At Work

It Matters How You Set Your Goals

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Have you achieved all you wanted to this summer?

Yeah, I haven’t, either, though I’ve done a lot. I always make a lot of plans (sometimes too many). But as I reflected on what I’ve done this summer and all that’s still left to do, I had a few thoughts about how Christians set goals and achieve them.

When it comes to making and achieving goals, Christians must set goals that are in accordance with God’s will. Clearly. I don’t think any Christian would argue with this assertion.

But what we argue about is how to set our goals. I’ve come across two approaches in  my experience, and they seem diametrically opposed to each other.

The “Let Go and Let God” Approach

The first approach to goal-setting is kind of an anti-approach. It’s a kind of extreme spontaneity that tends to not make definite plans or set goals in order to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This approach references passages like James 4:13-15:

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.”

The mistake people in this extreme make is thinking James is speaking against setting goals. He’s not. What he is saying is that we should set goals and make plans as God leads, but always hold them loosely.

People in this extreme 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 make plans and decisions. Their motto is “Let go and let God.”

Yet, in Proverbs 6, the author rebukes the man who prepares for nothing, calling him a “sluggard.”

And then there is the other extreme. These people make plans, but hold them too tightly.

If the spontaneous person leaves a ton of room for the leading of the Holy Spirit, the person who develops rigid plans to implement their goals leaves none.

This is not the example we see in the Apostle Paul’s life. On more than one occasion 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). Although Paul set Christ-centered goals and developed specific plans to achieve them, he was also sensitive to the Lord altering his plans.

Letting God Shape You

Goals are about getting things done, but they’re also about more than that.

In the course of setting goals and making plans to achieve them, it’s important to pay attention to the kind of person God is shaping you into as you act. Perhaps you’re too spontaneous and the Lord is trying to teach you discipline and diligence. Perhaps you’re too rigid, and he is trying to teach you trust him more fully in the course of your work.

I’m reminded of the first servant in the parable of the talents, who was given five talents and went into the marketplace and earned five more (Matt. 25:14-30). 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.

Yes, absolutely set goals. Take the necessary steps to reach them. But pay attention to who you’re becoming along the way.

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  • Erika

    This is a great article on setting goals from a Christian perspective!

  • Phillip Nash

    Thanks Hugh. This is wise and helpful. I was also reading recently that sometimes we should focus less on setting goals and more on the activity that we need to undertake in order to achieve the goal. That we when we reach the goal we don’t stop the activity but keep it going and so keep moving forward.

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