If you are reading this post then chances are that you think highly of goals. For many of us, the more goals, the better. You may like big, hairy audacious goals. Or, you might prefer small, incremental and doable goals that compound over time. Some of us like short-term goals and others mid-term goals and still others prefer the long-term variety. There are personal goals and corporate goals, morning routine goals and evening routine goals. We think up wedding goals and vacation goals, and those oh-so-sacred "bucket list" goals.
And then there is the grand-daddy of them all: S.M.A.R.T. goals. That is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. In my coaching practice, I teach people how to create SMART goals based off a number of factors that currently impact their life situation. So, goals are good. Some goals are great. Goals, goals and more goals seems to equal a better life at the end of the day.
goals are, oftentimes...
not the goal.
The goal "behind" the goal is growth. What matters is growth. And the growth that matters most is a growth that many of us are not familiar with setting goals for. But setting goals for this area of growth is the most important type of goals we will ever set.
We must learn to set goals than increase our love for God.
Growth in our Love for God
When most people think about growing, they think about something that is visible and somewhat tangible. They think about increasing their bench press. They think bout moving from a 3.0 GPA to a 3.5 GPA. They think about moving from 100 sales per year to 125 sales per year. They think about moving from a $70k base salary to a $150k base salary. They think about attaining a work certification or a promotion.
But, from a biblical standpoint, the most important category of growth is one in which it is sometimes difficult to measure. What God is most concerned about is our growth in our love for Him. Jesus said this when asked about which commandment was the greatest:
Thus, our most important goals should be in alignment with Christ's greatest commandment. In some real sense, every goal we set must find its fulfillment in elevating our love for God, even if only in an indirect way. Our love for God is what flows into love of our neighbors. It is the fountainhead of emotional strength to endure the struggles of this life. When we love God more, we obey all his commands with greater urgency and thoroughness, knowing that, if we love Him, we show it by obeying his commands (John 15:9-17).
But, how do we grow in our love for God?
This may sound overly simplistic, but it is the truth: we read the Bible, pray, and obey. Before you stop and say, "Okay, really? This again? I have heard this a thousand times already. Give me something I don't know," hear me out. There is not always a correlation between the number of times we hear something and our ability to implement what we already know in a particular season.
So, even though you might already know the answer to growing in your love for God, ask this follow up question:
"So, how many of my goals are centered around Bible study, prayer and obedience to the commands of God?"
This is where the rubber meets the road. Goals are great insofar as they help us to put the spiritual disciplines into practice that will partner with God in growing our love for Him. I have found a tendency in myself that while pitiful to admit is probably true for many of us. I must acknowledge that when goals are about personal health and fitness, work or school, I more readily write them down, track them and have some measure of accountability. Well, okay, not always with health and fitness, but it is typically built into the fabric of work and school (Projects have to be due at some point, and someone is grading.). Yet, when it comes to goals of Bible study, prayer and obedience, it is strangely easier to not write them down, not track them and not look for consistent accountability. In this way, my main desire of growing in love for God is thwarted by other competing goals and desires. Can you relate?
So, how do we set goals for Bible study, prayer, and obedience that actually increase our love for God?
We must identify core goals that we have reasonable belief with help us grow in our love for God. Most of us know that we should read the Bible, pray and obey. Yet, many people do not know how to do these in such a way so as to increase their love for God. And yes, it is possible to read the Bible and not grow in love for God (see: Pharisees). So, without further ado, let's get real practical here:
What about prayer?
I know that when I prayer walk around my basement, I am far more engaged and emotionally motivated than when I sit quietly to pray. I can feel my love for God rising. So, I should probably feel bad about that and go learn from a monk how to sit still and pray quietly. WRONG! I should rejoice that God has given me a way to pray that increases my joy in and love for him. Therefore, I should set goals that have to do with the frequency and amount of time I spend prayer walking.
Why type of prayer engages your heart for God's purposes? Reading Operation World? Interceding for family members? Sitting down quietly before the Lord? Whatever it is, pursue goals that are in alignment with your unique wiring.
What about Bible study?
Right now, I am rejoicing in reading 1 & 2 Samuel along with the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary by J.D. Greer and Heath Thomas. I love thinking about God's faithfulness to David. Also, I am realizing that I need to keep Jesus front and center more than I do, because when I focus on him, I get a perfect visual for the character of God and my love for him increases. So, I should probably stop and memorize the names in the 1 Chronicles. WRONG! I should set a chapter or time limit boundary to my reading and set goals for frequency.
What type of bible reading engages your heart for God's purposes? Reading large portions and seeing a narrative unfold? Memorizing and chewing on one verse from the Psalms? Whatever it is in this season, set goals and do it!
What about obedience?
I know that I have been disobedient of late in choosing joy in God regardless of the circumstances. Basically, I have been guilty of not "rejoicing in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4). So, one of my current goals is to do whatever it takes in my personal devotions to stir my heart unto rejoicing. Specifically, this looks like a few songs of either Hillsong, Rend Collective or The Gettys. The music and lyrics of these artists have a way of elevating my mind and heart in ways that other artists do not. Therefore, I should repent of my selfishness and learn Gregorian chants. WRONG!
Where are you directly disobeying God's Word? Set repentance goals in this area and watch your love for Him increase.
Every Christian I know wants to grow in their love for God. I am sure you do as well. So, set goals that increase your love for God. Intentionally pursue growth in your love for God by pinpointing the goals that will help you move forward. By the power of the Spirit we can do this!