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The first step in goal-setting requires you to put the brakes on your dreams for a bit. Any talk of goal-setting for the Christian must begin with an acknowledgment that God is in control. Consider just two verses that speak to this:
- The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9
- Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Lord will stand. Proverbs 19:21
The Lord is the one directing your steps. Oftentimes, He will use your dreams and desires as part of the guiding process. But even so, it’s important to keep your dreams in open hands as you pray, ask questions, and think through God’s plan for your life.
An excellent Biblical example of this principle is David. He dreamed of building a temple for the Lord. He planned to do it. It was the great desire of his heart.
Yet, when he came to the Lord with his dreams and plan, God said, “No.”
David would not be able to fulfill his greatest dream. Instead, his son, Solomon, built the temple. Nonetheless, God directed David’s steps as he refined the plan, collected materials, and prepared all he could before his death so Solomon could build the temple. While the Lord said no to David’s big dream, He did lead David to play a valuable part.
The Bible gives no indication that God was displeased with David’s dream to build a temple. But the Lord made it clear David would not be the man to fulfill that dream In fact, the temple was part of God’s plan – just not part of God’s plan for David.
As a testimony to David being a man after God’s heart, there is no indication in Scripture he was upset, argued against the Lord, or otherwise tried to carry on anyway. David relinquished his plans to the Lord. You may need to do the same thing at times. Hold those dreams lightly and the Lord’s guiding hand tightly.
If your dreams and goals are not God’s dreams and goals for you, then they are meaningless. Therefore, as with everything you do as a believer, approach planning and goal-setting prayerfully. Pray first, pray during, and pray after your goal-setting sessions.
The First Step in Goal-Setting is to Look Back
You’ve dreamed. You’ve prayed, You’ve thought. You’ve prayed some more. Now what? Where do you begin with setting goals? You begin by looking backward.
Imagine making a plan for a family vacation. If you’ll be driving, you’ll need directions about which roads to follow, what exit off the highway to take, and how long your drive will be. To get all those things, you need to know where you are starting from.
In the same way, when you’re making goals, you don’t start thinking about moving forward. You start by taking stock of where you are right now. What have you accomplished or failed to accomplish? What dreams have you let go and which dreams have been brought to life in your heart and mind? Where did you succeed or fail last year?
You may have guessed from that last paragraph that you start your goal-setting process by asking questions. Just as important as asking good, sometimes difficult, questions, is the answers you give. To be helpful, you need to be brutally honest with yourself. Getting input from others in your life – like a spouse – may be helpful as well.
Biblical Examples of ‘Looking Back’
When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, under Joshua’s leadership, they built a memorial altar. The stones were taken from the middle of the river – one for each of the 12 tribes – and set up on the bank of the river (Joshua 3). The purpose was so that the people could ‘look back’ at reminders of what God had done in the past as a source of encouragement for what He would do in the future.
Going on to conquer the land, the Israelites looked back at their victory at Jericho to encourage themselves. But if you remember the story, they became overconfident and then suffered a costly defeat. When we look back at what God has done in our lives, we need to be sure we continue to keep the focus on Him, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
A New Testament example of ‘looking back’ is Paul, who regularly returned to the churches he planted. He visited them and evaluated how they were doing, then often left coworkers with them – or sent some to them – to address areas of needed growth. Paul also wrote letters after he received word of how they were doing. He looked back, so to speak, through the reports brought to him, and then addressed areas of needed growth in his letters. Paul consistently looked back to see where these churches had come from and then encouraged them to look forward to where they were going (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11; Philippians 3:13-15).
Questions to Consider While Looking Back
- What was my biggest accomplishment in the past 12 months?
- Why did that accomplishment succeed? What did I do differently to have success?
- Why was that accomplishment important to me?
- What are some favorite memories? What makes those memories special?
- What was time well spent? What was time wasted?
- What was money well spent? What was money wasted?
- What progress did I make towards big goals?
- How have my relationships improved during the last 12 months?
- What was my biggest challenge this year?
- Why was that challenge so difficult to overcome? What can I change going forward to be successful in this area?
- What unmet goals do I have? Do those goals need to be revisited or discarded?
- Who or what held me back?
- How did I hold myself back this year?
- What do I wish I could go back and change?
- What were my worst habits this year? How can I work towards changing them going forward?
- What were the three biggest lessons I learned this last year?
- What was the biggest risk I took this year? Did it pay off or flop?
- Who are the people I spent the most time with this year, and how did they influence me to succeed or fail in my goals?
- Is my life out of balance? Where? How?
- If you chose a word for the year, how did your year measure up to your word?
- If you chose a verse for the year, how did your year measure up to your verse?
This list is not exhaustive, but it does cover a lot of ground – both the good and the bad. It is a good place to start before moving on to consider where you will go in the future.
Looking back is a good first step in goal-setting. Use some time this week to evaluate your satisfaction with your life (see this post), and to consider the year that is quickly ending.
For more on setting goals check out these articles:
- Biblical Principles of Goal-Setting
- Great Steps in the Goals-Setting Process
- 4 Easy Steps for Goal-Setting