The beginning of a new year provides a wonderful opportunity to examine the previous year to celebrate our successes, and set goals for personal growth.
As I mention in the post Setting Giving Goals: Generosity Doesn’t Happen by Accident, setting goals is important. When you consider the important self-disciplines and practices that grow us as people and citizens of God’s kingdom, they don’t happen by accident. They require us to earnestly gauge our performance, and set appropriate goals to help facilitate a movement of God in our lives.
They don’t have to be outlandish and crazy goals. In fact, the bigger the goal, the less likely you are to follow through. If you decide to go from little to no regular prayer to an hour a day, the chances that you will meet that goal are pretty slim—but I bet you can commit to setting aside a few minutes in the morning or the evening for prayer.
Being intentional and setting objectives for the Christian life isn’t about getting down on ourselves for not measuring up, it’s about “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 3:14)
Let’s look at some areas we can assess the past year:
For the Christian, the Bible is one of the most important tools for spiritual growth. As Paul tells Timothy, scripture is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
The goal Bible reading and study is to get God’s word inside of us so that it can do its amazing work of reshaping us.
Here are a couple questions to consider when looking at the previous year:
- Did you set a Bible reading goal last year? How’d it go?
- Were you part of a Bible study? If so, what were some high points?
- Did you memorize any Scripture this year?
There are all sorts of rewarding ways you can set scriptural goals this year! If you have never read through the Bible in a year, why not do it this year? If you have, you can always do it again in another translation or try a different reading plan.
Perhaps it’s time to join or start a Bible study? Digging into the scriptures with others is an effective way to experience God’s word in entirely new ways.
Lastly, why not set a goal to memorize Scripture this year? You can memorize it around themes (the Navigators have a great Scripture memorization tool), or if you’re really ambitious, why not memorize an entire book like James or Colossians?
- Did you have a regular, daily time for prayer?
- When you look back on last year, do you remember any answered prayers?
- Were there people you prayed with regularly?
Prayer is one of those things that Christians talk a lot about, but have a hard time implementing. If you don’t have a regular prayer time, why not set a goal for one this year? It doesn’t have to be overly ambitious. If you’re not doing it at all, 10 minutes a day is a huge step forward!
How about keeping a prayer journal? Use an actual bound journal or your favorite note-keeping app, and keep track of the items you’re praying about and how they’ve been answered! You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Christianity isn’t intended to be a solo affair. Most of the New Testament is written to communities of believers who’ve gathered to share their lives and grow in grace together.
How was your engagement with other believers last year?
- Are you committed to a church or gathering of other believers?
- Are you part of a small group or study where you can be open and transparent?
- Do you have broken or strained relationships you’ve carried over into the new year?
- Do people feel your home is an open place where they are welcome?
Do you think of community as an area where you can set personal goals? It is!
Maybe you need to join a small group or study or invest in one good friend? Perhaps you need a plan to repair some relationships. Or maybe you want to simply grow in hospitality.
Find the areas you feel you can grow in the kind of relationships you have, and set some small, measurable goals where you can make some progress.
Service is one of those areas we all intend to devote some time to, but if we don’t just make a plan to do it, it never happens. So it’s important to avoid our tendency to assume that we’re more service-oriented than we really are.
You can get a good sense of where you are with a couple simple questions:
- Did you use your gifts or skills to serve others this year?
- Did you find a charitable organization where you could donate your time?
Maybe you have served the church with your gifts of teaching, service, or hospitality. If so, that’s fantastic. If not, in what ways could you serve the church this year? Maybe the first goal youneed to set is to take a spiritual gift assessment and figure out where your strengths lie, and begin discussing with your church’s leadership where those strengths could be put to best use.
Consider the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31–46). In the past year have you served Jesus by finding a way to serve “the least of these?” Could you set an objective this year to find a place where you can serve those who are in need? I’m not talking about serving financially; I’m talking about finding a way to get involved and donate your time.
Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians includes not only the expectation that they’re giving, but that they’re planning to give!
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give . . .”—2 Cor. 9:7
We should constantly be pushing and stretching ourselves to be more generous and open handed with our resources. You can evaluate this with questions like:
- Did I experience an increase in pay this year?
- Can I afford to give more than I did last year?
- Is my ability to give being hampered by debt? If so, what can I do to reduce my debt?
The goal isn’t to give so much much that you can’t function, but it is to challenge yourself and find where your limits are. Chances are that you’ll find that you’re able to give more and live on much less than you ever imagined—and see the world in an entirely different way.
The spirituality of setting goals
In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul reminds us that, “in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize.” He then reminds us to pursue the gospel’s calling as if there was only one prize for us to win. It’s Paul’s reminder that spirituality is not opposed to effort. Setting goals is part of a healthy, thriving spirituality.
Prayerfully consider creative ways you can set goals in these areas in the upcoming year. Write them down and commit to them, and then invite a trustworthy friend or loved one in to help encourage you to follow through!
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