In the 18th Century, James Boswell, a well-known Scottish author, said, “Hell is paved with good intentions.” That’s really intense if you think about it, but there’s some truth to it. Actions must be taken and followed through for intentions to become a reality.
Boswell’s quote is a summary of human nature not to follow through on what’s right. In fact, James tells us this is sin. ‘Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.’ James 4:17
I recently met up with a man who’s been visiting Cornerstone for about a year. He told me that God had told him at the beginning of the year that he should be rooted in a community. During the closing prayer, he told himself and the Lord that he’d start attending a cell group. He planned to contact the Pastoral Office and start making changes in his lifestyle. It’s been five months and nothing has changed.
We’ve come to the second half of the year, and many of us probably began with ‘resolutions or determinations’ in our hearts.
An interesting verse in Ecclesiastes 5 says, ‘When you tell God you’ll do something, do it – now. God takes no pleasure in foolish drivel. Vow it, then do it. Far better not to vow in the first place than to vow and not pay up.’
When the Word of God is taught and when the Holy Spirit speaks to us through a preacher during service, things said in the power of the Holy Spirit will resonate within the soul.
Let’s unpack this. Sometimes, in a cell meeting or service, the preacher talks about the need to walk in community, to be connected, to make a lifestyle change, to walk in holiness, etc. Something inside us reverberates and shouts, “Yes, I need that. I need to respond!”
One thing we say in Cornerstone and emphasise greatly is “While this is an okay place for you not to be okay, you don’t have to stay that way.” Come just as you are, but you don’t have to leave the same way.
Perhaps, when conviction from the Lord comes, you may say, “Yes, I need to do that. I’m going to change.” Perhaps you’re convicted to go for Biblical or marital counselling, or be more intentional in confession and accountability. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we often leave church with nothing but good intentions. We can get caught up in a moment of enthusiasm or crisis, and make a promise to God or some kind of vow.
There are many with good intentions who end up not maturing in the Lord. Can I say that, while good intentions are good, they’re not good enough?
So, the preacher in Ecclesiastes is saying – in that moment when the Spirit of God begins to woo, listen to the voice. It’s the Holy Spirit guiding you out of the desert into living streams.
Perhaps God is saying to you, “Instead of making that vow, how about taking active steps to obey what I’ve been telling you to do?”
One thing I’ve discovered in journeying with the Lord is that He does not just give me a command to obey, but the grace to obey what He has called me to do.
Even when I might fall the first few times, He’s always gracious and merciful to me. It’s not by my own will or strength, but a grace-fuelled effort.
3 years ago, at one of our Men’s Convocation Meetings, there was a powerful altar call and almost all the men in the room responded. I was praying for an older man who shared with me that God was speaking to him to start leading his family in devotions.
He looked very troubled when he shared this and admitted that he was a new believer and had an affair in the past. As a result, his family felt estranged from him. I prayed for him and told him to obey what the Lord had placed upon his heart.
I saw him a month later and excitedly asked what had happened in his family. He looked dejected and said it was tough to start family devotions because he was a new believer and his children didn’t seem to believe he had truly changed. I felt to encourage him not to give up and that God would honour his efforts. I did not see him again for a while.
6 months later in a churchwide meeting, he saw me, ran up and said he had been pressing in to start family devotions, but was tempted to give up. However, something happened one evening when the Spirit of the Lord crashed into his living room. His family reconciled and began prophesying and praying for one another. Since that encounter, they’ve been praying regularly every night.
Hearing the Word of the Lord is not just listening to what’s been deposited in your heart. It’s about obeying.
Perhaps you promised yourself at the start of the year that you’d start reading the Word more diligently or attend cell group. Perhaps you were motivated to start waking up early every morning to pray.
It doesn’t matter if you failed the first few times – keep pressing in with the power of the Holy Spirit. Our God doesn’t just place something in our hearts and not give us the strength and the keys to fulfil what He’s called us to do.
Let’s not be people with good intentions who make silent vows to the Lord – but those who listen and obey.