Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goals or Resolutions?

What’s a resolution worth? I’m pretty sure if you take one of the resolutions you make for the new year, along with $5, you can get a medium-sized latte at your favorite coffee shop. If we all had a penny for every resolution made at New Year’s, we’d all be able to pay off the national debt.

But it’s understandable. At the beginning of each new year, it seems like we’ve got an opportunity for a new start. So many of us do make resolutions – “I resolve to…” or “I resolve not to….” The problem is once they’re broken, we feel like we’ve failed and we give up. “I knew I couldn’t keep that commitment. Why did I even try?”

I prefer to establish goals to pursue all year long. My annual practice is to sit down within the first week and review the year just past, consider how I did on in important areas of my life over the past 365 days, and create new goals for the next 12 months. That way, even if I get off to a slow start, or get interrupted at some point, I still have the remainder of the year to work toward meeting my goals.

A worthwhile goal is to grow spiritually.
But how can we measure that?
Often it’s helpful to break down goals according to categories, like physical, vocational, financial, family, social, and personal growth. One other area is spiritual, a dimension of our lives definitely worth considering.

What kind of spiritual goals can we reasonably set? Long ago I learned it’s futile to try and quantify matters such as spiritual growth, or our walk with God. Our relationship with Him can’t be evaluated by the number of hours we devote to religious activities, or the amount of money we give to support spiritual causes.

And spiritual maturity can’t be measured with a ruler, or a scale, or some kind of chart. There have been times I’ve felt like I was making good progress spiritually, only to discover a day or week later, even 15 minutes later, that I’d taken two steps backward.

Does not mean we can’t set specific goals to help in strengthening our connection with our Lord. No, but they have to be realistic. As the Scriptures tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). God is the only Judge of the heart.

That being said, let me suggest a few reasonable goals that could enhance your spiritual growth during the coming year. As with any valued relationship – a marriage, parent-child, or a friendship – there’s no substitute for time. So if you want to grow in your relationship with God, you have to be intentional about spending time with Him.

Going to worship services, Bible studies and small group meetings are fine, but they’re a secondhand form of communication. Make a point to spend at least a few minutes a day alone with God in pray and reading something from the Scriptures. Where you do this, and when, is up to you. What works for one person won’t work for someone else. But we all need time to talk to the Lord – and allow Him to talk to us.

Years ago a friend came up with an acronym – ACTS – that he used for his daily prayer time: Adoration (praising God); Confession (acknowledging our sins); Thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for who God is and all He has done); and Supplication (presenting our requests and concerns to Him). I’ve found this to be a helpful formula. We can do this continually. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs us, “Pray without ceasing.”

Too often, however, we skip the first three and go straight to supplication, treating the Lord like a short-order cook (as another friend once put it). Since God in His omniscience already knows what we need and want, it’s good to place our focus on Him first. Once we’ve done that, we might even find the things we ask for are different from what we’d originally intended.

As for reading the Bible, you can start anywhere. In my next post, I’ll offer a few suggestions that I’ve found useful through the years. But don’t wait for my ideas – get started. Adopt the request found in Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” Why wait? There’s no better time than the present.

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