I will sing of loyalty and justice... I will study the way that is blameless... I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is base. Psalm 101:1-3
Psalm 101 consists of just eight verses. But no less than ten times the words “I will” (or “I will not”) occur - I have just skimmed off the first three or four.
So the psalm as a whole (said to be written by King David) adds up to a declaration of intent. It’s on two distinct fronts: “this is the kind of person I long to be, and this is the kind of ruler I long to be”. It’s about both personal integrity and day-to-day efficiency.
Do you often say “I will...” (or more likely “I’ll”)? “I’ll give you a ring...I really will break that bad habit... I’ll deepen my prayer-life... I’ll invite so-and-so round for a coffee... I’ll work on the exercise bike at least three times a week... I’ll increase my giving to good causes... I’ll watch my diet...”
Intentions... they’re so easy to declare, but of course declaring them is no use at all if we don’t then carry them out. At Christmas I received a number of cards, letters and emails which I was determined to reply to. Well, it’s now June - and they are still sitting on my desk. Oh dear.
A few suggestions about intentions that hopefully can save us from the frustration of failure...
1 Intentions should be realistic.
There is no point in intending to do something which simply isn’t within our reach. I could say, “Right, next year I’m going to run the London Marathon”. But just a moment’s thought should be enough to tell me that it simply isn’t going to happen. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t have the desire or motivation (not to mention the capacity!).
Or I might say, “Once a week this year I’m going to devote myself to three solid hours of prayer, over and above my usual times - John Wesley used to pray for six hours every day, so why should that be beyond me?” But deep down I know that I’m no John Wesley, so that kind of “I will” also is just unrealistic.
2 Intentions should be planned.
That pile of Christmas greetings on my desk - if I really mean business about responding to them it’s no good saying “I’ll start by replying to two of them this week”.
“Two of them this week” is vague; I need to decide on a definite day and time. And it’s no good saying “I really will ring Jack soon” if I don’t pin it down to “I’ll ring Jack as soon as I get in from work on Thursday...”
This, of course, is where a “to-do” list can come in handy. And what a sense of satisfaction you get when you have worked through your list and - wahay! - done them all! (I have a friend who actually adds to her to-do list anything she does which wasn’t originally on it, for the sheer pleasure of crossing it off.)
3 Intentions are vital for a fulfilled life.
I saw an advert once from a holiday company. It showed an elderly couple sitting rather glumly on the settee in their living-room. The husband was saying to his wife, “Do you remember that time we nearly went to Majorca?”
Nearly: it can be a truly sad word.
How sad it must be to get to the end of your life and say, “I remember that time I nearly volunteered to help with the children’s work at church. And there was that time I nearly invited that lonely couple round for a meal. And what about the time I nearly got involved with Street Pastors?”
I’m not quite sure about the theology behind the old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, but there’s certainly a nugget of truth in there somewhere.
Have I depressed you with all this? I do hope not! Never forget that God is always the God of new beginnings. It’s not too late to roll your sleeves up and get to grips with things afresh. The prophet Joel has that lovely verse, written in the aftermath of a locust attack, which promises that God “will restore the years that the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25) . Believe it! Claim it! Make it happen!
And always keep in mind perhaps the most important truth of all about intentions: they need to be renewed every day . You can’t live on yesterday’s capital; every day you start again from nothing.
Personally, I think that truth is both a bracing challenge and a great comfort. How about you?
Dear Master, in whose life I see
All that I long, but fail to be,
Let thy clear light for ever shine,
To shame and guide this life of mine.
Though what I dream and what I do
In my poor days are always two,
Help me, oppressed by things undone,
O thou, whose deeds and dreams were one. Amen.
(John Hunter, 1848-1917)