There’s a story about two brothers. Their dad asks them to get out in the field and do some work. One says, “Sure dad.” but then gets lazy and forgets. The other son, sounding like a typical teenager, says, “No way,” but then changes his mind and actually does the work.
In a similar story, my friend Mike and I were sharing a cup of coffee the other day, and he said, “You know, intentions are well and good, but sometimes you actually have to focus to accomplish something.”
The world is full of people with good intentions. Most of us don’t start the day saying, “I’m going to be a bad person.” Most don’t see themselves as angry, as obstinate, as bad parents, as lazy, as litterbugs, as detriments to society. Most of us mean well.
However, in our age of affirmation and positive self-esteem, intention has become the standard by which we are judged. “Sure, he blew that project at work, but he meant well.” “I didn’t get you a birthday present, but I did think about it.” “I know I failed the test, but I did try to study, sort of.”
Some will protest that results are beyond our control -- which is absolutely true. Sometimes the best intentions combine with great effort, and the result is still disastrous. NASA blew up a lot of rockets while trying to get to the moon. Budding sports stars have career-ending injuries. Cars break down and make us late to work. Stuff happens, in spite of our best efforts.
None of that should dissuade us from being concerned about results and accomplishments, especially when it comes to the really important things in life. Like parenting. I’ve never met a parent whose stated intention was to yell at their children all the time, or who didn’t really want to love their children and give them a stable life. The intention is there.
But no matter your intention, if you are losing it with your kids, if you are sending them to school inadequately clothed or fed, then your intention is pretty much worthless. It may be that you don’t plan on screaming at your kids, but if you do – the fact that you scream at them is what counts, not your intentions not to.
Maybe you’ve always meant to get in shape or volunteer for a charity, or tell your wife you love her. Maybe you’ve wanted to clean out the back room or climb Mount Rainier or get involved in local politics, to donate to a worthy cause and to learn to play the banjo.
Maybe your intention is to be a good parent. Maybe it’s to stop throwing trash out your window, or to support your family.
Those are all good intentions. The question is, are you going to be like that first son who has great intentions but just never seems to find the time to actually accomplish anything? Or will you be the second, who makes up his mind, goes to work, and gets the job done? Intentions are nice; results are what matter.
Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church. You can contact him at email@example.com
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