Intentionality. We hear about it all the time. You have heard the phrases, “We want to be really intentional about this” or “She is so intentional in her relationships.” Maybe you have even said them. Everyone agrees that intentionality is good, and we need it. But you will not find the word in the Bible. How then, does it impact our relationship with God? Is it a secular idea that has crept into the church or a Biblical idea that has taken new form? Today, we are taking a close look at intentionality to determine what exactly it is, what the Bible says about it, and how it fits into the Christian life.
Breaking it Down
What does it mean to be intentional? To be intentional is to act with a desired outcome in mind. Thus, intentionality can be broken down into three elements—value (“desire”), endpoint (“outcome”), and awareness (“in mind”). Value determines the quality of intentionality. Not all intentions are equal. An intention is only as good as the value associated with it. If you value greater things, your intentionality is of higher quality than if you value lesser things. Endpoint determines the immediacy of intentionality, the amount of time it takes for the intention to be fulfilled. The more immediacy, usually the less desirability of the outcome (eating a cheeseburger is more immediate than losing 25 pounds). Awareness determines the degree of intentionality. Actions are not simply intentional or unintentional. Rather, they exist on a continuum with intentionality and unintentionality at the poles. Some actions are more intentional than others. What makes one action more intentional than another is the actor’s awareness of the relationship between his actions and intentions.
Intentionality and Carefulness in the Bible
So, does God command us to be intentional? While the word “intentionality” is not found in the Bible, it has a synonym that is—”carefulness.” Intentionality and carefulness are seldom regarded as the same, likely because intentionality is often positive (you are intentional to do something) and carefulness is often negative (you are careful not to do something). However, the basic elements are the same. Think of being careful not to tell your friend that he is having a surprise birthday party tomorrow. You pay greater attention to what you say (awareness) so that when he arrives at the party (endpoint), he will be surprised (value). To take another example, think of the sentences “He is being intentional about cleaning up his language,” and “He is being careful not to curse.” They mean very much the same thing. Accepting the synonymity of intentionality and carefulness, we may now inquire of Scripture.
In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the words “take care,” “carefully,” “careful,” and “careless” appear 117 times collectively. If you somehow have enough free time to make it past all the ones in Deuteronomy (ha ha), you will find that they are spread across almost every major genre of the Bible. A review of these verses makes clear the role of carefulness in the life of a Christian—to obey the Lord. Here are a few examples:
Deuteronomy 4:9 – Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.
2 Kings 21:8 – And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.
Matthew 12:36 – I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak
Obedience does not happen by accident. It requires carefulness. It requires intentionality.
Now we are dealing with specifically Christian intentionality. Let us return to the three elements, seeing them through a Christian worldview. First is value. There is nothing more valuable than God. If you love anything more than God, you have committed idolatry. God demands undivided devotion to Him (Luke 16:13, 1 Corinthians 7:35). Intentions which flow out of this superseding value are holy intentions.
Next is endpoint. The end of the Christian life is Heaven, an eternity spent in perfect communion with God. Life on earth is just a vapor (James 4:14), and our earthly life does not compare to the afterlife (Romans 8:18). The only sensible way to occupy your time is with things of eternal value. There is no use in accumulating worldly goods, because they will all burn away in the fires of judgment (Matthew 6:19-20, 1 Corinthians 3:13). But if your deeds survive the fire, you will receive eternal rewards. You should always be asking yourself the question, “Is what I am doing ultimately meaningless, or will it echo in eternity?” This is a good gauge for how you ought to spend your time (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 4:5). Contrary to the buzz about gold, silver, and crypto, heavenly rewards are the best investment you could ever make.
Good values and good endpoints make for good intentions, but what turns intentions into intentionality is awareness. The Hebrew verb, shamar, which is commonly translated “be careful” in the Old Testament can also be translated “take heed,” “beware,” or “watch.” Each of these implies attention. God has commanded us to pay attention to what we are doing. Why? When you serve God, there are forces opposing you (Romans 7:21). If your eyes are not open, you will fall prey to those forces (Proverbs 24:33-34).
How do you keep from slipping into the comfort-induced slumber of fleshly life? Spiritual awareness is maintained by constant communion with God. We commune with God by praying and reading His Word, both of which we are commanded to do with constancy (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The more you commune with God, the brighter His light shines upon what you do, good and bad. In God’s light, you become aware of what you are doing. The more aware you are, the more intentional you will be.
As we bring our investigation to a close, what can we now say? Intentionality is a good and necessary part of Christian life. It is not just the latest dose of worldly wisdom; it is a Biblical command. Intentionality is the intersection of the love of God, the hope for Heaven, and the awareness of God’s presence in our lives. That is something, brothers and sisters, we could all use a little more of.