“Direction – not intention – determines our destination.”
That’s the theme of Pastor Andy Stanley’s book, “The Principle of the Path.” In essence, Stanley’s claim is that where we are in our lives is a result of the many decisions we have made, which have led us down the path where we now find ourselves. Each decision represents another step on the path. If we are making poor decisions, that leads to a poor direction and a life filled with regret. If we are making good decisions, we are following a good direction and are much more likely to live the life we want and that God wants.
As we consider the importance of forming character, we need to keep the example of Solomon firmly in mind. Perhaps there is no one else in Scripture whose life presents such vivid contrast between choosing the right path and choosing the wrong path and consequences that followed.
Early in his life, Solomon’s heart was eager to please God. This led him to make wise decisions, and these decisions led him to walk a path that pleased God, which resulted in Israel becoming a great and powerful nation. Other nations and their leaders were also blessed repeatedly by the wisdom of Solomon.
Later in life, however, Solomon chose the allure of his 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of whom were from nations about whom God had said to Israel, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after other gods.” The warning could not have been any clearer; but Solomon made the conscious decision to marry them anyway.
Step by step, over time, Solomon became less interested in pleasing God and more interested in pleasing his many wives and concubines. This led him to adopt worship practices that God abhorred. Indeed, the Scripture says, “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” God then promised that Solomon’s kingdom would be split into two.
Chapter 14 of The Story is a sad and disappointing account of what happened to Israel after Solomon’s death. But there’s an important aspect of the principle of the path we need to pay attention to in this chapter: The choices we make, and the path we take, affect not only our own lives and the lives of our contemporaries, but also the lives of our descendants. It’s true – what we decide today will have consequences that outlive us into succeeding generations.
For the nation of Israel, Solomon’s decision to please his wives instead of God meant nothing less than civil war. One united nation devolved into two warring factions who bitterly hated each other. Perhaps the saddest outcome was that most of the succeeding Israelite kings were just as bad, or worse, as their ancestor Solomon.
When we find ourselves in a tough spot, our first instinct is to plead with God to get us out of the mess. But this is not how God deals with us. Instead of looking for a quick escape, we need to realize that we’re on the wrong path and that we’ve been on the wrong path for some time. And then we need to turn around and get back to the point where we can start going down the right path.
This “turning around” is the meaning of repentance. Repentance is much more than saying you’re sorry; it’s changing direction. It means realizing you’re lost. Most important, it means agreeing with the Holy Spirit that there’s no way you can accomplish this directional change all by yourself; you must have God’s help. You must ask the Spirit, who lives inside you, to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. God will certainly do his part, and we must also do our part by putting one foot in front of the other and begin, step by step, to go down the right path.
And it will probably take more time than you think.
May we always keep the story of Solomon in mind as we consider the far-reaching consequences of the choices we make each day. May we learn to lean heavily on God’s Holy Spirit to create an inner desire to please him, and not ourselves, with those choices.