Goal setting

As we start a new year, it is the time for resolutions and goal setting to be all the rage. So, I felt repurposing this information from my book Godspeed and Guideposts for your Journey would be timely.

We set goals; goals that are long term or short term; small or large; objectives, targets, purposes, intentions, and plans we intend to achieve. We set goals to self-inspire and measure our progress and accomplishments.

“The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.” – Benjamin Mays, American Minister and Civil Rights Icon


I first learned of SMART goals in 1990 when I read Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. SMART goals were defined as: Specific- not general, Measurable- so we know how we stand against the goal, Attainable – something we have control over and can achieve, Relevant- something appropriate and meaningful to us, and Time-based, within a defined time frame.

My favorite example of goal setting is NASA’s effort to put a man on the moon. Prior to John Kennedy’s famous speech in May of 1961, the stated goal of NASA was “to achieve maximum effectiveness in space.” How does that goal compare with the SMART guidelines? However, JFK’s speech states, “We will put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade.” A goal certainly specific, measurable, attainable (although many doubted it at the time), relevant to the needs of the country and within a defined time frame. History reflects this goal was achieved and a remarkable accomplishment for NASA and our country – at a time when our nation’s morale needed it.

Scott O’Grady spoke at a convention I attended several years ago. In June 1995, he was the fighter pilot shot down over Bosnia behind enemy lines and was sharing that life experience. He talked about goal setting and how it played a key role in his ability to stay alive and avoid capture. He survived for six days by setting specific goals each day. Every day goal #1 was to stay alive and remain free. Then he set smaller goals like putting distance from where his parachute landed, finding water, finding food, climbing as high as possible to communicate by radio, heading to a cleared area for rescue, etc. He said by breaking everything down into smaller SMART goals, he could stay focused. If he had looked at the whole picture of his dire situation and tried to comprehend a total solution, he would have been overwhelmed and likely captured.

In goal setting we need to be flexible with the option to adjust. We often need to correct the path along our journey. Sticking with an exact path can be difficult as we encounter things outside our control. Consider a strong wind blowing against a rigid tree. It will snap and break. While a flexible tree will bend with the wind; and when the winds die down and calm returns, the flexible survives.

Learn to triage goals, prioritize them. We will never be able to accomplish everything we want. It is just impossible given a finite amount of time and resources. Some things in life cost time, some cost money and some cost both. Decide what is important enough to spend time on. When we triage our goals, what survives becomes the focus and other things are left to wither away. Some call this the ‘Law of Releasing’ – we must get rid of what we do not necessarily need, to make room for what we really do need. By prioritizing our goals, we determine what is most important.

“Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German Writer and Statesman

Should Christians set goals? Some people wrongly think goal setting is unspiritual because it shows a lack of trust. They argue that we should wait for God to lead us. James is often quoted to support this argument, (James 4:13-15): Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit- you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.”

God doesn’t want us to forge ahead in pride without understanding His direction. Prayerful discernment to set goals, shows we trust and believe He will lead us while we move forward. Throughout the Bible, God directly led people to set and pursue goals of His choosing. The Bible refers to the “call of God” and the “will of God” just to name a few. Consider:

  • God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh; Abraham to travel and settle in a distant land; or Paul to plant churches.
  • Paul’s intention to testify of Jesus before Caesar.
  • Noah building the ark.
  • Joseph providing for Egypt and his family during the famine.
  • Nehemiah rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

Goals are the “how” we achieve something. Without a purpose behind them, they’re merely activities or experiences. Scripture calls us to a higher standard in setting goals. The SMART goals we set as Christians must be in accordance with God’s will and under His leadership. We should be inspired to achieve and accomplish; be flexible to adjust; and align our goals with His purpose for our life.

As we start a new year, let’s remember the condition James says we should employ to qualify all our plans – “If the Lord wills it.”

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