Through some cosmic hiccup we’ve all received the same training on goal setting. We’ve learned goals need to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound). Instead of setting a goal like, I want to be healthier, it’s much more powerful to commit, I will lose ten pounds in eight weeks.
The problem is, when we attempt to set significant life goals, leaning on the SMART model is like trying to kill a bear with a butter knife.
In today’s post I’ll share 3 thoughts on life planning:
1. A Biblical perspective
2. Practical Steps
3. A Measurement Philosophy
A Biblical Perspective
In Proverbs 16:9 King Solomon says:
The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps. (ESV)
This translation sounds so nice and simple. As if I just pencil out a few plans and the Lord will lay down the stepping-stones for me to stroll to my destination. But there’s more to it. The King James translation tells a more complete story.
A man’s heart deviseth his way:
but the Lord directeth his steps. (KJV)
The 3 key words to understand are heart, devise and direct.
- Heart: In its Greek origin this word references man’s feelings, intellect and will. What else is there? Essentially everything in us is directed at this activity.
- Devise (Deviseth): This means to weave or fabricate. More specifically it means to think, conceive, consider, forecast, imagine, or invent. When coupled with our “heart” this speaks to man’s tendency to focus our entire being and abilities on our own future…often with malicious intent.
- Direct (Directeth): Here we learn that God is in this with us and He’ll be the one to set up our future. According to this word, the Lord will confirm, direct, frame, ordain, order, and perfect our steps.
Collectively this all matters because if God is in this, and our entire being is intently engaging in a conniving activity…we shouldn’t expect the path to our destination to be an easy stroll.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 provides further illumination:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.” (ESV)
As we embark upon this process we must not be deceived. We’re fallen…and have a tendency to scheme and contrive. God will test our plans and respond accordingly. If our heart is in the right place, our plans might please God. If not, God might have some tough lessons planned.
Matthew Henry’s commentary explains it well:
If men devise their way, so as to make God’s glory their end and his will their rule, they may expect that he will direct their steps by his Spirit and grace, so that they shall not miss their way nor come short of their end.
That sounds like a good proposition: God showing me favor by helping me achieve the goals I set before me. However, if I embark on setting goals with my heart in the wrong condition, Henry describes a different response from God:
But let men devise their worldly affairs ever so politely, and with ever so great a probability of success, yet God has the ordering of the event, and sometimes directs their steps to that which they least intended.
In summary as we approach life goal setting we must:
1. Check our hearts…knowing we have it in us to disregard or even displease God
2. Include God…resisting our natural tendency to get out ahead of God
3. Desire God’s will…knowing His will is best for our lives
A few years ago, I learned a powerful approach to life planning. Developed by the extraordinary team at Building Champions, Michael Hyatt and Building Champions’s founder Daniel Harkavy recently made it available in their best-selling book Living Forward. I’ve distilled their approach to 5 simple steps.
- Select and Prioritize your Life Accounts: Arguably God only wants two things from us: to know God and to make Him known to others. But we’re complex creatures. God made us that way. He knows we have many facets to our lives (e.g. our family, friends, job faith, and more). In this step of planning your task is to identify all your “life accounts” along with the priority of each.
- Develop Purpose Statements: For each account, you now articulate a clear and compelling purpose to guide you. By way of example, one of my life accounts is, “My Faith.” For this account my purpose statement is: I am a man of informed and uncommon faith..and the wellspring of my faith is Christ!
- Envision the Future: The next step is to look ahead and write a sentence describing your future. The envisioned future for “My Faith” is: I’m firmly rooted and centered in Christ – and I’m a wise and discerning man of God who people in my life seek for counsel and encouragement.
- Describe Your Current Reality: Self-awareness is critical to life planning. In this step you inventory your reality by jotting down a few statements describing your present situation. It only takes a few minutes, but the process often reveals areas of discontent that will serve as fuel for the next step.
- Make Commitments: Here you document actions you’ll take to move towards your envisioned future. In my plan I have 3 commitments: (1) Make morning quiet time a priority, (2) keep a list of my favorite scripture and commit them to memory, and (3) journal or blog every week reflections of my walk with God. Don’t overdo it. Keep it simple and strive for progress not perfection…which leads me to my final point.
A Measurement Philosophy
Goal setting can be discouraging. Think about your own life and the string of unmet goals. We struggle to achieve even relatively simple things like organizing our life or getting more sleep. Goals such as healing broken relationships or discovering purpose are much more complicated. Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, coined the phrase living in the gap which applies to evaluating our success.
Dan’s point is we often envision a future for ourselves (a big life goal), that is equivalent to the horizon (something that can be seen but doesn’t physically exist). Over time we look to the horizon – measuring our success based upon how close we are to reaching it. We wind up discouraged. Dan advocates lofty goals, but instead of looking at our proximity to the horizon when evaluating success…we should instead look back and measure progress. Measuring progress energizes us because instead of seeing our shortcomings, we see evidence of forward momentum.
In the book of John, Jesus Himself offered words that should give us hope:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:12-14 (ESV)
If we enter into this process with our will committed to living fully for Christ, and we follow the steps I’ve outlined above – while we may not know the precise outcome we can confidently believe God will bless our efforts.
Question: Have you committed your life goals to paper? If not, maybe it’s time to focus your attention on God for a while. What life accounts that matter most in your life? And what are some actions that would move you towards your envisioned future? You can leave a comment by clicking here.