Should Christians have goals? A question posed by a friend on Facebook which immediately caught my attention. I’ve been goal obsessed for over a decade and my first response to this and similar questions is always: of course! But, after this initial burst of enthusiasm for goals, I then remember that my goals sometimes seem to suck the joy out of my life and so I need to explore the question in a deeper way.
Words are powerful tools, yet each language and each generation can interpret them so differently.
Growing up I had the following passage almost imprinted on me: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 3 12-14 NIV)
This extract from one of Paul’s letters seems to make it clear that goals, or at least one specific goal, are something every Christian should aspire to. Yet perhaps the word itself: goal, is a modern invention that isn’t necessary.
Try reading the same extract in the King James Version: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 3 12-14 KJV)
The language is similar, but a subtly different interpretation can be seen in the two translations made several centuries apart.
There are many accounts of people in the Bible who clearly had what I would call goals. Yet how they acted differed enormously. Paul seems to have been an all or nothing kind of guy and he frequently encouraged and challenged others to be like him. I’ve been reading through the two books of Samuel over the last month or so and another famous person had a very different perspective on goals…
David was chosen by God to be king over Israel. There was a problem though, Israel already had a king: Saul, who had also been chosen by God…
There’s an important point in that situation. God gave Saul the opportunity to be king, to have a dynasty established with his children and their children after them set up for life to rule over God’s kingdom on Earth. An opportunity like that wasn’t to be taken lightly though and it seems Saul just didn’t have the faith in God, the trust and patience that anyone would hope a leader would display.
Saul disobeyed God out of fear and his dynasty was taken away. But he was still king…
I heard someone say once that David was an astute political careerist. Several situations are recorded of David having every opportunity to kill Saul off and take the throne himself. In every instance, David chose instead to look to the longer game. He spared Saul’s life again and again making it clear that no-one, even God’s annointed, had the right to take the life of someone else that God had previously annointed. When opportunists claimed to have killed Saul and his family, David had them executed for the high crime of treason against God’s annointed.
David had a goal – to become king, but that goal was not to be achieved at any cost!
Should Christians have goals?
Perhaps the problem is with the word “should”. Christians are called to be obedient to God. We are called to follow Jesus. We are encouraged to become like Jesus. There are many examples in the Bible of people who have what I would call goals, but each person deals with that differently and each situation is also different. Some people have goals given to them, like Jonah who was commanded to tell the population of Ninevah they were going to be destroyed because they were wicked. Not a pleasant goal to be given when you were far more likely to be executed than be fined or spend time in jail if the authorities didn’t like you. Perhaps understandable that Jonah ran in the opposite direction until God steered him back…
Esther found herself with one of the most basic goals that exist – find a way to survive.
Gideon kept on questioning the goal he was given.
Nehemiah set his own goal – to rebuild Jerusalem and would not let anyone distract or trap him as he set out to achieve that goal.
I’m not sure that any of these people used the word goal. I am certain that many did not break their objective into chunks or daily tasks. None of them will have read the seven habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey, Brian Tracy or Norman Hill…
Yet each of them did, eventually, and sometimes with a lot of persuasion, press on towards the mark.
It’s okay to have goals. It’s also okay to not have goals. But, if you want to achieve something, whether that is finish a poem, write a novel, or even change a nation, you have to have something you are aiming for and working towards.