Goals and Plans
I have been thinking a little today about this issue of goals and the discomfort that I often feel during discussions of this subject. Somehow it seems very logical and even effective to have goals and to move toward achieving those goals. Examples of the success of this abound everywhere and make for very inspiring stories that fill thousands of books and magazines.
Yet something inside of me finds a tension, a conflict of interest of sorts, between setting goals for myself and what I have been taught about living a life of simple submission to the will of God as He unfolds it to me each day. It seems that these two concepts are in constant competition and at times seem maybe even mutually exclusive. Though there seem to be compelling reasons to believe the arguments put forward from both sides of this subject, it still does not feel resolved inside of me that the two can be reconciled into the same life.
But I remain open to continued growth of perception and wonder if it is just a problem of my own lack of maturity or capacity to perceive this correctly, or if it is actually an issue of a counterfeit trying to displace a genuine truth. Counterfeits can be extremely logical and compelling which is what makes them all the more dangerous. But at the same time a person can easily become so dogmatic about something that they become unable to grow spiritually and grasp broader concepts that at first seem to be contradictory but with more wisdom can be seen to mesh with each other in perfect harmony. I don't know which of these may be the case here.
If there is actually irreconcilable differences between these two philosophies of living, then I want to come down more on the side of following God's will and plans for my life more than on achieving my own goals. I have seen too many lives so obsessed with achieving goals – even goals supposedly made to promote the will of God – that pride moves in and humility and spirituality are slowly suffocated from the heart. They appear to be a great success on the outside, but inwardly their hearts become hollow and empty. But that fact cannot be seen behind all the religious fervor until one is allowed to glimpse past the exterior and encounter the person when they do not have their front firmly in place.
But then again, all of us are quite liable to making mistakes that are out of character with what God is accomplishing in our hearts and could easily be judged as frauds if our identity were measured by our weakest moments. I know that I certainly have been judged at times rather harshly using this standard of measure and it has been devastating for me. So I want to be very careful not to cause harm to another soul who is struggling like I am to discover reality more clearly.
But particularly in the secular, business part of my life, I find it confusing to know the proper place of goals and to utilize the clear advantages that can be produced for successful business by utilizing this tool, and yet how to reconcile that with my need to keep God firmly in place as my Boss in this arena of my life. I have made a firm decision to allow God to be in control of my business and to be responsible for my success whenever it is realized. But given that choice, it seems almost like usurping His authority to then try to set long-range goals for my life when I do not have access to the secret plans of God for me.
It feels like a lie or maybe hypocrisy to set firm goals for achievement in business if I don't intend to throw myself fully into trying to achieve those goals. But on the other hand I feel that I should never make such goals my top priority in life if knowing God is to be the top priority that should never be displaced for anything else. But are these two things really in competition for the highest desires of my heart, or is there a way to work toward goals and utilize all of the psychological advantages of goal-setting and pursuing them without displacing or disturbing the peace and rest that I must ever maintain in a complete trust in my heavenly Father as my primary provider?
Is there a way of blending my goals, as temporary as they must be, with God's plans which are very reachable through complete submission to His guidance and yet that remain mostly hidden from my knowledge?
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
But as someone has aptly pointed out from this verse – God knows these plans very well but that does not mean that I know what they are. What God seems to be saying here is that I need to learn to trust His heart and His intentions towards me much more than I need to know and trust His plans for me. If God's plans are hidden from me it does not mean that they do not exist even though I cannot conceptualize them. That is quite literally the essence of the life of faith – trusting the heart of God while seldom knowing the plans of God in much detail.
Another insight into this conundrum about what to do about plans and goals was well put by Craig Hill's father in a talk I heard one time. He said that he always makes goals for himself while fully knowing ahead of time that he likely will never arrive at those goals. It is not a matter of dishonesty or deception but an awareness that goals are needed to get us moving in some direction and motivated to overcome inertia. But while he is striving to move toward his goals for his business he is keenly aware that in the process God is frequently going to adjust the course of his life and steer him toward a different direction from time to time. This will require adjusting his goals and making new ones more in line with the current revealed will of God until once again God's makes course corrections in his life which will in turn require again changing his goals.
He said that if he didn't set goals in his life that he would be like a boat with the motor not running. You cannot steer a boat in the water if it is not being powered and moving in some direction. But if it is running and heading toward some goal then it can be turned toward a new direction. But it can only be turned if it is actually moving in some direction to start with. If it is not moving already in some direction it becomes totally useless to try to turn the rudder or the motor in an attempt to steer the boat in a different direction.
So, goals may be the landmark that I need to focus on in the future and rev up my engines to move toward temporarily. But I need to at the same time be restfully aware that God is very likely to make many adjustments in my steering and that chances are very high that I may never arrive at the goals that I have set for myself. But I can also be confident that the place I will arrive at in the end will always be much better than the goals that I originally had set for myself, because God's plans are always far superior to my goals.
That all sounds good and logical and sensible. Now, how do I get my own heart to grasp that and believe it at a much deeper level than my logical mind can ever defend it?