Have you ever had thoughts something to the effect that you’d be farther along by this point in your life? Have you set some sort of goal and you found yourself wondering after all of this hard work, you hadn’t gotten to where you thought you’d be by now? I know this possibility exists because I’ve heard from more than one how the enemy has clobbered them on this very subject. Whether this accurately describes you or not, ask yourself if your focus could be setting you up for disappointment.
This type of thinking and miscellaneous comments got me thinking about fulfillment during the various stages of life. It made me realize that goals need to be a much thought-out and prayed-over exercise. Is it possible to set a goal, create expectations, or have aspirations that hurt us, or ultimately work against us? What if we set a goal that is not in alignment with God’s plan for our life? What if God had one plan for us, and we choose another path? If we get so absorbed in our own plans, we could miss the better plan. Or worse yet, we could be on a good trajectory and making real progress in our relationship with Him, only to be defeated because our original focus was flawed.
It’s that last possibility that gets my attention. Success can be many things. It can be perceived to be found in contentment with a certain status, or perhaps fulfillment in a sense of purpose. The guy that leads a simpler life, loves his wife and kids, and is faithful, may be more fulfilled than the guy that appears to have everything. If disappointment can be tied to status or wrong thinking, then we need to be careful that we don’t apply the wrong kind of pressure to ourselves. Self-inflicted setbacks tend to hurt the most. It’s one thing to make a wrong move and suffer a setback, and another to set our minds on wrong things, only to become disappointed because we think we haven’t done enough. Right thinking is the result of being aware of our place in God’s kingdom, and presently being in step with the things that matter to Him.
John Ortberg is a phenomenal writer and speaker who continually beats the drum of “who we are becoming” as a target of personal success. He says that success shouldn’t be defined by what we have achieved, but rather who we have become, or are becoming. This thought is the only reason I take the time to write things down. “Becoming” in this context depicts movement of the soul.
I believe in this area many of you are beginning to excel, yet the enemy will convince you that you are merely spinning your wheels. He would love to have you confuse your becoming a man of God with a material objective. Our mission as defined by God is simply to love God and love people. That’s our goal. In the Old Testament, we are challenged to, “bind love and faithfulness around our neck so we will find favor in the sight of God and man.” We are “to trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding, acknowledging Him in all our ways as he maps out our paths.” In this context, we see both the spiritual and material being influenced in a comprehensive and yielded life.
These are goals that never disappoint. Here is an attempt at a worthy, but not a lofty goal: I want to know God more and more each year. I want to be a follower of Jesus Christ, not just an admirer. I want to experience God in the here and now. I want Him to walk through my feet, work through my hands, speak through my lips, and love through my heart. In other words, I want to become more like Jesus.
This is so different from stating a goal that has to do with success, status, achievement, or material benefit. These things have little to do with “becoming” more like Jesus. They can ultimately only disappoint. If I don’t achieve a material goal, I’ll be disappointed. If I achieve my earthly goal but haven’t become alive in Christ, I’ll also be disappointed. In fact, there is a good chance if I become successful, I’ll only want more success. Only goals that have to do with my heart, mind, and soul, have to do with the “becoming” that Jesus is concerned with. Only getting better at loving others and loving God will suffice as an anecdote to worldly ambition. One way leads to disappointment (even when we’re doing many things right), the other leads to behaviors and a lifestyle that God is involved with.
The enemy is so good at getting into our heads. He will guilt us. Shame us. Convince us we are going nowhere. Convincing us that God’s way is a dead end. That’s what he did in the garden. “God doesn’t want you to eat from that tree because your eyes will be opened, then you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” All lies – all deceptive and divisive untruths. This is the ultimate (and successful) attempt at turning man’s thoughts toward the material and away from following God.
You can bet when we get down and discouraged, the enemy is close, and his factory of lies is in full production. One way to offset his deceitful propaganda is to look for ways to connect to God and affirm your sonship as an adopted child of the Most High. Derry Long said the other day that each day he wakes up and says out loud, “I am not alone.” You can go on to say that you are the child of the Most High God, and your peace is found only in Him. Develop a daily exercise that verbalizes your position in the kingdom.
All of this to say that it feels to me that by establishing a material goal that by such an age you would be worth a certain amount, achieved a certain status, (or whatever your goal has been), is a surefire way to end up discouraged one way or the other. My challenge to you would be to take on a new exercise of present-day goals that include becoming more in touch with Jesus than you ever have before. To help others, to be the best husband and father, or friend, and to leave a legacy of pouring into your wife’s soul, and to know each of your kids better than ever before. To work hard each day, and to make a difference in the lives of your friends, vendors, employees, and customers.
I think if you come up with a present-day goal as a way to live – a lifestyle – you will find satisfaction that is immeasurable as you become one who grasps and attains this type of goal – in the form of a lifestyle, versus chasing what is so elusive and even disappoints if you get there.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never had a material goal. For my entire working life, I’ve worked hard, and my main goal was to make the house payment and put food on the table. Hard work pays off in you’re in the right situation. If you’re faithful to God, you are in a position for God to promote you, which I believe he does. He does the promoting as we rest in Him.
Summarizing, you may be doing so many things right. You love your family. You work hard. You are honest. You care about friends, employees, and relationships. All of which you can be seen as a part of who you are. There is no disappointment in doing things right and employing right-thinking. We can find contentment in the simple success of raising a family, paying the bills, and providing an average lifestyle. We don’t need monetary success, or man’s praise, or status to be fully satisfied. In fact, we can have all of these things, yet miss the main thing, and still end up under-fulfilled.
So this time of your life could very well be a time of checking your goals and establishing right-thinking. Your goal should be to never find yourself disappointed by a self-imposed checkpoint that you miss. If you reach the age of forty, fifty, or whatever, and your family loves you more than anything else in the world; if you’ve taken the time to introduce each of your children to Jesus, the ultimate gift, there is no way to be disappointed. If you focus on anything material, there is a great opportunity to experience disappointment.
Right-thinking – it will protect us from ourselves. We have to safeguard against the wrong objectives and learn to be content wherever we find ourselves.
Well, that’s about it for now. I think I’ve beaten the same drum in a few different fashions here. This is my best stab at helping you refocus so you don’t wake up in a few years thinking you missed something. Setting goals works for many, but if you don’t keep the Main Thing the Main Thing, you’ll wake up disappointed and discouraged by a material goal that didn’t attend to your soul. We need to tend to our souls in this world that focuses on everything else.
If your priorities are right, there is no way to miss. You’ll hit the target and be pleased with the result. Loving God and loving people. Like walking – right foot, left foot – loving God, loving people. Just get this right and you will know satisfaction and fulfillment.
Preaching to myself here as well.
This month: I hope you can make After Hours this month as Mike Berry leads us. Mike is a thirty-something which makes him a millennial. He works in the lumber industry involved with both buying and marketing of redwood, among other things. Mike will share how relationships have helped him navigate life in the midst of chaos, change, and everyday responsibilities. I appreciate how Mike stays focused on the Main Thing as he does life.