It is clear that scripture calls us to a higher standard in setting goals. The goals we set as Christians must be in accordance with God’s will and under his leadership. So, in James 4, James is not saying that we should not set goals. What he is saying is that we should set goals and make plans as God leads, but hold them loosely: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (Jam. 4:15). Herein lies the balance of the Christian life: although Paul set Christ-centered goals and developed specific plans to achieve them, he was also sensitive to the Lord altering his plans.
If you knew without a doubt that you could not fail in accomplishing one major goal, what goal would you set for your life?
I have heard this question for years in business circles when the subject of goal-setting comes up. It’s also one I think about between Christmas and the new year as I pray and think through what God wants me to accomplish in the coming year.
For those who have put their trust in the Lord, maybe a better question is, “Should we as Christians set goals?”
Over the years, I have heard many answers to that question. In the recent past, the answer from the church has usually been “no.” I have heard sermons expounding the dangers of fleshly zeal tied to spiritual goals. James is often quoted to support this argument:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jam. 4:13-15 ESV)
Yet today if you google the question, “Should we as Christians set goals?” the search yields about 159,000,000 results, many of which provide detailed instruction on how to make your goals a reality.
Two Ways to Look at Setting Goals
With goal-setting, like many issues, it’s easy to fall into two dangerous extremes.
The first extreme is to choose not to have any goals or plans. These people aim at nothing and hit it with amazing consistency. They claim to always want to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who they suggest only leads people in a spontaneous way. Although this may seem spiritual, they are not really using their God-given intellect to set good goals, plans, and decisions.
The second extreme is when people develop such rigid goals and plans that there is no room for the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit.