At Work

Setting Goals as Servants of God

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If you knew without a doubt that you could not fail in accomplishing one major goal, what goal would you set for your life? 

I have heard this question for years in business circles when the subject of goal-setting comes up. It’s also one I think about between Christmas and the new year as I pray and think through what God wants me to accomplish in the coming year.

For those who have put their trust in the Lord, maybe a better question is, “Should we as Christians set goals?”

Over the years, I have heard many answers to that question. In the recent past, the answer from the church has usually been “no.” I have heard sermons expounding the dangers of fleshly zeal tied to spiritual goals. James is often quoted to support this argument:

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” (Jam. 4:13-15 ESV)

Yet today if you google the question, “Should we as Christians set goals?” the search yields about 159,000,000 results, many of which provide detailed instruction on how to make your goals a reality.

Two Ways to Look at Setting Goals

With goal-setting, like many issues, it’s easy to fall into two dangerous extremes.

The first extreme is to choose not to have any goals or plans. These people aim at nothing and hit it with amazing consistency. They claim to always want to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who they suggest only leads people in a spontaneous way. Although this may seem spiritual, they are not really using their God-given intellect to set good goals, plans, and decisions.

The second extreme is when people develop such rigid goals and plans that there is no room for the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, the scripture tells us to, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But, for most of us, as we have grown in Christ, those desires have changed. And our goals to achieve those desires must change as well.

This is what we see in the Apostle Paul’s life. More than once in his missionary travels, Paul planned to enter a region to preach the gospel and plant churches, but the Spirit of God prevented him (Acts 16:6-7).

So, Should Christians Set Goals?

The Bible has many names for setting goals: the “call of God,” the “will of God,” “mission,” or “vision,” to name a few. Examples of people in the Bible who set goals include:

  • Noah saving his family and the animals from the flood
  • Joseph providing for Egypt and his family during the famine
  • Nehemiah providing security for the Israelites by rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem

Throughout the Bible, God directly led people to set and pursue goals of his choosing, whether telling Jonah to go to Nineveh, or Paul to plant churches.

It is clear that scripture calls us to a higher standard in setting goals. The goals we set as Christians must be in accordance with God’s will and under his leadership.

So, in James 4, James is not saying that we should not set goals. What he is saying is that we should set goals and make plans as God leads, but hold them loosely: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (Jam. 4:15).

Herein lies the balance of the Christian life: although Paul set Christ-centered goals and developed specific plans to achieve them, he was also sensitive to the Lord altering his plans.

Seeking God’s Will First

As we set goals and make plans for this new year, we need to humbly surrender our agendas and ambitions, and seek first God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:33). This commitment, perhaps as much as anything else, will help us align our work with God’s will and further his kingdom in the process.

If you knew without a doubt that you could not fail in accomplishing one major goal, what goal would you set for your life? 

The answer for all believers should be to fill the earth with God’s redeemed images and to subdue the earth, making it a place for those individuals to flourish. By doing so we glorify God, serve the common good, and further God’s kingdom.

The goal of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics this next year is to make this truth known to more Christians. When Christians understand the Bible’s timeless truths about the purpose of our work and live it out, livessocieties, and nations will be transformed for Christ. We cannot do this on our own. Would you prayerfully consider making a year-end gift to the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics today?

May God richly bless you in the new year.

Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Dec. 27, 2017.

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