Riverside Blog July 2017
I suffer from goal paralysis. I realize this more and more as the calendar flips further from my college graduation, a span now longer than a year. How easy it was growing up when goals were preset: achieve good grades, get accepted into college, graduate, find a job. I hardly thought about whether these goals were good, bad, godly or worldly; any questioning of the sequence was blocked by the thought that people were expecting me to do these things, so I did them.
Now a few steps past the graduation pinnacle, I feel freed to dream apart from the prescribed path. But in this freedom I find hesitation. What does it mean to dream, set goals and make plans within the will of God? I fear the pitfalls of love of money and seeking approval from the world. I fear making a goal, working toward it, achieving it and then looking back at a worthless endeavor. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, John 6:27 says. But which is the food that spoils, and which is the food that endures?
There is one goal I have felt God whispering to me for several years now. I am talking of a whisper with weight. On one occasion, I was jogging as part of my training for a race and the weighty whisper stopped me mid-hill. The voice of God paused me in the middle of my work toward one goal to speak to me about another!
I do not like to talk about this goal, because voicing it means other people know. They might ask me about it, or assess that I cannot complete it, or keep me accountable to pursuing it. On a usual day I feel afraid of those things. Today I’ll say it: my goal is to be a writer.
A goal whispered by God. That sounds like it would lead to food that endures. But not every dream of mine has come with a whisper. What about those that don’t?
Jordan and I have recently received advice from people in the church on cultivating and preparing for marriage. When it comes to making future decisions as one unit, Pastor Dale said it can be helpful to start with a foundation of previously agreed-upon values. List your values, and then when it comes time to make a difficult decision (like whether to move to a new city for a job, or whether to go back to school, or whether to give a certain amount to meet a need in the community), you can refer together to your values and test whether your decision aligns. For example, if your values prioritize family first and career second, you may choose to live closer to family for a job you less prefer. Kristin and Justin gave us similar advice about setting financial goals as a couple: decide on your values and set your goals accordingly. If we set travelling as something we value, we can create goals for where we would like to go and what we would like to do, and save up intentionally for it. If we set generously giving as a core value, we can create goals for giving, and choose to spend less on nonessentials each day as we look toward our goal and live out our commitment to our value.
How do we set our values? I believe we do this best when we seek the character of God and make his values ours. We pray and ask what He finds important. We meditate on Scripture and moments of life in which we notice His attributes. We imitate Jesus. These steps are part of the disciplines of the Christian walk, which Dave has been sharing with us at Dessert with Dad. The disciplines take commitment. Proverbs 6:3 tells us, Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. I hope to know God more and more intimately, to better understand his character, to better align to what he values, to set my goals on the foundation of those values, to commit my steps to be meaningful and my fruit eternal.
Always in this process of dreaming, goal-setting, and planning, I want to be humbled to God and grateful for today. He may have whispered me a goal, but he has not guaranteed tomorrow. So I will list my values and align them with his character. I will dream and make goals, and test them against my values, and work to reach them. But I will remember the sovereignty of the Lord. I will remember the work He has done, and that He said, “It is finished!” as He sacrificed and saved all people for everlasting life (John 19:30). My dreams and goals may be good, God-aligned and God-given, but I will not inflate them.
Pastor Tim asked our church this question: When you reach a goal, you celebrate, and then what? Do you slide away? I pray that is not the case for me or you or our church. I believe when our goals are set on vision and values from God, we understand that we are never done. The celebration may come, but there is more good work to be done. When I fulfill God’s whisper to me, I pray there will be another. God’s vision to reach our section of Atlanta will not be fulfilled even when we fill our church building. There will always be more to do.
Here are a few more pieces of Scripture I want to provide on goals and plans.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.