Setting Goals

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Last week was the beginning of not only a new year but a new decade. People choose this time to make new resolutions, probably because we like fresh starting points. We want something definitive. We don’t have to wait until 1 January to lose weight, start reading the Bible, or spend more time with our family—we choose the new year because we like its symbolism.

Making resolutions means more than identifying needs in our lives and committing ourselves to address them in the upcoming year. A thoughtful resolution requires some deep self-reflection. We have to look closely enough at ourselves to realize that something needs to change. Maybe we’re doing something self-destructive or harmful to others or doing something else inefficiently. Perhaps we find a goal we want to achieve because we need a new challenge.

Some resolutions are serious. Others are more humorous than anything else. Twitter is a gold mine for these. Some of them include things like:

  • “I want to stop drinking orange juice after I’ve just brushed my teeth.”
  • “I will lose weight by hiding it somewhere you’ll never find it.”
  • “Increase my relationship status from Forever Alone to Slightly Desperate.”
  • “My New Year’s resolution is to be more patient. I hope I accomplish this as fast as possible!”

Some people recognize that these kinds of resolutions have a high rate of failure. One person on Twitter said, “I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because you can start a healthy habit and give up three days later ANY time of year.” Another stated, “You call it New Year’s resolution, I call it fiction.” They aren’t wrong!

Some of us making resolutions do it because it’s what people do at this time of year. We made resolutions last year, and the year before that, and we’re going to do it again even though we never seem to follow through with the commitments we make. But we also know that our time on earth is limited and we must be good stewards of the lives we’re given. Our question is this: “how seriously are we about making the most of our opportunities?”

We might look to the apostle Paul for a little help here. In Philippians 3:12-14, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this [the resurrection from the dead] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Setting goals is an important part of life. But how do we distinguish between goals worthy of our time and efforts and those that aren’t? We might ask a few simple questions:

  • Will it glorify God? Paul tells the church in Corinth, “whatever you do, do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Is what we are planning to do going to bring glory to God and help others celebrate his greatness? 
  • Will it make us more Christlike and serve as a good example to others? Paul also tells the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Are we conforming to the image of Christ and do so in a way that is attractive to others? Are we setting a good example that others can follow?
  • Will it help someone else? Jesus states that the most important thing we do is love God, but close behind is the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31; cf. Leviticus 19:18). Will our plans include demonstrations of love and charity to others, and help encourage and strengthen them when they need it?

We have to put enough thought into what we want that it becomes something more than just wishful thinking. Asking big questions helps us do that. None of us is perfect. We could all stand a little improvement. We can envision what that change looks like in our lives. But we have to have a way to get there. Thankfully, God offers principles that will help us make those decisions that will make us the best we can be, just as he intended.