The beginning of January is typically a time when people set new goals for the coming year. And generally they are akin to some kind of self-improvement project: lose weight, save some amount of money, spend more time with family, get spiritual, and meet an achievement at work or school.
If you are among those planning to make some new goals for the year 2015, there are some logistical and pragmatic considerations that must be entertained. Tim Challies has offered several tips for “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution that Sticks.” While all that he says is worthwhile, one particularly noteworthy point is to not make too many resolutions. One reason for failure to maintain our annual resolutions is that there are too many goals to realistically attain all of them (and the corollary that the individual goals that are set are also unrealistic). Try to do too much and it is likely that you will do nothing.
What I’d also like to consider with you is the necessity of making the goals spiritual. While all the general goals listed above might be worthwhile, one reason we fail to sometimes meet those goals is that we don’t connect them to spiritual realities and so when the goals begin to slip beyond our reach, we fail to see the value, significance, and importance of persisting in pursuing those goals. I have become increasingly aware that the Scriptures do have things to say about setting goals, but much of what it says about setting goals is different than how we think about goals at the annual calendar turn between December and January.
So whatever your goals might be for next year, here are some suggestions for biblical questions to ask while you set those goals:
- Do the goals bring glory to God (Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 8:6)?
- Are the goals righteous and will they encourage or produce righteousness (Rom. 8:12-14; 6:20-22)?
- Are the goals pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9, 15)? Do the goals reflect God’s standards or my standards? God’s honor or my honor?
- Are the motives of the goal to please men (including me, Gal. 1:10)? Do the goals seek value and worth from what God says about me or from what I think about myself?
- Are the goals a form of self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27) or are they a means to indulge the flesh or to “reform” the flesh by the power of the flesh (Rom. 6:12; 13:14)?
- Are the goals presumptuous about the future (Js. 4:14-16)?
- Do the goals help me mortify sin (Rom. 8:12-13; 1 Pt. 2:11)?
- Do the goals help me grow in Christlikeness (Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 12:1-2)?
- Do the goals prioritize things that are eternal or temporal? If the goals are temporal (e.g., some form of “self-improvement), do they reflect an awareness that they are not of ultimate value (1 Tim. 4:7-8; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 1 Pt. 1:23-25; 2:1-3)? (This doesn’t mean that temporal goals like a specific exercise plan are worthless; but it does mean that such plans need to be pursued with an eternal perspective and priority.)
- Do the goals include a plan to develop and mature my spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-8)?
- Are the goals primarily self-serving, or are they made with the priority of serving Christ and others (Mk. 10:45; Rom. 12:9-13; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:12; 1 Pt. 4:10)?
- Do the goals reflect awareness that Christ is the end and purpose of all things (Phil. 3:13-14)?
One of the fundamental priorities that the Scriptures reveal about setting goals is to relate those goals to our relationship with Christ and to make those goals a subset of our greatest goal of attaining Christlikeness. And that’s what we too often forget or ignore at this time of the year.
Now before you set the goals for next year, if you set some goals for this year, you will likely spend some time first evaluating those goals. Again, you will want to do that evaluation from a biblical perspective. And particularly if you failed to meet your intentions, you will want to think of that failure biblically. So here are some questions to guide that process:
- Were the goals God-honoring?
- Did sin prevent me from achieving the goals? (If so, was the sin confessed and repented?)
- If the goals changed, was it due to laziness (I became unwilling to sacrifice to meet appropriate goals)? Or was the change in goals the result of new biblical instruction? Or wisdom from a godly friend/discipler?
- Were the goals presumptuous (e.g., about the time involved to attain the goals, Js. 4:14-16)? I.e., was the failure because there was not a realistic ability to attain the goals?
- If the goals were temporal (e.g., “for bodily discipline,” 1 Tim. 4:7-8), did they obscure the greater priority of godliness (and thus it became wise to set the goal aside)?
So evaluate past goals and set new goals. But as you do so, do that goal setting, as much as you are able, from a biblical perspective. What does God have to say in His Word about what and how you should spend your time, physical, and spiritual resources in the coming year? And what does He have to say in that same Word about how you spent those resources in the past year?