Allison Johns is the High School Worship Associate at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. She is married to Shane, a HS Pastor, and together they have 4 kids.

I want to eat healthier.

I want to go to bed earlier.

I want to invest in a particular friendship.

I found myself making a mental list of statements like this, only to turn around and realize there were easily a hundred more. When I thought about the sheer quantity of unfulfilled intentions in my life, it was overwhelming. 

Despite such intentions, the squeaky wheel always got the oil. My time was dominated by whatever needed my attention the most at the moment. I’d rush from one crisis to the next, helping with a child’s behavior problem, throwing myself into a project at home, or planning for the next big event at work. It consumed all of my emotional and physical energy. And for the most part, I was unaware of what was happening. 

Until things got quiet.

Until all of the wheels stopped squeaking. 

It was a rare occurrence that stopped me in my tracks, and I felt paralyzed. 

If no one and nothing is demanding my time and attention, what do I do? 

Despite the desire to wisely tend to every area of my life for the glory of God, I’d completely lost control of this call to stewardship.

There’s a great chasm between intention and intentionality, and crossing it means understanding how to build a stable bridge. I’ve learned that building this bridge requires one very important thing: motivation.

Motives are important to God. The Lord sees and weighs them (Prov. 16:2), and he discerns all our thoughts and intentions (Heb. 4:12). It took me a while to acknowledge the motivation behind my Chicken Little way of dealing with life, but God knew. He saw people-pleasing and self-exalting reasons for why I was living reactively. Motivation change required heart change. I had to confess the sin of prioritizing external demands and embrace the better call to sit at the feet of Jesus first (Luke 10:42).

Maybe you’ve been in the same tail-wagging-the-dog cycle. Here are a few things to remember if you’re staring into the great divide between intention and intentionality.

The Word of God discerns our intentions.

It is unwise, at best, and idolatrous, at worst, to decide our own way first and then seek to validate our choices in the Word of God. Are the things we tout as our greatest ideals an overflow of love for God and an understanding of his Word through time spent there? Reading the Bible, once prioritized, started a chain reaction of holy intentions in my life. Being intentional in Scripture first provides God’s wisdom needed to determine the rest of our intentions. 

The gospel gives motivation to holy intentions.

God is after our hearts, not our effort. In the same way I forgive others because I’ve been forgiven (Eph 4:32) and love others because God loved me (John 13:34), motivation for holy living can only be found when I’m in awe of Jesus’ love expressed through his death and resurrection (2 Cor 5:14-15). Just as the Word of God plants our intentions in fruitful soil, the gospel reminds us that we can’t convince nor motivate ourselves to be intentional on our own. As my gospel understanding deepens, my motivation grows (Eph 2:9). Sinful motivation can produce what looks like holy acts, but holy motivation produces service and love that points to only Jesus. 

Proper motivation leads to God-honoring intentionality. 

When my heart and mind are full of biblical and gospel truth, I am compelled toward holy intentionality. This is not a passive event. Instead, the love that Jesus produces within me by reading the Word and thinking on the gospel overtakes my weak attempts to be intentional. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to empower obedience (Rom 8:13).

Remembering and meditating on the finished work of Christ includes acknowledging that in him is found the motivation to work (2 Pet. 1:3). There’s clarity and freedom that comes from this. The beautiful result is the incalculable possibilities for how to spend my time narrows into a list that Jesus pens. He strengthens me for the work and becomes the bridge to an intentionality capable of producing fruit beyond what I could ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

If my motivation is to steward my life for the glory of God, wisdom is essential. I eat healthy so that I have physical strength to steward other things well. I go to bed early so that I can rise early for focused time with Jesus. I say no to certain social invitations in order to have relational margin for investment with others. Responding with God-given wisdom begins to shape both my intentions and the motivations of my heart. This way of honoring Jesus puts to death the burden of stewardship and reveals his plan for the whole of my life to be an act of worship empowered by him (1 Pet 4:11).