This is one of my “spiritual seed packs”— a condensation of a book that lays out its big ideas in a way that you can digest them in a few minutes. The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley is a timely tome on a timeless principle– that direction, not intention, determines destination. Every single person can apply the truth of this principle to their life. The following contains both direct quotes and my own reworking of the book’s main thoughts. The original book is a recommended read and is available through Amazon by clicking here.
What is a Principle?
Principle: a truth that shapes your life
A principle is powerful: it will shape your life whether you are aware of its existence or not
A principle is immutable: principles like “you reap what you sow” will never change
A principle is unavoidable: you can’t evade it or change it
A principle is useful: once you know it you can use its power in your favor
If you don’t master life by learning to use principles, then you are left to learn by experience.
Experience is not the best teacher, it is the most brutal teacher.
Why? Experience eats up your most valuable commodity: time
Trying to learn simply by experience will fill your life with regret, and regret brings despair, addiction, and a whole host of life-destroying emotions.
What is the Principle of the Path?
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a “yellow brick road” that would take you to whatever destination you wanted in life? Marriage, security, happiness, success, peace?
If there were, you would stop trying to find solutions, stop trying to “fix” your problems, and just follow the right path.
But that actually is how life works.
Simply put, you & I will win or lose in life by the paths we choose.
No matter what it looks like or what we think, we don’t actually have “problems” in our life to fix. That’s not the right way to look at life. Instead of looking for a solution, look for a direction, a direction in the path of your life to change.
The Principle of the Path:
Direction –not intention– determines destination.
You can dream & desire where you want to be all you want, but it is only the direction that you actually chose to walk in the past that has resulted in where you are right now, and it is only the direction that you choose to walk today that will result in where you will end up in the future.
The Problem With Getting Lost
People who are somewhere in their life they don’t want to be are lost.
No one gets lost on purpose, and no one know exactly when it happens, but it is always a result of taking the wrong path.
Direction is everything. Every choice in life we make changes our direction, which in turn changes our destination. That is why we cannot afford to live unaware lives, where we don’t see the connection between our daily choices, the direction that they head us in, and the destination they lead us to.
When you get lost on the road, you lose a few minutes or hours, and those are easy to make up. When you get lost in life, you can lose years or even decades, and you can never get them back. They will be wasted opportunity, gone forever.
“the prudent see danger & take refuge, but the simple keep going & suffer for it” Proverbs 27:12
See the difference: both wise & foolish people are on a path that leads to danger, but the wise see it, look ahead and realize where the path leads and change their course, but the foolish do not look ahead, do not realize where their path is going & suffer for it.
Life is short. The seasons of life pass quickly. And each season is connected to the one that follows. Today’s decisions create tomorrow’s experiences.
Truth & Lies–
When we stand at the crossroads between prudence & pleasure, we lie to ourselves. We begin selling ourselves on what we want to do rather than what we ought to do.
We try to defend pleasure decisions with justifications that aren’t founded in truth. You can’t have it both ways when at the fork in the road pleasure goes one way & prudence goes the other.
Our problem is rarely a lack of information, it is a lack of honesty with ourselves. We deceive ourselves about why we choose the things we choose. And then we spin a web of excuses to protect ourselves, excuses that over time we come to believe.
As long as we are lying to ourselves, it is impossible to get to where we want to be. Maps are useless if you don’t know where you are.
Lying to yourself saying “everything is going to work out” or “I can handle this” doesn’t help when you’re lost, it actually keeps you from stopping, getting help, & changing direction.
Telling yourself the truth about where you are & why you got there is painful, but it is the only way to free yourself to move from where you are to where you want & need to be.
Why am I doing this, really?
If someone in my circumstances came to me for advice, what course of action would I recommend?
In light of my past experiences and my future hopes & dreams, what’s the wise thing to do?
What’s Better Than Information
The challenging aspect about picking the right paths is that the choices are now. The outcomes are later. There’s no way to unmake choices— which is why it’s so crucial for us to make the right choices up front.
But how do we make the right choices?
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
First: Don’t trust your heart, trust God with your heart.
Second: Acknowledge God: recognize Who He is, & act like it.
Result: God will make the best path unmistakably clear.
Divine direction begins with unconditional submission.
In order to make the best decisions now, we need much more than information, common sense, or conventional wisdom. We need God. If the wisdom, understanding, and insight of a man like Solomon does not ensure against choosing the wrong path, isn’t it foolish for us to lean on our own limited insight & understanding?
Why do I hesitate to give God full access to every part of my life?
What do I fear will happen on the other side of that decision?
What is the most difficult area of my life to yield control?
Cutting Through the Fog of Emotion
Your decision-making environments are not emotionally neutral. More often than not, the circumstances we face are saturated with powerful emotions. Those emotions easily turn into misguided passions. In the end, emotion clouds the ability to accurately evaluate the circumstance in order to choose the right path.
Life is too short to allow the emotions of the moment move you in a direction you will later regret.
Does this option violate God’s law?
Does this option violate a principle?
In light of the story I want to tell of my whole life, what is the wise thing to do?
Whose map are you using?
Would you get driving directions from someone that had never been where you wanted to go? All of us take cues in life from someone or something. Many of our “maps” are subconscious, yet we still use them everyday to steer our path.
One of the most crucial decisions you will make is the decision regarding whose map you are going to follow.
Successful people attribute their success to the wisdom & insight they garner from others.
Successful people know when they’re in over their head. They don’t deceive themselves or others.
Chances are, you would have avoided what turned out to be your greatest regret if you had sought out and listened to wise counsel. The wise are always listening. That’s how they became wise.
You will never reach your full potential without tapping into the wisdom of others.
The Power of Attention
We have a tendency to drift in the direction of the things that have my attention.
Attention determines direction.
The perceived cost of disentangling ourselves from the unhealthy things that have our attention seems too high to us, as is the price of focusing on healthy things with a payoff that seems far away.
We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.
What do you do with dreams that can’t come true, destinations that are unreachable?
You can choose anger, or despair, or manipulating, but at the end of it all, you will be just as far away from whatever you desired as before, but you will also be far away from God. Your only other option is to go towards God, pour out your heart, and confess, “Not my will, but Yours.”