While there is no magic in the first day of the year, I love the concept of new beginnings. For the last two years I’ve set goals with the help of Lara Casey’s PowerSheets. With their help, I saw real, tangible progress in the areas I wanted to influence. While I think the PowerSheets have a lot to do with that, I think it also has to do with how I approached my goal setting process.
When we set goals because we think we should or because we “wish” we had change in our lives, it’s no wonder we peter out in February. Unless you have a deeply rooted reason for setting a goal, you won’t have the lasting motivation to achieve it! As Christians, that reason goes soul deep: we should only set goals that reflect God’s intentions for our lives.
To set goals you actually achieve, you need to ask tough questions of yourself. Be willing to acknowledge failure and disappointment. Be ready to dig into what God is asking of you, not just what you wish He was asking of you. Acknowledge any goals you’re setting out of guilt, selfish ambition, or vanity. Grace driven goals are the only ones that stick!
Below are the questions I ask myself as I plan goals for the new year. I would encourage you to sit down with these and prayerfully decide what God is calling you to do in 2017.
What Are My Goals and Do They Align With God’s?
Think about how you spend your time and you’ll have a good view of your priorities. More specifically, look at how you spend your free time. Think about what keeps you from having free time. All these point to your true heart priorities.
God’s priorities are very simple:
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)
For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:34)
Are you seeking God’s kingdom first? If you don’t know what that looks like, here are some clues:
- You are actively connected to a body of believers
- You are seeking God’s wisdom daily through His Word
- You are cultivating an ever-growing prayer life
- You are being discipled by a more mature believer or seeking opportunities for this to happen
- You are seeking ways to disciple other believers
The Christian life is an active life. Ours is a daily movement further into the heart of God! If you’re not actively walking out this faith, is it even yours in the first place?
Goals are pointless if they have no eternal consequence. Sure, drinking more water is good for your body – and our body is going to pass away in the blink of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52). The only thing you’ll have to show for your life on earth is what you did in the Spirit of Christ:
For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. (1 Cor. 3:11-13)
Ask the Lord to define your priorities. Ask Him to show you where to focus your energies, where to let go, and where you’re pursuing a goal for the wrong motive. It is better to have a few goals that honor God than a bunch of them driven by selfish ambition.
Where Do I See Growth in the Last Year?
Once you have defined your priorities, think about the last year. Where did you see growth and improvement?
Acknowledging growth grants momentum for change. If you’ve been setting goals a while, looking back on the goals you’ve attained will help you define direction for the future. It will also encourage you to know it is possible to change!
Sometimes the growth isn’t material. Perhaps it’s an attitude adjustment. Maybe it’s forgiveness you finally offered in a relationship. Whatever the growth is, write it down! These areas will require maintenance, but they will not need as much focus as in years past.
Where Do I Want to Improve?
A lot of Christians talk about “struggling” like it should be our perpetual state of being. That’s not Jesus! Jesus is a victor and as such, we are victorious in Him. If you aren’t finding victory in an area of life, there are a few things that might be going on:
- You won’t be ruthless with sin and bad habits
- You think “good enough” is acceptable to God
- You aren’t sure where to start and feel overwhelmed
- You don’t have sufficient discipleship and accountability
- You think the gospel secures an eternal destiny, but not a present victory
If you subscribe to any of these ideologies, I have good news! Jesus Christ is a conqueror. He conquers anxiety, fear, impatience, anger, abuse, addiction, and dependency. I’ve seen it in my own life, and He’ll do the same in yours – if you believe He is both willing and able.
Before you can improve anything in your life, you need a supernatural power to do so. Willpower only goes so far – you probably already know this from experience. If you want victory in overeating, in gossip, or in your relationship with your mom, that starts with the Spirit of God in your inner being. Have you been quiet enough to listen to Him? Do you sit silently after you read the Word and ask Him to show you where to improve? If not, start today!
Once you know where you need to improve, write these things down. You’ll come back to them when you set your goals.
What Worked This Year?
It’s time to assess what worked in the last year:
- What habits were formed?
- What people equipped you?
- What books influenced you?
- What motivated you to do hard things?
- When did you sense God’s presence the most?
- How did God answer your prayers?
Look for patterns in your behavior and the results that were achieved. Look for consistency. The best habits are formed when you cater to your natural bent (e.g., morning person v night person) while making bad habits inconvenient for yourself.
Usually, what “works” for me looks like this:
- Morning work outs
- Eating the same breakfasts and snacks for an entire week instead of “changing it up”
- A minimalist lifestyle
- Keeping the phone off and out of reach
Like we talked about yesterday, a lot of this comes down to “knowing thyself”.
What Did Not Work This Year?
Now think about what didn’t work:
- What distracted you?
- Where did you continually fail?
- What contributed to your failure?
- Who held you back?
- What things did you do when you should have been productive?
By assessing what doesn’t work, you can remove these things from your life and schedule. Make them inconvenient!
If this is a person, stop seeking out time with them. If it’s a habit – such as sleeping in – make sleeping in so inconvenient you don’t dare do it (set only one alarm across the room, go to bed an hour earlier, wear pajamas to bed so you get too hot, etc.). Knowing what didn’t work will help you set goals that do!
Why Do I Want to Change?
Finally, the question of the year: why do you want to change?
If you’re pursuing healthy eating habits because you want to look like some girl on Pinterest, you’ll give up by March – and if you don’t, you’ll probably pursue other unhealthy means of attaining the “body you want”.
If you’re chasing down a promotion because you’ve been told you’d be good at it, without ever asking God if that’s where He’s called you – you’re a candidate for burn out and frustration.
If you’re measuring yourself in numbers on the scale, on Instagram, or in sales, you’ll become nothing more than a number yourself – emotionless, empty, and alone.
Don’t pursue change God hasn’t called you to embrace. Really think about the goals you are setting and why you’re setting them. Do they build on the foundation of Christ with “gold and precious stones” – things of lasting quality – or is it just “wood, hay, and straw”? The latter burn away when tested. The former get increasingly brighter with time.
Goals are awesome. I love them! But they serve a purpose: to advance the kingdom of God in our hearts and communities. Let’s make grace the driving factor behind everything we do in 2017.
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