Prophetic Paradigm: Intention

Vision ignites intention, it engages the will.  Intention is the second dimension of the prophetic paradigm.  It takes what we see in the heavens and moves it into action on the earth.

Walter Brueggemann describes intention as a consciousness that evokes and nourishes an alternative way of looking at life–a way different than the view of the dominant culture, which Brueggemann characterizes in the word ’empire.’ [1]
With respect to the prophetic task, intention expresses itself in the twofold endeavor of criticizing (de-constructing) empire and energizing (re-constructing) shalom.  We will return to these two actions later in the series.  Today, we keep our focus on intention as a necessary part of the prophetic paradigm.

Richard Foster sheds valuable light on the meaning of intention by showing the objective and subjective nature of it.  Objectively, intention is sustained by the text of Scripture.  For the prophets this meant Torah. [2]  In other words, our wills are not engaged by inspiration or impulse (both of which rise and fall from one moment to another), but rather by revelation.

Foster goes on to say that intention is nurtured through both the heart and the mind; that is, through a whole-life engagement with the revelation.. And all of this, he notes, is within the context of community. [3]  Intention is the incarnation of vision; that is, it is offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), in the spirit of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Brueggeman notes that intention is the engagement of our wills that brings us into congruence with the will of God, putting us “in sync with the God of the gospel.” [4]  Intention is what we are expressing (or should be) every time we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Vision and intention combine to inspire ministry for the long-haul, what the Bible calls ‘endurance.’  The prophetic task is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  It advances step-by-step (sometimes with setbacks).  It grows liitle-by-little.  Intention is what enables us to hang in there and add, in our life span, whatever we can to the common good.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 3.

[2] Brueggemann uses Torah in two senses.  The first is its intended revelation to bring about what God intends.  The second is its inevitable deterioration at the hands of those who use it to advance the personal (egotism) and communal (ethnocentrism) fallen-world values of empire.  Brueggemann clearly distinguishes these two senses, so that we can always tell which one he is referring to.

[3] Richard J. Foster with Kathryn A. Helmers, Life With God, Part 2 (HarperOne, 2008), 55-129.

[4] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 11.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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