Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
– James 4:13-15
Christians sometimes use the verse above to suggest the Bible teaches us not to set goals.
Others point to passages like “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5), and suggest that goal setting is not only godly but absolutely necessary if we are to do what God has called us to do.
How should we understand this?
What is the Purpose of Setting Goals?
Goals are about getting things done, but they’re also about more than that.
Michael Hyatt suggests in his excellent blog post on this subject that a goal is not just about what you accomplish. It’s about what you become.
Goals not only help us focus on doing what God has called us to do, but on becoming who he has called us to be.
In the parable of the talents, the steward who was given five talents went into the marketplace and earned five more (Matthew 25:14-30). He was given five million dollars and went out and made five million more.
He did not get that money by winning the lottery. He earned it. He had to set goals and then work hard to achieve them. That work changed him in a positive way.
I once heard motivational speaker Jim Rohn say, “Set a goal to become a millionaire for what it will make of you to achieve it.”
James 4 is not speaking against setting goals. It is warning us that we need to make sure we are setting goals for the right reasons.
The five-talent steward earned five million dollars in order to please the master he served. Our goals should do the same.
Practical Advice for Setting Goals
Good goals should stretch us, build character, and teach us to trust God.
Michael Hyatt’s blog post asks the question, “Is Your Goal Challenging or Just Crazy?” He goes on to suggest three questions we all should ask ourselves as we set goals.
1. Am I pushing outside my comfort zone?
For a goal to matter, it has to stretch us. That means it has to stand somewhere outside our comfort zone.
If you know exactly how to attain your goal, it’s probably not far enough outside your zone.
2. Does achieving my goal lead me into my discomfort zone?
For a goal to be meaningful, its attainment should lie somewhere outside our comfort zone – in the discomfort zone. You’ll know you’re there when you start feeling emotions we normally consider negative, like fear and doubt.
When rightly understood, these supposedly negative emotions work like indicator lights telling us we’ve arrived. When we don’t see the path or we’re unsure about having what it takes to reach the goal, then we’re closing in on a goal worth trying to achieve.
3. Am I veering into the delusional zone?
There’s a difference between discomfort and delusion. How do you know one from the other?
Goals in the discomfort zone challenge. Goals in the delusional zone just discourage. Your goals need to be realistic. Often talking with a spouse or someone close to you can help.
One Last Question
There is one more question I would add to these three.
If you achieve the goal you set, who will it glorify, you our God?
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