Setting goals is a good practice. Goals strip away the layers of the unimportant to reveal our core passions. Goals focus our attention. Goals give us inspiring visions of the future. So why can’t we meet our goals?
I’ve had several conversations with friends who once had fantastic goals, but when I caught up with them they had all but abandoned their efforts. In truth, I don’t need to look any farther than myself if I want to see a long and sad list of failed attempts to achieve change. After so much disappointment I’m starting to understand better why we sometimes can’t meet our goals.
1. We Treat the Symptom, Not the Sickness
We often set goals out of some sense of dissatisfaction with our present circumstances. We weigh too much, so we vow to diet and exercise. We haven’t been reading our Bible, so we find a Bible reading plan. The examples are endless. But the most important questions to ask ourselves have less to do with our behaviors than our motivations. Why do we overeat? Why don’t we make time for our priorities? One reason we fail to achieve our goals is that we only deal with external manifestations and not inner motivations.
2. We Attempt our Goals Alone Instead of in Community
To achieve our goals we need community. We need a group of friends, co-workers, family members, or others pursuing the same goals to help us. Community can inform us on our journey. Listening to the collective wisdom of the people in our circles gives us wisdom and perspective we can’t get on our own. Community also offers accountability. It’s too easy to quit a difficult project when we haven’t shared our aspirations with anyone else. We need people to celebrate with, too. Acknowledging progress, however slight, with other people motivates us to keep going. Lone ranger stories only work on TV. When it comes to achieving your goals share them with a community that will support you.
3. We Try to Achieve Our Goals Based on Willpower Alone
Hard work is indispensable to meeting goals, but willpower alone is not enough. Even when we fail, our reflex is simply to try harder. The reality is that we don’t have the internal resources necessary for substantive change. We need a power outside of ourselves. A security that says, “Even as I exert all my energy in this endeavor, I know that it doesn’t rely solely on me.” People who believe in Jesus Christ can rest on promises like, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Believers have the Holy Spirit living within them who gives them strength to do what they cannot do alone.
The Good News for Achieving Our Goals
So as you try to achieve your goals remember to diagnose the real problem beneath the behavior, work out your goals in the context of community, and submit your efforts to Christ whose Spirit will empower you. What is most important to remember, though, is that our individual worth does not rest on our ability to achieve goals, but on what Christ has already achieved.
Jesus Christ had a single, lifelong goal to glorify His Father (John 17:1). On the cross He finally achieved that goal at the cost of His life. When we put our faith in Jesus, His sacrifice becomes ours and we no longer face God’s judgment. What’s more, His success becomes our success, too. When the Father looks at us He sees the perfect obedience of His Son, Jesus, who always had the right goal and gained it. As we rest in the truth that Jesus has achieved the most meaningful goal on our behalf, we can then freely set other goals without worrying about our performance.