I remember hearing one study about goals that has stayed with me. The concluding results demonstrated that if you articulated and wrote down a goal, your chances of reaching that goal jumped up ten to twenty percent. If you went one step further, and spoke that goal aloud to another person, your odds jumped another ten to twenty percent. As someone who is inherently private, and anxious about failing to deliver, that second step stuck out. After all, the world is not lacking self-proclaimed visionaries who are long on goals and short on results. “When dreams increase, and words grow many, there is vanity” (Ecc 5:7) But it is also the case that accountability can serve as a great motivator.
Christians do not need to be fearful about setting goals. It’s easy to get this sovereignty of God thing mixed up. The Bible proclaims a big God, but He doesn’t use that bigness to smother you. God never says: “You know I’m all powerful, and I promised I’m going to clothe you, so why did you buy socks?” Dependence and submission to God’s control, or leaning on His good plans never equates to passivity. Sometimes your activity is waiting, but that’s different from doing nothing.
We should be setting goals, and then we should be stepping back and giving those up to God. Yes, God’s got you. Yes, God knows better, and He will make straight your paths (Prov 3:5-6). But you’re not going to see God making your paths straight when you’re lying down.
We have to live in this sort of tension every day as Christians. Imagine a typical day. You wake up with at least some plan for the day which varies in its level of precision. Something happens in your day that you were not planning on, which alters your actions and diverts your attention. At that point, at that moment of distraction, is it better to have a plan or not have one?
A lot depends, of course, on how tightly you cling to your plan, but your ability to respond to events outside of your control is in no way hindered by your having a plan to begin with. Often your response will be more effective in that you are less likely to stage your life around problems, letting those problems take on much larger significance than they would otherwise have. You are able to set problems in the context of larger, established goals.
This daily example serves as a miniature picture for how we should orient our larger life goals. Setting a goal in no way guarantees its accomplishment, or negates contingencies that come from God’s hand. One of the reasons Christians can be wary about setting goals is that it can seem to put undue weight on your own ability. That is no more valid than arguing that you shouldn’t buy groceries for next week because that presumes you can avoid a fatal accident or illness. Plans aren’t the problem. The problem comes in the results. If our plans fail, will we still trust God? If our plans succeed, who gets the credit? We should get in the habit of continually making plans, and then immediately handing them over.