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Setting goals is popular with a lot of people, including Christians. Have you ever thought about why setting goals might be important for believers? Today, we are looking at Biblical principles of goal-setting.
Making goals is relatively easy. Making God-honoring goals is slightly more challenging. It requires prayer, time, and an understanding of the Word and how it applies to your life at this moment in time. The principles below will guide your goal-setting process to be Biblical and God-honoring.
Principle 1: Planning Ahead is Biblical
Proverbs has a lot to say about goals and hard work. One key passage is Proverbs 6:6-11. Solomon advises his readers to learn an important lesson from ants: plan ahead and work diligently.
Everyone has seen ants hard at work. Nothing seems to stop their progress towards whatever their ant-goals are. Any obstacle is crawled over or gone around. It is impressive and humbly to watch them work.
But even more than their diligence in working is the fact that ants – without “any chief, officer, or ruler” – know what work must be done. Each ant has his job or goal and focuses on that alone.
Proverbs 24:30-34 is a parallel passage that moves from the insect world to humanity. Hard work is again emphasized. But think about the condition of the field: “overgrown with thorns” and “covered with nettles.”
When these two passages are compared with Proverbs 20:4, we learn even more. The poverty which comes in both Proverbs 6 and 24, is because “the sluggard does not plow in autumn.” The sluggard has not prepared for the planting season and so plows nothing, sows nothing, and at harvest time reaps nothing.
Farmers do not simply wake up one day in sowing season (which differs depending on where they live) and start planting. No, they first must plan ahead by ordering seed, making certain the machinery is all in working order, hiring laborers if necessary, and being aware of the weather.
Those things don’t happen by accident. They were planned and accomplished because the farmer has a goal of planting seed. The goal of planting came first for the farmer, then the action. The goal of caring for the colony came first for the ant, then the action.
And so it is with anyone. First the goal, then the action. If God thinks ants need goals and farmers need goals, then maybe you do as well.
Principle 2: Goal Setting isn’t Just About You
Generally, you make goals to improve your life. And that’s a good thing. You can increase your education, advance your career, learn to communicate with your loved ones better, and get healthier by focusing on your personal goals and growth.
But if you only focus on yourself, you’ll be missing a key motivating principle of goal setting – which is also a motivating principle in Christian living: to bless others.
God established this principle way back in Genesis 12 when He promised Abram that he would be blessed and also that others would be blessed through him. Abram was blessed to be a blessing. It is a Biblical principle repeated hundreds of times.
You are blessed to be a blessing.
So when you make goals, you need to think about not only what you desire to achieve, but also how you can bless others.
2 Corinthians 8-9 gives a good illustration of this. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they had committed to giving an offering for others (9:2,7). This is an echo of what he said in 1 Corinthians 16:2, where the Corinthians were instructed to “put something aside” the first of every week for the offering Paul would be coming to collect.
Paul plainly states this principle in 8:14 when he says, “your abundance” will meet the needs of the Macedonians.
Even our salvation, so clearly stated as being by “grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9) proves this principle. God planned (see that goal?) your salvation so that you would fulfill the “good works which God prepared” for you before you were ever saved. God had a goal, your salvation and subsequent good works, which were meant to bless others.
One way to do this when setting goals is to plan for giving. Giving money, yes, but also giving time and abilities. But it won’t happen unless you plan for it by setting God-honoring goals.
Principle 3: Seek Wise Counsel When Making Goals
Again we go to the book of Proverbs and see this principle repeated. “In an abundance of counselors there is safety” (11:14); “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (15:22); “Plans are established by counsel” (20:18).
When you’re making goals, the counsel you seek may be from God (James 1:5), from other believers (Colossians 3:16-17), and from the Word of God (Colossians 3:23,24). Just remember that only a fool prefers his advice above that of wise counselors (Proverbs 12:15).
James shares a practical aspect of seeking wise counsel when making goals in 4:13-17. This reminder that you are in control of very little, can keep you humble enough to seek wisdom, prayer, and guidance.
If you need more convincing about the need for wise counselors in making plans and goals, read Proverbs 8 and notice the blessings that come from wisdom.
Principle 4: Follow Through
Back in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul urges his readers to follow through on their commitments. Specifically, he instructs Titus in verse 6 to complete what was started. And then he repeats the admonition in verse 11: “so now finish doing it.”
Genesis 1 also gives guidance on this principle. God obviously planned creation to be done on a day-by-day basis. He could have created everything in one millisecond. But that wasn’t His plan, His goal.
Each day, He worked on the plan to complete the goal. He didn’t take a break. He didn’t give up halfway through. Each day, He created exactly what He had planned to create so that the goal of a complete and perfect creation would be realized within a week.
God followed through in creation. He also followed through in salvation. From the pre-creation plan to resurrection morning, the goal was clear, the plan was followed, and salvation was purchased.
Jesus had the same focus while on earth. He “had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:1). He “set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He prayed “not my will but yours” (Luke 22:42).
Paul had the same focus on follow-through. When threatened with death in Thessalonica, he kept preaching in Berea and Athens (Acts 17). He kept his goal, “to testify to the gospel of grace” foremost in his plans so that he might “finish well” (Acts 20:22-240. He determined to go to Jerusalem, regardless of the risks (Acts 21:10-14).
Principle 5: God is God and You are Not
Maybe this should say, “remember who is ultimately in charge.” But the idea is the same: make sound, God-honoring goals. Make plans for achieving them. Seek wise counsel. Follow through. But always, always remember that you are not in charge, God is.
Proverbs 3:3-6 is a favorite reminder of this: you trust God and He directs your paths. Just be aware that, no matter how much you pray, seek wise counsel, and study the Word, you still could end up with your goals and plans going askew. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make goals and plans (see James 4:13-17). Ony that you hold those goals and plans lightly because God’s plans are carved in the proverbial stone, while yours are in pencil on paper.
It is also good to remember Psalm 127:1 when making goals: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.”
Your goals and plans are just that – yours. And God’s are His. Submit your goals to the Lord and then be willing to let Him change them while also asking Him to bless them. It is why every goal should start with “if it’s your will, Lord.” And every day should begin with “I only want to do your will today, Lord.”
Biblical principles for goal setting can help you in so many ways. First, you can be assured that making goals is Biblical and God-honoring. Second, you can boldly pray for guidance in making goals that will bless your life and the lives of others. Third, you can rest in the knowledge that if you do everything possible to make your goals a reality, you work and pray and follow through, but still they don’t happen, it is because God is still God. And His plan, even when you don’t understand it, is far better than your goals could ever be.
There are so many more passages that could be used, but we’ll lose with just two verses from Proverbs 16:
The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. (v1)
The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps. (v9)
The goals are yours, the plans are yours, but the way is His. God’s will in your life is not directed by your goals. Your goals are to be directed by His will.