I caught the flu on Christmas day. That was not one of my year-end goals. That sentence sounds like a novelty holiday song like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but I can tell you it wasn’t nearly as fun. We had family over and I just wasn’t at my best. Even now, a week later, I’m still feeling the last little bit of stuffy nose, tight chest and sore throat. Yuck!
Gem and I also took the Christmas week off from our usual Unhurried Living activities. We try to practice what we teach about healthy rhythms of both work and rest. I still wrestle. It still requires a great deal of effort for me to really enter into seasons of rest. There is still a productivity motor in me that struggles when I move to take my life out of that gear.
Now, when I’m sick I often become reflective and thoughtful. (Sometimes my brain isn’t all that sharp, but the lack of excess physical energy has a way of quieting my mind a bit). So, as a result, I ended up thinking quite a bit about what I’d like to accomplish in 2018.
To Set…or Not to Set
I’ve had a bumpy relationship with setting goals. When I was a young college pastor, I was sort of famous for setting five year goals and making five year plans for the group. Never mind that no student at the time would be part of that group five years later. That didn’t stop me though.
I’m not against long-term goals. I am against an approach to long-term goals that focus more on what I plan to do and focus less on what might be on God’s heart for the long path ahead. I’m learning to envision the future with God more than trying to envision one for God. And it turns out He sees the future quite a bit better than I do!
In An Unhurried Leader, I unpacked a few lines from the letter of James that talks about this (p. 161).
If it is the Lord’s Will…
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:13-15).
We can plan all we want for the future, setting countless goals, but there is no guarantee that we’ll even be here to carry out our plans. I have sometimes let the pendulum swing from over-planning to giving up on any kind of planning or goal-setting.
But listen again to James’s punchline: “If the Lord wills it, we will do this or that in the future.” We can listen to this as a “with God” piece of counsel. We can apply that counsel by engaging in practices that help us discern the heart of God so that our goal-setting will be more rooted in his ways, counsel, and guidance.
When we set goals, what questions are we trying to answer? Isn’t it often some form of “What am I going to do?” It’s a fair question, but it’s not the best first question.
Perhaps James wants us to first ask questions like “What might be on the heart and mind of God in this moment, in this setting, and for these people?” Questions like these, prayerfully asked, provide profound wisdom, rich creativity, and clearer focus as I make my plans and set my goals.
A Few of My Goals
So, here are just a few of my personal and vocational goals for the coming year:
I have other goals, but I find these energizing and feel these are beautiful ways I’ll enjoy walking and working with God in the year ahead.
Questions for Your Reflection
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"An Unhurried Rule of Life" - I (Alan) remember my first years as a follower of Jesus. January was always exciting for me. My church often started new corporate spiritual practices like a year-long Bible reading plan. I’m a high structure person. I like reliable frameworks within which I can cultivate a spiritual path forward....