Setting Good Goals in a New Year
Rising up the side of a mountain in Zacapa, Guatemala is a staircase containing 250 steps. It is located on the campus of Hope of Life, a ministry dedicated to serving the poor throughout the country. The steps were constructed in order to assist the staff in getting quickly from one area of the campus to another. On the day the steps were completed, Carlos Vargas, founder of Hope of Life, held a contest for any staff members willing to race up the steps. Cash prizes were promised to the three runners who could reach the top first.
Among the 10 contestants willing to race was a 60-year-old man weighing 200 pounds. The remaining runners were between the ages of 15 and 20. Although all the runners took off at the starting pistol, the group soon spread out as some fell behind. The 60-year-old was among the leaders throughout the race. After finishing in second place, the old runner immediately lost consciousness. He received oxygen and water, and then was asked why he risked his life to win against the young boys. The dedicated man answered, “I ran because I needed to win the prize. I have a daughter and she is going to die unless she has an operation. I need that prize money to pay for her surgery.” [i]
The Need to Move Forward
Resounding in the soul of every person is the need to accomplish. That is one reason we tend to make resolutions each January. Children love to win their childhood games on the playground or build the best Lego design. Students strive for outstanding grades on their report card. Young entrepreneurs work feverishly for their first profitable year. Mothers labor to raise a child that demonstrates character, good manners, and a sense of direction in life. Dads set their sights on a comfortable retirement and sizeable inheritance for their children. At the end of the journey, we all want to feel like we achieved something of significance.
Racing Toward the Goal
The New Testament often compares the Christian life to a contest, or more specifically, to a race. In the 12th chapter of Hebrews the victorious racer runs with endurance, laying aside everything that hinders, fixing his eyes on the goal. The writer was referring to a runner whose eye is fixed on a square pillar located at the finish of the race. For Christians, that goal is Jesus Christ – His example and eternal reward.
Paul frequently used the example of running. He described how we must fight, work, and strain with purpose, direction, and discipline. In Philippians 3, he focused on running and finishing the race in order to win the prize that God promised him, the high call of Jesus Christ. In New Testament times, chariot races were held in many cities of the Roman Empire. Paul may have pictured himself as a charioteer as he described a decisive moment of the race, when he strained forward to what lay ahead. Intensely pressing toward the goal of the prize at a high speed, Paul noted that even one glance backward could be tragic and, perhaps, even fatal in this race. He realized that Christians must forget what they’ve achieved in the past and must, with newly bestowed grace, strain forward with all their might.
An Explanation of Goals
Writers of today’s business literature occasionally overuse the word goals. This word is sometimes repulsive to Christians; they may perceive it as unbiblical. That is understandable, but perhaps somewhat reactionary. It may help to establish a working definition of this term.
This word originally meant “pole, rod, or stick.” In Greek, the word is scopos, from which we get the word “scope.” It represents a mark on which someone would fix their eyes. A goal is a mark toward which you direct your life so that you can accomplish your priority commitments and live with integrity.
Is Goal-Setting Biblical?
Actually, the answer is yes and no. It all depends, because a goal is like a rung on a ladder. Whether the goal is good or not depends on the rest of the ladder. It depends on the focus and foundation. It depends on the ground upon which the ladder is resting and the wall against which it is leaning. It may help to have some examples of bad versus good goals.
Some examples of bad goals include the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4), the self-sufficient and proud King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28–36), the rich fool who aspired to more and meaningless barns (Luke 12:13-21), and the businessmen whose plans excluded God’s will (James 4:13-17).
Some examples of good goals include Noah building an ark, Moses constructing a very specific plan for the tabernacle, and Nehemiah building a wall. Even the Lord Jesus had a specific goal to go to the cross according to the Father’s divine redemption plan, selecting a specific number of disciples and following an exact time schedule every step of the way.
Purpose and Perspective
God acknowledges that man will have many plans, “Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Plans are not wrong. Many people in the Bible had plans, but remember this: It is only the counsel of the Lord that will stand.
In the book The Deeper Life, we give the reader tools to see how good goals, properly clarified and embraced, can accomplish vital priorities. These priorities are guided by values. These values shape our purpose. Purpose is an expression of biblical identity. Identity is rooted in a clear personal theology. Proper and powerful goals are not created in a vacuum. They are ultimately an expression of a strong theological foundation.
So, with a solid foundation and framework, let’s trust God for the grace to move forward with Christ-honoring goals and the hope of a life of effectiveness and impact for His glory.
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Vargas, Carlos, Dreams are Cheap (Guatemala, Punto Creativo, 2013), 85.