Finding Our Way
by Andy Stanley, pastor and author of The Principle of the Path
Looking back on our lives, the paths are evident. Looking at others’ lives, the paths are evident. It is when we look ahead that we lose sight of the fact that in every arena of life, we are moving in a specific direction toward a specific destination.
Looking ahead we are often deceived into thinking that life is a series of unrelated decisions, and somehow we will end up where we want to be simply by force of will or luck. Or as I’ve heard so many people say, “It’ll work out somehow.” But if you can see a path in the rearview mirror that reflects where you’ve been and explains where you are, then there must be a path ahead of you as well. A path that, like all paths, has a specific and often times predictable destination.
And that brings us, at last, to the principle of the path. Here it is:
Direction—not intention—determines our destination.
The direction you are currently traveling—relationally, financially, spiritually, and the list goes on and on—will determine where you end up in each of those respective arenas. This is true regardless of your goals, your dreams, your wishes, or your wants. The principle of the path trumps all those things. Your current direction will determine your destination. And like every principle, you can leverage this one to your advantage or ignore it to your disadvantage. Just as there are paths that have led us to places we never intended to be, there are paths that lead us away from those places as well.
Whereas no one disputes the validity of this principle as it relates to planes, trains, and automobiles, the conflict starts when it is applied to the other areas we have touched on. But as we dig deeper, I think you will begin to see that the principle of the path governs all aspects of life; including dating, marriage, child-raising, career, finances, health—you name it. Direction—not intentions, hopes, dreams, prayers, beliefs, intellect, or education—determines destination. I know it’s tempting to believe that our good intentions, aspirations, and dreams somehow have the ability to do an end run around the decisions that we make on a daily basis. But at the end of the day, the principle of the path determines the outcome. Simply put, you and I will win or lose in life by the paths we choose.
As I’m writing this chapter, our country has been rocked once again by a sexual scandal involving a high-profile national leader. By all accounts, this is a smarter-than-average man. He completed his undergraduate studies at Princeton University and then headed to Harvard University, where he earned his juris doctor degree to practice law. His rise to prominence began in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, where he successfully nailed the infamous Gambino organized crime family.
Years later, he served as a state attorney general. In that capacity, he acted as an outspoken crusader who boldly tackled white-collar crime, securities fraud, mutual fund scandals, and price fixing. At age forty-seven, he was elected governor of one of our nation’s most influential states. He was a young man at the top of his game. That is, until March 2008, when the New York Times uncovered a dark truth about the governor: this outspoken critic of corruption frequently hired prostitutes. Within days, he fell from his lofty political perch to become the laughingstock of Letterman and Leno on late-night TV.
But how? How did a guy with such a promising career suddenly fall?
Actually, there was nothing sudden about his undoing. His fall was inevitable. The end of this story was determined years ago when he chose a path that, from the very beginning, had dishonor, disgrace, and dismissal as the destination. Direction determines destination. Every time.
Generally speaking, we don’t abandon the clearly marked paths because we are looking for trouble. There’s always something about the alternate routes that is powerfully appealing. They promise shortcuts of more direct and oftentimes pleasurable routes to wherever it is we are trying to go. It is easy to become enamored of the siren call of the wrong path and ignore the fact that we’re heading away from our values, goals, dreams, or commitments. Think about the times you’ve allowed a powerful emotional appeal to turn your head, grab your attention, and take you off task.
Zero percent financing and no money down…She makes me feel like I used to feel…But he’s rich…That’s how business is done here…No payments for twelve months…
Perhaps you are already beginning to identify paths you’ve chosen in the past that led you to places you did not want to go—relational patterns you were committed to avoiding; financial habits that have left you with pressures you never anticipated; an ethical compromise that promised a reward but left you with consequences you never imagined would be part of your story. And perhaps you can think back to the day you stepped onto the path that has led to regret. If so, you are already beginning to see how the principle of the path has been at work in your life. You don’t have problems to fix; you have directions that need to change. It is time to begin living in the right direction. For just as this powerful principle explains how you’ve arrived where you are, it offers hope for the future as well. And, like every principle, once you understand how it works, you can leverage it to your advantage.
Excerpt taken from The Principle of the Path. Copyright © 2008 by Andy Stanley. Published by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission.