We tend to imagine that goal setting is an invention of the modern business world, but of course, as is always the case, if it’s an important idea, you’ll find it in the Bible. It’s possible to argue that all living organisms utilize goal related behavior, and if you find that hard to swallow, take a look at Stefano Mancuso’s time lapse video of a bean plant growing toward a pole; but scientific studies into the benefits of goal setting, such as those of Locke and Latham in the nineties, only serve to echo the wisdom of God’s word in the Bible.
The benefits of goal setting are manifold: goal setting increases your motivation, improves your confidence, overcomes procrastination, helps you take control of your life and improves your mental health. That does not mean, however, that all goals are good; the only goals worth achieving are those that align with God’s will. As a Christian, you know that any goal that you set yourself should be formulated through prayer and study of the scripture. Only God knows what will happen in the future and how you should prepare, think of the example of Noah.
Although it doesn’t use the term ‘goal setting’ the Bible has much to say about the importance of a purposeful life. The Book of Proverbs is particularly rich in advice.
‘The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.’ Proverbs 21:5
Plans, however, are not enough in themselves, we need God’s guidance; the arrogance to think that we know best is a sin.
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ Proverbs 3:5-6
Goals that are not made in consultation with God are worse than worthless; they may even lead us to evil. As a Christian, before you set any goal, you must pray to the Lord for guidance. Is your goal selfish and self-serving, intended only to bring transitory worldly success and impress others or is it a goal that will bring you closer to God’s purpose? God wants our lives to have purpose and a goal set through prayer and reading the scripture helps us distinguish between what is valuable and what is worthless. The goals that we set as Christians are not of our devising; they are recognition of God’s will.
‘ “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ‘
Leading a purposeful life through goal setting is an act of faith; it helps us to focus on the present moment and value our time on this earth.
‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’
When Jesus explained to his disciples what they must give up in order to follow him he used a practical example of goal setting, which is as applicable today as when Jesus first uttered the words.
‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.” ‘ Luke14: 28-30
You are probably familiar with the term SMART targets; the acronym reminds us that effective goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. This is a helpful reference tool when you are setting goals, but as a Christian there are other questions that you should be asking yourself when you set a goal.
- Will achieving this goal serve the Lord, or are you blinded by vanity, pride or a craving for adulation?
- Have you sought guidance in scripture? Have you opened your heart to God and prayed?
‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33
- In what way will this goal bring you closer to God?
- Will this goal bring others closer to God? Consider setting a goal, which is for the benefit of others, such as your church community, your family, or those who are deep in sin and most in need of the Lord’s guidance.
The parable of the talents reminds us that we were put on this earth to lead purposeful lives. Setting goals, formulated through prayer and study of the scripture, is a way to achieve a closer relationship with God. Use your prayer journal to record your goals and reflect upon how God has helped you to achieve them.