Christian Goal Setting

Should a Christian Set Goals?

There seems to be a struggle for Christians in figuring out the appropriate balance between trusting God and waiting on Him and actively doing our part. Trusting in our own abilities to accomplish God’s work is the one extreme while not taking action when we should is the other extreme.

I struggle with this issue from time to time and was helped by an article that I found recently.

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No plans and no goals

The author starts by pointing out three faulty assumptions of those who made no plans and set no goals:

    1. They think their feelings are an infallible guide for sensing the leading of the Spirit. But even Jesus did not take this attitude, for when he prayed in the garden, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39), he was clearly indicating (among other things) that emotionally he would prefer not to face the cross.
    2. They believe that the Holy Spirit leads people only in a spontaneous way. That is, he does not move them to make plans. But Paul made plans (see, for example, Acts 15:36; Rom 1:13), the apostles made plans (Acts 6:1-3), and even Jesus himself made plans (Matt 10:5-15; 16:21; 26:17-19). Surely we cannot claim that these men were not Spirit-led in their planning.
    3. They subconsciously reject the idea that they can hear the Spirit’s voice through the Scriptures. But by abandoning the Word of God as their normative guide, they are assuming that the Holy Spirit usually circumvents the Word when he speaks to men. This is hardly the view of the Spirit-led men of the past (see, for example, Ps 119:9-16; Matt 4:4; 5:17; 2 Tim 3:15-17).

Personally, I strongly agree with point #3. I received some good teaching that anything that the Holy Spirit is leading us to do should not disagree with the Bible. At the same time, the Bible is God’s word and therefore can be taken as instruction from God.

Holding too tightly to plans and goals

The opposite extreme is to be so engrossed in our plans and what we are doing that we ignore when God is giving us direction. It can be very easy to let pride get in the way by continuing to do what we shouldn’t just to save face. The article mentions how Paul made adjustments to his plans on multiple occasions on his missionary journeys (Acts 16:6-7).

“Herein is balance: although Paul planned, he was sensitive to the Lord altering his plans.”

James 4:13-15

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”

14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

15Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

The article points out how James brings the healthy balance to the issue:

In James 4, the author specifically addresses the one who sets his goals in concrete: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (vv. 13-14).

James calls such rigidity arrogance ( v. 16). But he does not say that we should not set goals. Rather, we should make plans, but submit them to the Lord: “Instead, you ought to to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (v. 15).

In reality, James 4:15 balances out both extremes. We should use our minds and set goals, but we must do so in humility, recognizing that God alone controls our destiny.

I tend to lean a bit to the side of planning and relying on them too much. But God is slowly getting it through my thick skull that He is capable of a lot more than I am. Seeing the fruit of the times when I succeeded in letting Him be God over a situation, it is so true.

What about you? Are you a goal setter and a planner?

















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13 Comments
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  1. Good post, Bob. I’m with you – I tend to rely a little too heavily on my plans, but I think skipping planning all together isn’t asking to be led by the Spirit, it’s often asking to be bailed out by the Spirit.

    I believe God can speak to me well in advance of an event and that I don’t need to be in the moment to hear from Him. I also believe that I need to be ready to hear from Him and change course in the moment.

  2. @Cory
    Good point about being “bailed out by the Spirit” – which thank God that His grace is sufficient and that He is still glad to bail us out when we mess up. But, I just want to be one of those people who God can give a task to and I will run with it, rather than having to be prodded all along the way just to do my part.

  3. Great balance of truth. I just discovered your blog and it’s helpful for a series I’m starting called “How to Recession-Proof Your Life.”

  4. Great post – i’ve been thinking about this lately as well.. I’ve found that I haven’t planned for things, and because of that, and because i’m not really seeking out God’s word – that things just don’t happen.

    I’ve realized this year that through a combination of reading God’s word, listening to his urgings in my life, and planning for things I felt led to do, that goals can start happening.

    Recently I felt led to attend a seminar about sharing the gospel. Within short order God gave me several instances where I could share my faith, culminating with a missions trip this summer. Follow God’s plans, and he will keep you busy!

  5. @pete
    Good for you!! It has been a struggle for me trying come to a proper biblical perspective on goal setting, but with God’s help I have gotten a better handle on it…

    I am excited for you about your opportunities!!

  6. I too struggle with this area, specifically as it relates to security. I often find myself trying to plan around bad things that could happen, when I really should be trusting in Him. The balance is difficult though, and I know I need to do my part as well.

  7. Thanks, Bob. I have become recently convinced of the importance of setting goals, but from non-christian sources. So, I was struggling in my mind on how compatible setting goals was with following Jesus.
    Your post has helped me. Thank you.

  8. I think this is a constant struggle with christians. Particulary business people. I sometimes feel guilty in my planning…I do not want to allow greed to enter my thinking. Many times greed borders on a fine line when planning goals. This makes it all the more important that we rely on the word of God, the leading of the Holy Spirit and let us not forget patience. All this works together to build a successful Christ based business.

  9. Grace Dallan

    I personally think making plans or goal setting is only fine basing on Gods foundation by asking him to guide you all way but he should always come first
    “seek first the kingdom of heaven and the rest will fall in line ”

    I also believe that if your doing anything related to helping out mankind , God related projects , God will be directly behind you all the way .

    May his Grace be with us always .

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