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