program, I finally got serious about changing these extremely bad habits that my lazy flesh had adopted.
So every single day I had choices to make. Instead of following my flesh, I made little, intentional choices that added up to big changes.
And guess what? Eating less chips and desserts, cutting out sugared drinks, and cooking more at home leads to weight loss. I chose to be more intentional about what I put in my mouth and I lost weight. I didn’t need to eradicate these things to lose weight or to keep the weight off. In fact, eliminating them would have led to failure in my case. But being more intentional in consuming them has changed everything.
Those old habits are always calling my name. Pleasing our flesh is like a rushing river that is always threatening to draw us in. Paul puts it so well in Romans 7:19, doesn’t he?–
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
And, yet, with the Lord’s help, we can say “no” to our flesh! We can choose to intentionally make choices that we know will please the Lord. This is a big part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and yet, so often, we ignore it.
What are some other ways we choose to follow our flesh without any conviction to live differently?
How about financially? Buying what we want whenever we want is a real temptation in this culture of “having the latest and greatest right now”.
Or how about time spent in the Word and prayer? Our flesh will never call us to sit down and spend time with God. This habit will only be developed by intentionally sitting down and getting started.
Parenting has already been touched on, but we must understand that we cannot expect godly kids if we are filling their brains and their hours with ungodly entertainment, friends, and activities.
And what about relationships? If we want to have God-honoring relationships with our family, friends, co-workers, and others, this takes work. It doesn’t just happen. We have to intentionally build into the lives of others. Make time for them. It is improved by intentionally loving them, despite their being differences between you. Someone has to make the first move to heal or improve a relationship. Why not you?
So how do we live intentionally? How do we have the strength to choose what is right over the powerful pull of our flesh?
Galatians 5:16 tells us–
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?
John MacArthur says this in his sermon on this topic—
Now the concept of walking really does mean daily conduct. There’s never a time in your life when you just arrive and from then on you’re permanently spiritual. I do not believe the Bible teaches some eradication of the sin nature in this life or some second work of grace or some perfectionism, when you have reached that you never sin again. Not at all. It is a daily moment-by-moment walk and it comes and goes, depending upon our submissiveness. By the way, if anyone of us says that we have no sin we make God a liar. We never overcome sin totally but we can overcome it as a pattern of life by walking by the Spirit. That’s a basic, daily, practical life pattern. And I say it again, the only way you can do it, the only way you can walk routinely in the Spirit of God is to have spiritual thoughts. And the only way you can have spiritual thoughts is to be communing with the living God in an intense and continual prayer attitude and being fed continually on the Word so that your thoughts are God’s thoughts.
Consider these words for a moment. We cannot expect to walk in the Spirit without intentionally making a choice to do so. In order to do so means time spent in the Word and in an attitude of prayer. This, then, leads us to experience victory over sin in other areas of our life, since we know scripture teaches us that we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh if we are walking in the Spirit.
And so we can see that intentional living starts here! It starts with our dedication and commitment to prayer and study of the Word.
If we don’t have that properly in place, then our battle with the flesh–whether it’s our eating habits, our parenting choices, how we spend our money, or anything else–will only lead to eventual defeat.
The thing is, we know from Paul (and from our own lives, too) that we never arrive in this. Our flesh will always provide battles for us to fight. Intentional living will be harder sometimes than others. We will fail. We will fall down.
We just can’t stay there. We need to get back to praying and spending time in the Word. We need to really think about our daily choices and where they are leading us.
May we never give up or give in but choose, instead, to live an intentional life–one that pleases God in every aspect.
*I want you to know that sharing that little story about my personal weight gain is rather embarrassing. I can’t believe I left myself get to that point. I share it in the hopes that I can offer some hope to those of you who might have also given in to the flesh when it comes to food. While food itself is not moral, when and how much we choose to eat can be a moral choice. There is a way to please God through our choices and a way to please our flesh. This is a much-ignored sin in our Christian culture but I was acutely aware that I was not pleasing the Lord while I was pleasing my flesh in how I ate during that time of my life.