Some pastors are down on New Year's Resolutions. Others use the idea as their opening sermon illustration on the first Sunday of every new year ("How many of you made a new year's resolution this year?" ...pastors, come up with some new material!). Personally I view the new year as an opportunity to reflect on a previous "season" of life to gain wisdom for the next season. The change of the calendar year does not itself change anything, yet it can be an opportunity for us to mark time and growth, and to think carefully about where God wants us to mature.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV)
"So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12 ESV).
The truth is that many are thinking about their goals at this time of the year, and we need to think wisely and biblically. Often you will hear self-help gurus talk about "SMART" Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). This framework sounds like something basic and common that we could just adopt as believers for our personal growth in godliness.
Upon closer examination, however, SMART goals place our personal development and achievement at the center of our focus. The result is something less than God's design for using us in his grand plan because we become the end of our own goal-setting.
Take two of the characteristics in the SMART goal paradigm for example: Achievable and Relevant. What do these two things mean? "Achievable" means that we can actually accomplish it. And that sounds great. Who wants to create a goal they can't achieve? But is that what God wants for us? It seems more often that God calls his people to things they cannot achieve in their own power. Similarly, "'relevant" refers making goals about things that are meaningful to you. In the scriptures, God's calling is not about our self-actualization, but about his unfolding ministry.
Perhaps we could adopt biblical concepts of "achievable" and "relevant," and my goal here is not to quibble about words. However, I would like to offer an alternative to SMART goals by using the acronym "SPIRIT" instead. My intent is similar to the SMART goal paradigm in that we would be able to clearly identify areas of growth to see real change. However, I pray that the new language reminds us of where the real power for change exists. Only the "S" is the same because I believe the Holy Spirit radically reorients the way we pursue goals.
S- Specific & Measurable
The Spirit convicts in specifics while the devil condemns in generalities.
P- Prayerful Throughout
Prayer is our access to the Holy Spirit’s work.
I- Informed by the Scriptures
The Spirit will always speak and direct in a way that is consistent with the scriptures he’s already inspired.
R- Reliant upon God
The Spirit wants to lead us into a greater dependence upon the Father, Son and Spirit.
I- Involves Biblical Community
We often make personal goals and pursue them individually, but we need encouragement, accountability and support.
T- Timely for my next step
The Spirit rarely gives us 10 steps down the road, but reveals what he has next for us.
As we create goals, we want to seek out what are God's goals for us, not just our own goals for ourselves. I think this test is a good way to check if we are on the right track.
The types of goals we create
As we learn to make SPIRIT goals, I would then suggest that we understand what types of goals we should care about. I encourage people to focus on five spheres of life: individual, family, church, community, and world. Our Pathway Self-Assessment is designed to help you identify critical areas where God might want you to take the next step.
Further, I have found a few books on the topic of habit to be very helpful in creating God-honoring SPIRIT goals. These books have helped me start and keep healthy rhythms, and I find I am always needing the reminder to maintain and fine-tune those rhythms so that they serve God's purposes in my life.
Books about General Habits:
The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley - Katy and I found this book to be very practical, helpful, encouraging and convicting. "The Common Rule offers four daily and four weekly habits, designed to help us create new routines and transform frazzled days into lives of love for God and neighbor."
Habits of the Household by Justin Whitmel Earley (for parents) - Katy and I are currently reading this, and already one chapter in I have laughed, felt convicted, and have been practically sharpened. "[Early Christian Communities] saw with clear eyes that their world was malforming people into typical Babylonians and Romans. Lives that were blind to seeing God for who he is. Lives that were ordered around the love of self, the love of power, the love of riches, and the love of sex. Lives that look, from our perspective, suspiciously American.... The cultural default is perfectly designed to produce the kinds of families it is producing. We are familiar with them. So why would we, as Christians called to be ambassadors of Christ, default to this American rule of life?"
Books about Schedule Habits:
Reset by David Murray (for Men) - I've read this book twice and would say it is worth reading again. "Drawing on personal experiences―and time spent counseling other men in the midst of burnout―David Murray offers weary men hope for the future, helping them identify the warning signs of burnout and offering practical strategies for developing patterns that are necessary for living a grace-paced life and reaching the finish line with their joy intact."
Refresh by Shona & David Murray (for Women) - Katy has read this book and found it helpful. "Many women don’t realize they’re running at an unsustainable pace until it hurts them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Drawing on many years of counseling and their own experiences of burnout, wife and husband team Shona and David Murray want to help you slow down to a more grace-paced life―enabling you to avoid the pitfall of burnout, cultivate sustainable habits for the future, and experience the rest of body and soul that God intends for you."
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung - This is one of the first books I read and on the topic of busy-ness from a biblical perspective, and it is a great (and short) introduction. "Just one look at our jam-packed schedules tells us how hard it can be to strike a well-reasoned balance between doing nothing and doing it all. That’s why... author and pastor Kevin DeYoung addresses the busyness problem head on... and not with the typical arsenal of time management tips, but rather with the biblical tools we need to get to the source of the issue and pull the problem out by the roots."
Books about Technology Habits:
The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch - I've read this book twice and found it's "ten nudges" approach practical and attainable. "Making conscientious choices about technology in our families is more than just using internet filters and determining screen time limits for our children. It's about developing wisdom, character, and courage in the way we use digital media rather than accepting technology's promises of ease, instant gratification, and the world's knowledge at our fingertips. And it's definitely not just about the kids."
Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke - This book is more philosophy than practice, but it will fuel good habits with technology and what we watch, not just from the perspective of sexuality, but how we consume all information. "What images should I feed my eyes? We often leave this question unanswered― because we don’t ask it. Maybe we don’t want to ask it. But viral videos, digital images, and other spectacles surround us in every direction―competing for our time, our attention, our lust, and our money. So we let our lazy eyes feed on whatever comes our way. As a result, we never stop to consider the consequences of our visual diet on our habits, desires, and longings.
I pray that some or all of these tools together will help you pursue maturity and growth in Christ, together with his people, in the new year.
*Note: Almost all of these are available in audiobook form. None of these authors or publishing companies have provided any sponsorship to the author or the church.