Over the years I have watched many people respond to self inflicted devastating events in their lives. We all have seen it happen; an accident due to continued reckless driving, an illness due to poor eating habits and lack of exercise (insert my name here), a diagnosis of cancer due to years of smoking, or other personal life changing events due to poor choices. I have found myself thinking, “Well that ought to get their attention” or, “Well of course they had a heart attack, what did they expect? Look at what they eat!”
After such a life changing event most individuals take immediate action and begin to make changes in their lives. The “husky” (aka fat) guy like me begins to eat better and purposes to lose the weight and exercise, the guy that went bankrupt takes some Dave Ramsey classes and gets fired up, the reckless driver begins to drive as if they were in Driver’s Ed again, the Dad or Mom who flips out takes anger management classes, and the smoker diagnosed with throat cancer starts a tobacco cessation program, the examples are endless. The similarity with most all of these examples is that they begin to make changes in their behaviors that contributed to the unwanted consequences. Many of us who have found ourselves in some kind of self inflicted mess and have had good intentions of not getting ourselves back into that same or similar situation have found our good intentions short lived.
Today I want to discuss those life changing events that should be a catalyst to changed lives.
The 4th lesson I’m struggling through is: Good intentions often leads us in circles.
Over the years you and I have seen many people “fall off the wagon of….” We’ve seen the guy that had his chest split open from heart surgery go back to eating pizza, fried foods, and for desert eat Cold Stone ice cream and washed it all down with a diet Coke. We have seen the drunk that nearly killed someone with their car go back to drinking. And how many times have we seen that individual moving on to a new yet very much the same kind of bad relationship they just ended? When we see these kinds of things happening over and over again often we ask ourselves, “How can they…? Don’t they get it? Don’t they care?” After my heart attack while I attended cardio-rehab I noticed as “new” old people came in, I heard a lot of, “Welcome back” and “Good to see you again.” I thought to myself, “Why are they back? Didn’t they learn the first time around?” Of course these were my thoughts only weeks after my heart attack. I would soon realize how easy it is to “fall off the wagon”.
Since my heart attack I have begun to realize all over again how easy it is to continue in the circle of good intentions. My intention to lose weight and get back into shape has been a noble one, a really good idea, and yes definitely a smart decision. I worked hard and after much work and restraint I lost 25 pounds in the first two months after my heart attack. Since then I have stabilized on my weight. Why? I tell myself it is because I am exercising and muscle weighs more than fat but the reality is I have slacked off in being diligent in my new lifestyle. Something I vowed I didn’t want to do. I’m not doing what I did to lose the 25 pounds. My good intentions, if left unfulfilled will bring me full circle back to where I started prior to my heart attack. I could easily become the epitome of who I have fussed about. My good intentions could be the death of me, literally. I shouldn’t, I can’t let that happen, too much is at stake.
As I think about the aspects of good intentions, I am brought to the thought of our spiritual lives. So often, like in our failed attempts to modify our lifestyles, we fail in our spiritual lives. We intend to read our Bibles more regularly, we intend to stop the sins that so easily beset us, we intend to have a greater outreach toward others, we intend to control our anger or our lying, or for some maybe it is their intent to one day stop fighting God and give their life completely over to Him. Like other areas of our life, we regroup after a life changing event and our spiritual behavior beings to change for the better, but we find that we soon end up going in the circle of good intentions. We do right, we fail, we repent, we do right, we fail, we repent and on and on it goes. The circle of good intentions seems to have us trapped.
So what is the answer? We have good intentions, we know what the right things to do are, but we soon realize these good intentions are not enough.
First, we have to recognize the root of our problem. In business we call this Root Cause Analysis (RCA), the Navy calls it, Debriefing (this was the RCA training we were implementing the week I had my heart attack). In short, it is a process to determine the root cause to prevent reoccurring bad actions and effects (symptoms) from happening over and over again. My problem isn’t that I eat too much and don’t exercise, it is much deeper. Too often we try to fix the symptoms of an issue and wonder why it keeps reoccurring. We try to address the action instead of the internal root cause, our heart attitude and desire. Over eating is a symptom, mismanagement of your finances is a symptom, gossip is a symptom, lying is a symptom, and cursing, blasphemy and disobedience are all symptoms of a deeper cause. Addressing these symptoms may fix the short term issue but it will not ultimately address the real issue and thus the circle of good intentions.
I believe that the root cause in most if not all of these vicious cycles of good intentions is simply put, our sin. And in most cases, I believe it stems from the sin of selfish pride. If you dig down to the roots of the good intentions you have attempted only to fail over and over again you will no doubt uncover the sin of selfish pride. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Why do many people struggle to lose weight? Because we, I, have made unhealthy food more desirable then my health. Do we have difficulties doing our devotions regularly? Why, because our personal time is more valuable to us than building our relationship with God. Just can’t gain victory over xyz sin? Why, because too often our desire for xyz is valued more than pleasing God. But don’t lose heart, while not an excuse, we know that we are not alone in this sin cursed walk of life.
