This article is by Paul Worcester and published by TGC
Many of my goals and plans for 2020 got sidetracked. (There’s an understatement.) Some areas for which I had great intentions didn’t improve, while I’ve seen growth in other areas for which I didn’t even set goals.
The start of a new year is a perfect time to reevaluate what God is doing in your life, praise him for all he has done, and set some God-centered goals for the new year. Christian leaders such as Jonathan Edwards modeled this disciplined pursuit of godliness––a young Edwards set 70 resolutions to help him seek to glorify God.
Before you set your New Year’s goals, here are three questions to consider.
1. Do I want to glorify God or to glorify myself?
Edwards’s fourth resolution is “never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”
If I’m not careful, I can gravitate toward goals that have the subtle motivation of glorifying myself. Fitness, finances, and fans can all be tools to glorify God. But if those things become ends in themselves, I am in danger of idolatry.
If I’m not careful, I can gravitate toward goals that have the subtle motivation of glorifying myself.
Our generation is in serious danger of presenting an image externally (even a Christian image), all while missing the most important matters of godliness and character. The Christian life is not about God helping you accomplish all your goals and dreams. It’s about laying down your dreams and ambitions to embrace his dream for your life (Matt. 16:24–25).
2. Does it help me accomplish my mission?
If you are not sure what God is calling you to specifically focus your life on, perhaps this year you could explore how God has wired you to serve his mission. (One helpful resource is What Are You Going To Do With Your Life? by J. D. Greear.)
Again, the process of discovering your life mission should not be self-centered, but God-centered. Make sure you spend more time studying God’s Word than studying StrengthsFinder. Missions leader Claude Hickman, in his book It’s All Backward, gives solid advice when seeking to discover your mission in life:
All the advice you have been given about your life is wrong. It’s actually backward. I wish I were exaggerating. But seriously, after years of reading the books, listening to many seminars and sermons for helping people discover their life direction, they all have the same problem: they begin with the wrong person—you. God doesn’t want to endorse your life; he wants to direct your life.
3. How will I stay consistent?
Once you make goals that are righteously motivated and “on mission” with what God has for your life, it’s important to consider how you will stay consistent. It’s not enough to have good intentions. You must make a specific plan for how you will incorporate these new habits.
For example, if your goal is to spend 30 minutes a day in Bible reading and prayer, here are a series of questions for you to answer:
- When will I do my quiet time?
- How will I keep from being distracted? (For example, could you put your phone on airplane mode?)
- What is my backup plan if my normal time doesn’t work out?
- Who will keep me accountable to practice this habit?
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of accountability for keeping God-centered goals. Most accountability relationships are more focused on confession of sin, which is essential. However, I have seen incredible benefits from accountability groups asking more proactive questions about spiritual disciplines.
It’s not enough to have good intentions. You must make a specific plan.
Don’t be afraid of discipline. Discipline is not legalism. I believe one of the lies the Enemy uses to stop people from being consistent in spiritual disciplines is “you are just being legalistic.”
We know pursuing spiritual disciplines doesn’t earn God’s favor (Titus 3:5). God doesn’t love you more if you had your quiet time today. Spiritual discipline is about connecting with the Lord, not checking off boxes. Many have called spiritual disciplines “means of grace” because they put you in the path of God’s power, where you can experience more of his grace in your life. As Dallas Willard wrote, “Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action..”
Goals for Eternity
A few years ago, I watched Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps rack up gold medal after gold medal. The TV network did a special that described his training regimen. All he did was eat, sleep, and swim. They showed the insane amounts of food he would consume each day, constantly “carbing up” for his next workout. And whenever he was not in the gym lifting weights or swimming, he was resting. Every aspect of his life totally revolved around winning those gold medals.
A verse of Scripture I was memorizing flashed through my mind:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:25–28)
What if we pursued knowing and serving God in 2021 with the same singleminded focus? What would happen if followers of Christ had the same commitment to spiritual disciplines that Olympic athletes have toward their goals and routines? Friends, what we’re living for is far more important than Olympic gold medals. A life of obedience before God will be a legacy that lasts for eternity.