When my kids were younger, they had a jack-in-the-box. Not the hamburger, the toy. You probably had one growing up, too. It’s the box with the door on top where the scary-looking clown pops out after you turn the handle (just for fun, check out the video here). I remember watching my daughters play with the toy. Once they got the hang of it, they could stuff the clown back into the box, then turn the handle until it popped out. My wife and I would laugh because even though the girls knew the clown was going to jump out at them, they would still be startled and squeal when it popped out.
After they got a little older, we tried to get them not to jump when the clown popped out. They couldn’t do it. One night my wife and I even tried to turn the handle, listen to the music, and not be startled when the clown made its appearance. After all, we should know it was coming, right?
We finally gave up. Even though we should have known what was coming, we still reacted as if we had no idea.
I’ve been listening to a podcast from Andy Stanley about the Principle of the Path. Andy is a pastor from Atlanta and his latest book is about how direction equals destination. His basic premise is that no amount of prayer, planning, or intent can move you closer to your goal if you are on the wrong path. If you live in Arkansas and you want to go to California, you’re not going to get there if you head east on I-40. It’s impossible.
But who would go east from Arkansas if they really wanted to end up in California? It’s ludicrous, right? Sure it is, but we do it every.
How many people want to get in shape, but hit the snooze button on their morning exercise more than they should?
Do you desire to be financially independent but continue to spend now and pay-it-off later?
How many of us desire to be a great husband and father but regularly skimp on family time to work?
What about our faith? Do you desire to have a deep relationship with Christ, but don’t commit the time to pray and study?
I’ve been guilty of all of the above at some point. It’s a daily struggle to live in a manner consistent with our goals. The most frustrating part is when we realize we haven’t reached our goals we act surprised. Bad luck, we say. The stars didn’t align. We blame it on someone else. Maybe we even blame it on God. 99% of the time we’re dead wrong.
If we were really honest with ourselves, if we really took the time to look at the path we’ve been on, we’d see that we never had a chance. Oh sure, we prayed about it every now and then. We planned. We had every intention of getting there. But from the moment we started out, we were headed east when we really wanted to go west. Our direction over-ruled our intention.
So how do we keep from heading down the wrong path?
There are probably other ways to approach it, but I believe the most effective way to keep from going the wrong direction is to surround yourself with people who have the experience and perspective to give you sound advice.
Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances. Proverbs 11:14 (The Message)
Not too long ago, I had a big decision to make. I didn’t have long to make it, and I didn’t feel led in a clear direction. Prayer didn’t help. Talking with my wife didn’t help. It was only after I sought a friend’s advice that I began to be able to think through the issue clearly. My friend had been through similar situations in the past and was able to cut through the emotion of my personal experience and ask me the difficult questions. Over the course of several lunches, we worked through the different options and I was able to make a much wiser decision than I could have without his help.
What we’ve found in our own lives is that our intentions don’t dictate where we end up, the path we are on is what leads us. Many people think they are headed one direction, but their path is leading them in a totally different direction. My goal is that no one would be like my daughters and the jack-in-the-box: we don’t want to be surprised at the end when we should have known what was coming.
Image credit: Brandi Sims