Guest Post by Lisa Warren
Setting goals ought to be done with a light pencil, a fat eraser, and an open Bible.
A year ago, at the turn of the century, I sat down with my planner, which was flipped to the “Notes” section, and I wrote in dark, glossy ink an entire page of goals I was determined to reach. I was very organized as I divided my goals into several sections: Spiritual, Relationship, Work, and Personal Goals. Each section housed three or four goals.
Is that making your head hurt?
Yeah. It makes my head spin, too, thinking I was not only going to meet every goal but that I was going to knock it out of the ballpark.
Not only did I not meet most of my goals, but I failed pretty miserably at them. For starters, one of my personal goals was to read one book per week. I love to read, so I thought that one would be easy. Turns out that teaching makes that basically impossible. And speaking of teaching, I had some work goals for that, of course. Guess what? I’m not a teacher anymore.
You’d have to be living in a deep, dark cave to have missed out on the joys of 2020. It wasn’t a normal year—and that’s an understatement. So even if 2020 had been “normal,” my goals were still wildly unrealistic, mainly because I had way too many of them. But because of 2020, God taught me a lot about what my goals should look like in the future.
Here’s a little hint: It didn’t involve me sitting down on January 1, 2021, and writing out a set of new goals for the year.
In 2020, I resigned from my teaching position, lost close relationships, and gained a newfound appreciation for things I had long taken for granted. That’s a story for another time, but the point is this: I got really shaken up over the course of 2020. Almost all of my plans had failed, rendering me paralyzed. My entire identity felt unstable and uncertain, and that’s when I realized I’d been placing my hope in my career, relationships, and the money in my account.
Thank God for His lovingkindness as He drew me closely to Himself during the hard months of last year. I had to live “paralyzed” temporarily, so He could remind me that my identity is in Christ and not in the things of this world.
So what does this have to do with setting and achieving goals? A lot actually. This might not be what you were expecting when you opened up an article on plans and goals, but I’m praying it’s exactly what you need to hear today.
Proverbs 16:9 tells us, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” I don’t think God is without a sense of humor. I happen to think as I penned my 2020 goals, God may have been shaking His head and chuckling a little.
Friends, I’m not suggesting you flit through life making zero commitments and taking zero responsibilities. On the contrary, what I am suggesting is that you plan for the future tentatively and surrender those plans to God, offering them to Him and allowing Him to have His way in your life and in your plans.
I’d like to share a few key verses with you that expound upon this idea:
- Philippians 4:11-13: I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
This is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. We see Philippians 4:13 plastered on t-shirts, mugs, and planners, yet the Scripture has been taken out of context. “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” doesn’t guarantee you a promotion, a restored relationship, or a clean bill of health.
The apostle Paul wrote this under intense suffering from inside a Roman prison cell. If Paul kept a planner, I have a feeling you wouldn’t have found “suffer in prison” listed as one of his goals. Paul had a heart for reaching those who didn’t yet know Christ; he had big mission trips planned. Imprisonment was so not on the original agenda.
And yet, in the middle of his mess and turmoil, Paul gives us the answer we need as we set goals for 2021. He says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am…I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
That didn’t mean that if Paul believed hard enough that God was gonna bust him out of jail. I mean, He certainly could have done that if He wanted, but that’s not the point of what Paul is telling us here. His point? It’s okay to make plans, but when (not if) God adjusts those plans, you can be content because you can depend upon the God who created you to continue the good work He started in you (Phil. 1:6), trusting that He is working all things together for your good if you love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
- Psalm 119:133: Make my steps steady through Your promise; don’t let any sin dominate me.
The King James Version translates this as “Order my steps.” In other words, the psalmist is giving God his planner and agenda and saying, “Here’s what I’ve got so far, God. What do you think? Go ahead and move things around, delete, or add whatever You think is best.”
Draw your attention to verse 129 that says, “Your decrees are wonderful; therefore I obey them.” This is the reason the psalmist is able to offer his agenda to God. He knows that God’s way is wonderful, that God’s way is best, so why wouldn’t he do what God says?
Do we believe this? Do we believe God’s Word and commands are wonderful? Do we believe His way is superior to any other? If we do, then why on earth wouldn’t we do what He says? Why wouldn’t we allow Him to order our steps?
- Psalm 37:5-6: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.
One thing worth noting is that the verse does not say: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, making your every dream come true and removing all of your problems.”
Somehow, we tend to think that becoming a Christian is supposed to make life easier. On the contrary, Jesus Himself tells us we will have many troubles in this world (John 16:33).
The promise here is that when we trust the Lord despite our hardships and changed plans, He will act on our behalf. He’s always working for our good—not necessarily the way we imagined or how we asked—because the hope we have in Him is assured and certain. What He has promised, He is faithful to do, and what He has promised is an eternal inheritance and reward to those who have put their faith in his Son (Hebrews 10:23).
Go ahead and make some resolutions. Set some goals. Decide what you’d like to accomplish and achieve this year. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and it’s commendable to desire growth and maturity in ourselves.
Yet, as you jot down those goals and plans, do so with the mentality that it’s only a rough draft. When you’ve finished writing, present it to God, surrendering those plans to Him, and ask Him to order your steps this year. I’m confident you’ll find His ways to be higher and better than you could have ever imagined.
A blessing for you:
May Yahweh bless you and protect you; may Yahweh make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may Yahweh look with favor on you and give you peace. Numbers 6:25
Lisa’s spent her young adult years trying to figure out what in the heck she’s supposed to be doing. From 9 to 5s to mission work and from teaching to writing, she’s slowly been learning to find identity in Christ rather than in things of this world. Currently, Lisa spends her days writing, editing, baking delicious Keto desserts, washing her husband’s Army uniforms, and cuddling with her very adorable furbaby, Stella. You can read more of her stuff at https://bentonlisawarren.wixsite.com/mymilitaryspouselife, but be warned: she doesn’t mince words!