We’ve nearly reached the end of the year, and across the country millions of people either have or will be making resolutions for the New Year. These will range from losing weight to getting their anger under control to whittling down debt to spending less time on their smartphones. The problem is, resolutions rarely work.
Say, for instance, you resolve to lose 15 pounds. After the first of the year you start working out, cut back on eating “the good stuff,” and actually make a lot of progress, shedding maybe 10 pounds. Then you have a close encounter with the Cheesecake Factory or a similar establishment, and almost overnight find you’ve gained back five of those lost pounds. The biggest problem with losing weight, after all, is that it’s so easily found. In frustration, you mutter, “Well, forget that!”
Or you resolve to become an advocate for world peace, but then have a loud argument with your spouse. Rather than a peacemaker, you show yourself to be a peace-breaker. “Stick it in your ear, world peace!”
My solution to such resolution failures is simple: Don’t make resolutions. Instead, I set goals. For example, years ago a friend gave me a one-year chronological Bible, and last year I set a goal to finally get around to reading it through. I started the year off well, keeping pace with the daily readings, but then fell behind a week or so for some reason. If it had been merely a resolution, I might have said, “I quit!”
But since it was a goal for the entire year, I pressed on, reading an extra section or two from time to time, and got caught up. At some points I even got a few days ahead in my readings. There were a couple of other setbacks along the way, but now I’m just a few days short of reaching my goal. Next I’ll have to decide how to structure my Bible reading and study in the New Year.
Years ago, I learned three things about goals: They should be 1) realistic, 2) measurable, and 3) attainable. For instance, even in my younger years I was too big to be a jockey, so aiming to ride the winner of the Kentucky Derby would have made no sense. But I can set a goal of doing vigorous cardio workouts at least three times a week. Realistic. Measurable. Attainable.
Let’s shift our goal focus to the spiritual realm. The Scriptures speak a surprising amount about goals. For instance, the apostle Paul said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). His life’s focus was on Jesus Christ, and his consuming goal was to remain faithful to His call.
Paul, who had a penchant for using athletic metaphors to teach spiritual truth, told believers in the ancient church in Corinth, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Okay, his goal was to win the race – essentially to be the last man standing at the end. But how did Paul intend to accomplish that? Discipline.
He proceeded to write, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever…. I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). Like a well-trained athlete, the apostle determined not to let physical desires and lusts sidetrack him from fulfilling his goal of pleasing and honoring his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
How we pursue a similar goal is up to the individual. It’s like the question, “When is it best to have a quiet time?” – setting apart a portion of the day for Bible study, prayer and meditation. The answer is, “whenever works for you on a consistent, daily basis.” The point is, personal time alone with God is a worthwhile goal; how and when to do it is up to our discretion.
One worthy goal mentioned in the Scriptures is one that seems woefully out of step with our noisy, turbulent times and culture. Paul exhorted Christ followers in the Greek city of Thessalonica, “Make it your ambition [goal] to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
There’s a lot we could unpack from this passage, but basically the goal is to live in a respectful, God-honoring manner that proves attractive to those outside the faith. After all, God did command us to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), not only physically but also spiritually.
So, while the making of resolutions seems a popular pastime at this point in the year, I’d suggest that setting reasonable goals are a far better approach. That way you can pursue them year-long, and if you mess up or unwittingly take a detour, you can stop, dust yourself off and reset your course, keeping the ultimate goal in sight: to please and bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ, who achieved His own goals to teach, die on the cross, and rise from the dead so that He might offer a new life to us through His Spirit.
Start formulating your realistic, measurable and attainable goals so that by the end of next year you can be like the soccer announcers who scream, “Goooooooooal!”