In the weeks leading up to the crucifixion of Christ and the celebration of Easter many of us were reminded of the apostle Peter and of his good intentions in Mark 14. After having observed the Passover, Christ and his disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. Here Christ told his disciples that night they would deny Him. Peter protested and said that while all others may deny Him, he would not deny him. Of course as Paul Harvey used to say, “and now the rest of the story.” We know the events that took place later and Peter didn’t deny Christ once, but three times. Peter had good intentions, but he failed. Another faithful servant of God by the name of Paul confessed that his good intentions were not enough either. He said: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. – Romans 7:19. Further in the passage Paul talks about two “laws” struggling against each other, the law of sin and the law of God. Do you find yourself struggling daily with these two laws? I know I do. We know what the right thing is to do yet we continue to struggle to do that right thing. James says in James 4:17, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not to him it is sin.”
The story is told of Watchman Nee, the well know Chinese Christian and church leader who was once staying in a place with some twenty other Christian brothers. There was inadequate provision for bathing in the home where they stayed, so they went for a daily plunge in the river. On one occasion a brother got a cramp in his leg, and suddenly saw he was sinking fast, so Watchman motioned to another brother, who was an expert swimmer, to hasten to his rescue. But to Watchman’s astonishment he made no move. Growing desperate Watchman cried out: “Don’t you see the man is drowning?” The other brothers, as agitate as he was, shouted vigorously too. But the good swimmer still did not move. Calm and collected, he remained just where he was, apparently postponing the unwelcome task. Meantime the voice of the poor drowning brother grew fainter and his efforts feebler. In Watchman’s heart he said: “I hate that man! Think of his letting a brother drown before his very eyes and not going to the rescue!”
But when the man was actually sinking, with a few swift strokes the swimmer was at his side, and both were soon safely ashore. Nevertheless, when Watchman got an opportunity, he aired his views. “I have never seen any Christian who loved his life quite as much as you do,” he said. “Think of the distress you would have saved that brother if you had considered yourself a little less and him a little more.” But the swimmer, Watchman soon discovered, knew his business better than he did. “Had I gone earlier,” he said, “he would have clutched me so fast and hard that both of us would have gone under. A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.”
Once we have recognized that our good intentions fail because of sin, we need to recognize that we cannot overcome our sin on our own. The point that I want to make with this story is that we cannot help ourselves; sin cannot be overcome until we are willing to be helped. Until we give up and recognize we do not have the strength within us to do it on our own and allow the mighty arms of the Rescuer to save us, we will struggle and gulp down the water of hopelessness and ultimately be lost.
There is an old saying that, “God helps those who help themselves.” Boy, what a lie from the devil that was; started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit. It is sad that this lie has been taught for many years. You see, God helps those who realize they have no hope, those that are weak and unable to do for themselves. Like the drowning swimmer, we cannot be saved until we give up and realize we need help. Until we reach that point, our pride keeps us from allowing God to reach down and bring hope for the hopeless. Our rescue from the cycle of good intentions, from the sin of selfish pride can only come when we realize that we cannot make the changes on our own. Our actions are the symptoms of our heart, changed actions are the symptoms of a changed heart.
So what is next once we realize that it is our selfish pride that keeps us from breaking through the cycle of good intentions? While books have been written on overcoming sin, allow me to point you to three chapters in Romans that I would encourage you to read and mediate on as first steps to victory.
Romans chapters 6, 7 and 8 give an explanation of sin in relationship to the believer and unbeliever. The following is the outline of these 3 chapters by Matthew Henry along with the link to his comments. I’d highly recommend that you take a few minutes to read the chapter and comments by Matthew Henry.
Romans Chapter 6
- Believers must die to sin, and live to God. (Verse 1-2)
- This is urged by their Christian baptism and union with Christ. (Verse 3-10)
- They are made alive to God. (Verse 11-15)
- And are freed from the dominion of sin. (Verse 16-20)
- The end of sin is death, and of holiness everlasting life. (Verse 21-23)
Romans Chapter 7
- Believers are united to Christ, that they may bring forth fruit unto God. (Verse 1-6)
- The use and excellence of the law. (Verse 7-13)
- The spiritual conflicts between corruption and grace in a believer. (Verse 14-25)
Romans Chapter 8
- The freedom of believers from condemnation. (Verse 1-9)
- Their privileges as being the children of God. (Verse 10-17)
- Their hopeful prospects under tribulations. (Verse 18-25)
- Their assistance from the Spirit in prayer. (Verse 26,27)
- Their interest in the love of God. (Verse 28-31)
- Their final triumph, through Christ. (Verse 32-39)
Can we ever be totally free from the effects of sin in our lives? For the believer, not until we are resurrected and join our Heavenly Father in Heaven, but I’ll leave you with this encouragement: Proverbs 24:16 reads, “For a just man falleth seven times, and rises up again, but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” Yes, a righteous man may cycle through his good intentions a number of times but he will not allow sin to defeat him.
This has been the hardest post to write as it seems to be the most convicting to me. In a society where nothing is our own fault it is easy to find excuses for why we fail thereby not forcing ourselves to seek out and deal with the root cause. So what about you? How are you doing with your good intentions? Are you going in circles too often? Like the swimmer drowning in their self sufficiency, we cannot have victory over our good intentions without the sacrificial gift of a Savior.