Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters by John Maxwell

I like to read a John Maxwell book every 3-4 years. As there tends to be considerable overlap in his books, if you only buy every third of fourth, you’ve got a better chance of getting fresh material. Of that new material, I usually discard about 50% of it as only applicable to business rather than pastoral ministry. But in the remaining 50%, I always find 3-5  worthwhile insights to help me be a better communicator, administrator, pastor, and leader.

Although Maxwell was once a pastor, threads Christian principles through most of his books, and in this one tells a lot about his Christian life (which was fascinating), I’m not reading his books for theology or ecclesiology. His theology is Arminian and his ecclesiology is rather man-centered and marketing-oriented. In this book, that often results in him crediting himself and his techniques for the dramatic church growth he saw in his ministry.

All that said, this was still a profitable book for me to read. When the publisher sent it to me for review a couple of months ago, it happily coincided with a time when I was being pushed and pulled in different directions by various writing, speaking, teaching, preaching, and counseling demands.

This book helped me to get a big picture view of my life and ministry and clarify an overarching purpose that pulled together all the complex strands. Its practical teaching on finding and following a clear purpose has enabled me to decide what to do each day, what speaking and writing opportunities to pursue, and what long-term projects to prioritize.

It clarified for me why I blog and what direction my blog should take. It also persuaded me to write a book that a publisher suggested to me, even though I was not actively looking for another writing project.

Some of Intentional Living is a bit idealist, some of it unrealistic (e.g. “Everybody has one thing they do better than anyone else in the world”), and some of it is too focused on numerical or financial success (with hints of prosperity gospel here and there). However, without too much thought or effort, you can discard these bones and still find some good meat around them. The meat for me was:

The Importance of Why

“If you want to make a difference and live a life of significance, you must tap into your why. You need to start thinking about your purpose. Your why is the life’s blood of intentional living…Once you know your why you will be able to find your way.”

Questions to Find Your Why

1. What do you cry about? What breaks your heart? What disturbs you? What makes you take action to bring healing?

2. What makes you sing? What makes you happy? Puts a bounce in your step? Makes you jump for joy?

3. What do you dream about? What if you could do anything you wanted to make the world a better place?

4. Is there something that comes easily to you that others find difficult?

5. What’s your strength? What would happen if you invested more in developing this strength?

6. What makes you feel energized?

7. What do you find yourself thinking about in your spare time?

Change Thinking from “What’s In it For Me?” to “What Can I Do for Others?” 

What can you help others to learn? How can you make life better for others?  Begin adding value to others using the things you naturally do well and keep fine-tuning your efforts until it aligns with your sweet spot.  Be a ladder builder, not a ladder climber

A Missing Question

One question little touched upon in the book, but so essential from a Christian point of view, is to ask God above all: “What will YOU have me to do?” Of course, God may and often does use the kind of questions that Maxwell suggests to help us find His will. But sometimes God will ask us to do things that are the exact opposite of the answers to these questions. Then, our response must be, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”

A Missing Possibility

And what if our calling is not to do great things but to suffer great things? We all know people who have greatly glorified God on earth through humble submission to tremendous suffering. Their calling is not to find their strength and develop it, but to accept their weakness and trust in God for daily strength. That may not be “intentional living” but it is God-glorifying living.

  • Anita Gordon

    Dr. Murray, a most helpful post! One that I will be bookmarking as I’d like to meditate on some of these questions. Also, I can’t help but ask…..what topic for a book has been suggested to you? I am immensely curious. :-)