I often find
when reading a book that some incidental
observation the author makes helps me more than
his or her main theme. This happened again
recently when I was reading Ben Young's The
Ten Commandments of Dating, as part of my
preparation for revising Should I Get
singles to set significant goals, so that they
will have more to offer when that special
relationship comes along. He counsels,
"Goals move us. In business, sports,
politics, and relationship with God, goals make
the difference between reaching forward with
purpose, or spinning around in meaningless
circles. Most people have more difficulty setting
goals than they do accomplishing them once they
Young makes this observation
about goal-setting in passing, and doesn't return
to the topic again in his book. Yet I was stunned
by his suggestion that it is more difficult to
set goals than to carry them out. At first I
wasn't sure what to make of it. I had never
thought of it this way before. I've always
assumed that setting a goal is the simple part,
and then the real work begins.
Yet after thinking about it for a
couple of weeks, I'm convinced that Young is
right. We easily and thoughtlessly set many
fleeting goals that have no effect on our
destiny. Yet establishing an effective
goal takes time, careful thinking, prayer and
reflection, planning and commitment of heart.
Once a goal is firmly in place, it becomes part
of us. Carrying it out often seems natural.
And--maybe it's just that we're more alert to
it--but it seems that serendipities occur. Life
rises up to meet us and help us accomplish our
Why the Effort Is Worth It
Another book I
read this past year was Napoleon Hill's classic Think
and Grow Rich.*
I read it not because I want to make my lifestyle
more ostentatious, but because this book, first
published in 1937, has been enormously popular
this century and many claim to have been helped
by it. I wanted to understand Hill's philosophy
and be able to interact with it, knowing I'd
agree with some of his points and not with
I was pleasantly surprised to
find that Hill's broad concern is not solely with
helping one grow rich financially, but in ways
that are important to one personally. And while I
wish his book were better annotated, Hill bases
his observations on two decades of research and
interviews with hundreds of successful people.
It is hard to find a more
enthusiastic proponent of goal-setting than Hill,
an attorney by trade. When we have properly
established a goal and truly own it, life works
to our benefit after that, Hill insists. We are
both surprised and pleased by what we're able to
accomplish. Hill comes close to saying that an
effectively set goal guarantees our success.
I don't agree that setting a goal
ever guarantees anything. Our future is
always in God's hands, and our expectations of
what we will accomplish must always be qualified
by "if God wills" (Jas 4:15).
Yet goal setting does make a
difference--often a radical difference in what
we're able to accomplish. This is true, I'm
convinced, because of how God himself has ordered
human life, even as part of his common grace.
When you add to this the prospect of the
Christian setting goals under Christ's direction,
the possibilities are explosive.
Consider Nehemiah. His
unthinkable accomplishments, detailed in the book
of Nehemiah, included rebuilding the wall of
Jerusalem and re-establishing the city as a
vibrant worship center for Israel. Yet the
project began in private for him. He spent a
period of many days agonizing over the fate of
Israel and praying for God's help and insight.
During this time he resolved to do something to
turn the tide. He set a goal, then confirmed it
by praying for God's help: "O Lord, let your
ear be attentive to the prayer of this your
servant. . . . Give your servant success today by
granting him favor in the presense of [the
king]" (Neh 1:11).
From that point on, events
transpired to help Nehemiah accomplish his
purpose. Even though Nehemiah, who was cupbearer
to the king, hadn't asked him for any assistance,
the king noticed Nehemiah's discouraged composure
and took the initiative to ask him what was
wrong. This provided Nehemiah the chance to
explain his concern to the king and ask for
specific help. The king agreed to assist him.
The project then accelerated
forward at a remarkably rapid pace. The energy
was there, and many volunteered their services to
help Nehemiah. In spite of extreme obstacles
which he faced, including physical persecution,
his goal of rebuilding Jerusalem was so firmly
established in his heart that he was able to
press forward naturally and successfully.
Here's something even more
interesting to observe. When we study Nehemiah's
experience carefully, we find that it was more
difficult for him to set his goal than to carry
it out. Before resolving to take action, he
"sat down and wept, and mourned for days;
and . . . continued fasting and praying before
the God of heaven" (Neh 1:4 RSV). While he
faced many challenges in accomplishing his goal,
that part was obviously easier for him than
establishing the goal itself. He was swept along
by momentum (Neh 6:15), by the encouragement of
people who "had a mind to work" (Neh
4:6), by the conviction that he was doing a great
work (Neh 6:3), and by the sheer joy of seeing
the project succeed.
We learn from Nehemiah, then,
that goal-setting is not an activity for the
faint of heart. Doing it properly requires time,
prayer, deep thinking and feeling, sweat and
Yet he also demonstrates why the
process is worth it. Three stunning results came
from his establishing his goal:
His own life became focused in a way that
made accomplishing the goal possible.
Others, inspired by his motivation and clear
trumpet call, rallied to help him.
