Periodically each Christian needs to evaluate his or her life and the path they’re on as to how it lines up with God’s plan and purpose. As you’d expect, most people do this at the beginning of the year. Since not one of us can claim perfection, we will inevitably need to make some changes.
I’ve been noticing on social media sites (primarily FaceBook and in some blogs) that most people focus on one or two areas that they resolve to improve in 2015. In truth, we need to be as courageous as David who frequently performed a thorough top-to-bottom assessment of every fiber of his being and found himself “wanting.” While it’s a step in the right direction to resolve to treat our kids and spouses nicer, to read the Bible each day and to stop taking property home from work, that barely touches the surface of what God expects from His people.
Please consider the following seven areas that each one of us owes it to ourselves and to the Lord to evaluate how we measure up to the purposes of God and to our legitimate desires.
At the top of the list I put priorities and core values. Ask yourself honestly: What are my priorities, my core values? How do these align with what God says in His Word? As I read many things that Christians post on social media, I sometimes wonder if they haven’t gotten a little bit off base here. As a leader and spiritual advisor I can point them to some scriptural guidance, but only they with God can resolve those questions and get back on track.
Second on my list is relationships: my relationship to God; my relations with individual members of my inner circle (family, friends and local church brethren); and my relationships with those outside my circle of influence, which is primarily exercised via outreach to the community in which I live and through support of missions. My relationship to God is actually probably the most well-defined and stable. Whereas the area that I personally need to focus most of my attention on is with my inner circle. My attitude/responsivity to the words and actions of others and how I deal with past, current and future circumstances needs a lot of improvement. How about you? How’s your compassion, forgiveness, understanding and unconditional love toward those you disagree with or have problems with their lifestyles.
The third area I highlight is Spirituality. This overlaps to some degree with the one above, relationships. It includes our Congregational involvement – how we receive from, share with and serve others within the local body of believers we fellowship with, and incorporates how we engage the world-wide Church mission to help the needy and spread the Gospel. But in addition, it extends to our personal prayer, study, meditation, worship, and growth in the knowledge of the Kingdom and in spiritual gifts, and to our exercise of our ambassador and warrior roles (primarily to the unsaved).
The fourth area is Health. Some denominations don’t believe that God really cares about anything material in our lives, our physical, mental and emotional well-being and advancement. There’s no question that His foremost concern is with mankind’s spiritual well-being, but He promised His followers that as long as we seek first His Kingdom and its righteousness, He would meet our physical needs. So we are in good standing with Him when we do everything possible to maintain a healthy body, mind and emotions.
The fifth area on my list is Treasure. The Gospel is free but the pipeline is very expensive. So a financially strong church and its members are good things. But hand-in-hand with setting a goal to improve your financial position in 2015 has to be the motivation to share those increased resources with others: through the local church, through missions, through even secular institutions who are legitimately helping the disadvantaged.
The sixth area I broadly call “Work”, but I include education and training that prepares one for a career or job or profession, as well as opens doors for advancement in that field. I also include the godly gifts of creativity and imagination and discovery, whereby God reveals the beauty and mysteries of the universe. Some receive wages for their “work,” while others only feel self-fulfillment.
The final area is Rest – personal and with family and community. God sanctioned rest: with the seventh day after creation, with the Sabbath day of rest, with the multiple festival times established for God’s people in ancient times, and with Jesus even reminding the Jewish leaders that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Hobbies, vacations, holidays are all good and should be planned for to allow individuals and families and communities to put their “work” down and celebrate together and rest.
Six Recommendations for Setting Goals
People set goals (New Year’s resolutions) every year, and statistics show that only a small percentage of these resolutions are ever achieved. In fact, most are abandoned within the first couple months. You’ll be much more likely to achieve your goals if you first take the time to formally plan things out and write them down (on paper or in your computer or tablet or phone.) And here are some suggestions.
1. Choose goals that matter – things that inspire you to act. An economic gain or an ego boost is not reason enough. The apostle John told the church, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” When you completely attach yourself to a goal, and know that it will satisfy your soul (your inner being), even the working toward its achievement will give you great joy.
Think about what it is you want to experience in your life and/or what the obstacles are, then ask yourself why you want it. Dig several layers down. For example, if one of your goals is to exercise 30 minutes a day, four days a week, ask yourself why you want to do that. Assume you decide that the reason is so you can live much longer. It may seem obvious, but ask yourself why you want to live several years longer. It’s probably because you want to see your grandchildren graduate and get married. And hopefully you’ll sincerely be able to add that it will also give you many more years to serve God and to tell others about His love for them. Now the goal really matters! You’ve got a strong reason to stick to your resolution.
2. Be selective with whom you share your goals. Choose people you are certain will be supportive and/or actually help you to achieve your goals. Not everyone you know is going to be supportive of you. For example, if a person knows you have tried something similar in the past and failed, they may remind you of that fact. Even when spoken in jest, it can be very hurtful and discouraging – something you don’t need to hear.
3. Focus on the process, not the outcome. We can’t control outcomes. We have to inch toward them, one choice at a time. If you make daily choices that are consistent with your goal over and over again, you will eventually reach it. And the small steps of progress themselves will give you added strength to forge on.
4. Frame your goals positively. Focus on what you want to bring into your life, not what you want to avoid. Then you are more likely to actually pursue it. Suppose for example, your self-assessment reminds you that in the past you have been very critical of someone at work. Now you want to change your behavior. Formulate a goal to look for something nice about that person’s appearance or attitude or work effort to complement them on each week.
5. Prepare for mistakes or “screw-ups” (in a good way). Moments of failure are inevitable. Don’t abandon the goal entirely when minor failures and setbacks occur. Your task is not to avoid failures, but to plan for them. I was an Army program manager for a number of years and we always thought about and planned for things that realistically could go wrong, on the production line, in a battle, etc. We called these things the “known – unknowns.” Devise an if/then contingency plan: “if this happens, then I’ll do that.” It’s a mental plan for how you’ll react to things that might trip you up. Maybe everything will work out as perfectly as you hoped for. But if it doesn’t, you’re not completely shocked, and you have a contingency plan ready to implement.
6. Again, I can’t emphasize enough: write down your goals. If you leave them to just float around in your mind somewhere, it’s too easy to walk away from them the first time a problem surfaces or some distraction intervenes. And believe me, there are plenty of distractions waiting to get you to look away and go a different direction. Don’t let them.