Tired of Goals? Me, Too!
Maybe We Need to Think Differently
12 Not that I have already obtained this...
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do... 14 I press on...
15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:15-16)
We live in a society that is obsessed with setting goals. We have college classes, books, articles, blogs, and conferences about goal setting. We talk about setting SMART goals, short-term goals, long-term goals, performance goals, and goals for health and fitness. Counselors and life coaches help us set goals for career, finances, family, and retirement. We even have goals about death called bucket lists!
My personality is such that once I set a goal, I relentlessly pursue it until it is accomplished. And, like many goal-oriented people, I often feel disappointed rather than happy once I achieve a goal. This is because reaching a goal is usually underwhelming, and I feel a little lost without a new goal to work on.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, also points out that goals can limit our happiness. He says a goal is a pass/fail exam. You either achieve it and are a success, or you don’t achieve it and are a failure. Once, I set a goal to bench press 350 pounds. Instead, I got to 335 and injured my wrist. For a little guy who only weighed 160 pounds at the time, benching 335 was a big success! But all I could think about was failing to hit my goal by a mere 15 pounds.
We often approach discipleship in the same way. “My New Year’s resolution is to read through the Bible this year.” Twelve months later, we end the year in Hebrews, eight books short. Rather than celebrating that we read almost the whole Bible, we are disappointed because we failed to achieve the goal. Even if we do read through the entire Bible in a year, we’re often disappointed because we thought we’d feel better about accomplishing that goal. And we may even wonder if it was worth the effort.
From a broader discipleship perspective, we’re frequently told by church leadership gurus that a disciple is a “fully devoted follower of Christ.” And then, we characteristically try to create a series of goals or benchmarks with the idea that each bar will bring us closer to that end goal of being a disciple. Many churches teach just this method, calling it a “Personal Discipleship Plan,” like an exercise plan for your soul.
For instance, we may say, “A disciple of Jesus understands the Bible’s teaching.” Then we set up a process:
Read the whole Bible in a year
Take a class on Bible study methods
Go through a series of Bible studies at church
However, we quickly realize that we can never fully understand the Bible’s teaching. The more we study, the more we uncover questions that need further study. People with PhDs spend their entire lives studying the Bible in far more depth than any ten of us combined, and even they admit they’ve only scratched the surface.
Or we might think, “A disciple of Jesus is someone who is patient like Jesus.” After all, patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. But the problem is how do we measure our patience? And can we ever really be as patient as Jesus? And how do we establish benchmarks for patience?
Stand in line for 10 minutes
Find a traffic jam to get stuck in for 30 minutes
Don’t yell at my kid when he asks, “Why?” for the 100th time
It just doesn’t work. If a disciple is someone who is patient like Jesus, then I can’t say that I’m a disciple. And I don’t think I’ll ever be one. Apparently, the Apostle Paul felt the same way. “Not that I have already obtained this...” (Phil 3:12). Yet he also considered himself “mature” (Phil 3:15).
In the New Testament, every Christian was called a disciple, even those who just got saved yesterday. “Wait,” you say, “How could they be disciples if they hadn’t read through the Bible in a year? How could they be disciples if they weren’t volunteering in the nursery or on the welcome team? How could they be disciples if they were impatient with their kids? How could they claim to be fully devoted followers of Jesus if they gossiped about one another?” Those are real questions, but the fact remains that every believer was known as a disciple in the New Testament, even brand-new believers.
So, perhaps our understanding of a disciple needs to be updated. And maybe our goal-oriented, benchmark way of thinking about discipleship needs to be re-evaluated. More on that next week. For now, I’m way over my “goal” of 500 words per post!