God worked providentially to ensure his
Nehemiah's experience, then,
inspires us to take goal-setting seriously. It is
a critical key to realizing our potential for
Finding an Approach That Works
Perhaps you've been intending to
make some resolutions as you begin the next year
(century, millennium). Let me suggest a slightly
Why not resolve to become more
goal-centered from this point forward in your
life. Instead of making a few impulsive
resolutions that quickly get broken, establish a
game plan for making ones that stick. Feel the
passion for goal-setting, and determine to make
it part of your lifestyle. Think through some
changes that will make it possible.
Each of us is different. The
process that helps you establish goals
successfully may not work for me. The important
thing for each of us is to find the approach that
works for us.
But at minimum it require from
each of us time and effort and commitment of
heart. Goal-setting should become a goal in
If you need some suggestions,
here's a track to run on--an approach that will
work well for many of us. Make three general
commitments concerning goals:
Yearly. Plan to take a personal
retreat at least once a year. Determine a date or
time during the year when you will do this, and
stick to that commitment annually. Allow at least
a day of uninterupted time--if possible, a
weekend or several days--in a quiet setting.
Begin by spending some time in
prayer, asking Christ to direct you. Maintain a
prayerful attitude during your entire retreat.
If you have never done so before,
write out a mission statement. Keep it concise--a
few paragraphs at most--but list your major
priorities, and state your longest-term goals,
those things you most earnestly want to
accomplish with your life. If you have previously
designed such a statement, review it and see if
it needs any changes.
In light of your mission
statement establish goals for the coming year.
They do not necessarily have to be ones you
intend to complete during the year, but ones
which need your attention during this time.
Consider the major areas of your life--spiritual,
relationships, career, education, health,
finances, lifestyle, hobbies--and set goals at
those points where you need to grow or change.
Make sure the goals fit you well--that they match
your gifts and interests, and your clearest
understanding of God's direction for your life.
But let them challenge you as well, to grow at a
pace that is right for you.
Be as specific as possible with
each goal, stating clearly what you want to
accomplish and the date by which you intend to do
so. This is especially important. Then establish
a clear plan of action for carrying out each
Allow yourself to dream. Envision
completing your goals, and anticipate the joy of
doing so. If you cannot feel strong passion for a
goal, don't adopt it--you'll never follow
through. Choose those goals that really stir your
Keep a notebook dedicated to
goals. Record the ones you have set on this
retreat in it. Then make a copy of this list to
carry with you in your wallet or pocketbook.
Close your retreat with another
time of prayer, asking God to give success to
these goals, wisdom in carrying them out, and
understanding if any need to modified.
Monthly. Set a day once a month to
review your goals. If the first of the month can
work for you, choose it, for it is easiest to
remember. Plan to spend at least an hour on that
day focusing on your goals. In a prayerful
spirit, read over your list, reaffirm your
commitment to your goals, and make any
adjustments to them that seem necessary. Focus
especially on your plans of action for each goal;
evaluate how well you're doing in following
through, make any changes needed, and
re-determine to stick with your strategies. Allow
yourself again to dream, to rekindle your passion
for your goals.
Daily. It is equally important to
review your goals daily. Do so during your
devotional time. Read over your list of goals and
pray about them at least briefly. (If you don't
have a daily devotional time, here's a good
incentive to begin one!).
Make it your habit also to review
your goals just before you go to bed, and as soon
as you wake up. Napolean Hill recommends
verbalizing your goals to yourself; at the least,
make a point of doing so before bed and first
thing when you awake.
A Matter of Stewardship
My favorite article by Andy
Rooney is one he authored on new year's
resolutions. In it he states his intentions for
the coming year: He will not read a novel. He
will stop worrying about cleaning up the
basement, for anyone with a tidy basement needs a
psychiatrist anyway. He will stop trying to
please his wife by standing up straight.
rebellion against new year's vows gets to the
heart of why we find goal-setting so futile.
We've been there. We've made endless resolutions,
often to appease our guilt more than anything,
which we've never fulfilled. Why bother trying
again? Why saddle ourselves with all that stress?
Why not just lighten up about life and take the
course of least resistence?
There is another side to the
story. We experience our greatest joy when our
life is moving forward with a strong sense of
purpose. And a reasonable level of stress
actually contributes to both our happiness and
health, especially if it is related to
clearly-defined objectives we wish to attain.
The truth is that we each are far
more capable of setting goals and sticking to
them than we normally realize. Part of the answer
is discipline. Yet a big part of it lies in our
approach to goal-setting itself. Fortunately,
there is much we can do to improve the process.
Resolve to become more
goal-centered as you move into the next century.
Determine to cherish the gift of life Christ has
given you so greatly that you will make the best
possible use of your time. Open yourself fully to
his provision for your life and to the
accomplishments he'll make possible for you.
Goal-setting is the right place to start.