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I know I said I wouldn’t do another podcast before 2021, but I got back from vacation and decided to do an end of the year episode about goal setting because there are thousands of year-end episodes about goal setting in the new year. So what’s one more? Well, I want this one to be different. I’m not against goal setting. I have goals. I have goals for myself; I have goals for my family, and I have goals for my writing and this podcast. We can’t see the future, and God doesn’t reveal everything to us all at once. So these types of goals will change as we grow closer to Christ.
What I want to do today is encourage us to take a step back and instead of just setting goals we want to accomplish for ourselves; we set goals that bring us closer to Christ. In fact…these aren’t just goals, they can become our way of life.
1. Spend a little more time with Christ
I say spend a little more time with Christ because for me, spending time with Christ seems to take a back burner when I get busy, or just find something else to do. Our growth isn’t automatic! If we genuinely want to be mature Christians, we have to spend time with Christ. So one of the things I have recently adopted is the attitude that I can do anything for two minutes. And what I’ve found is that if I do something for two minutes, I will continue longer, but you don’t have to.
Another way to spend more time with Christ is to set an alarm for a couple of times a day to remind you to just say a quick prayer like, “Thy Will be done” or a simple “thank you” just to keep Christ centered in your mind.
What I don’t want to encourage you to do is start an extravagant prayer rule that will take an hour or so to complete. If you want to start spending time alone with God, start small so that you will have more success and not burn yourself out trying to keep it up every day. Two minute is easy and you can do it even if you get up late. Look at it this way. If your goal is two minutes and you spend 30 minutes, you will feel great and want to continue, but if your goal is an hour and you only spend 2 minutes, then you feel like you failed and will possibly give up.
One of the most beautiful lines of scripture is Psalm 42:1 ‘As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. ‘ That’s how I want my life to be, and I hope you do as well, but unless we’re called by God to do long sessions of prayer starting small will give us the momentum to grow.
2. Go to Church Regularly
When we miss church, the body of Christ isn’t complete. I mentioned this in the 3rd part of the Didache series. The virus has shown people that they don’t really need to go to church. They can stream it in their living room or just skip it all together. Many times people make the mistake of thinking that we go to church to receive a blessing. That we go to church to be filled. And while those things are accomplished when we go to church, they are not the reason we go to church. We go to church to Worship God because we love him for what he has done for us. We go to church to share in the life of Christ with other believers.
For the listeners who are Orthodox Christians you don’t actually go to a church service you go to Liturgy which actually translates to “The Work of The People.” Making it all the more accurate to say that we need to be there so the body of Christ is complete.
Father Thomas Hopko said
You go to church to work. You don’t go to church to be entertained. It’s not food for thought. It’s not rest and relaxation. It’s not a trip into some escaping world of childhood, where it’s all pretty and nice; it’s hard work: to come to church, to stand there, to pay attention, to listen, to bring it in.
We can also consider going to church regularly as completing the number one goal of spending a little more time with Christ. So this Goal can be a two for one, if your keeping score.
3. Understand What You Believe
This stems from a recent conversation with a young lady who approached a friend and me at Panera. We were talking about a book he found of Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. The young lady felt it necessary to inform us that the Orthodox Church was a formation of man and we should consider finding a true church to worship at. She also threw several protestant churches in town under the bus, then handed us a tract she thought we should read, and walked off.
She wasn’t interested in listening, just repeating what she had been trained to do. If my friend and I didn’t understand what we believe, it could sway us into doubting our church. If we weren’t secure in our salvation, her tract could have made us doubt where we stood with God.
I used to be like the young lady. I thought anyone who didn’t believe like I do is at best doing Christianity wrong and at worst going to hell. Which all goes back to binary thinking or, an-us against them attitude.
When we know what we believe and why we believe it and we are secure in that, we can accept that other people don’t believe what we do. We don’t have to defend our God to anyone. We can present the gospel to people who are not Christian, and if they are not open, it’s okay. And we can accept that other Christians do it differently, and that’s okay too. God is in charge, not me.
One way to understand what you believe is to write it down. Putting pen or pencil to paper is a great way to get your creative juices flowing and to see in your own words what you are thinking and feeling about your belief system. And, if you don’t know exactly what you believe, find someone who shares your beliefs and listen to them or read their works and distill your beliefs from theirs.
4. Trust God With Everything
This one may be the hardest of all the goals, because it was the hardest one to write. We say that we trust God, but do we trust him with everything? 2020 has been a hard year for a lot of people. Trusting God has been an imperative for many people to get by. Paychecks have been lost and homes have been forfeited, but through it all God is still sovereign whether we like to believe it or not. Long-term thinking requires us to trust God when right now looks really bad.
I have tried and still try to get my way in most situations. I don’t just say Thy will be done and let the chips fall how they will. I force my will into each and every situation because I obviously know best and I don’t really want to bother God with this, anyway. He’s really busy. Maybe you do the same thing? Instead of praying and looking for God’s will, we just move forward blindly, not caring for God’s opinion on the subject. Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
We filed bankruptcy in 2010 and lost our house and one car. We lost that stuff not because God did something to us, but because of a cascade of bad choices we made for three years before that. But God was there, he picked us up, and we learned from our mistakes. He provided during that time. It wasn’t ideal, but it was what we needed, not wanted.
If we’re going to trust God with everything, we have to be completely honest with him. Our feelings and emotions drive us in a lot of ways. God knows everything about us, and he still loves us. When we are angry or tired or lost for words, we can turn to him and let it all out. We can trust him with our emotions because he gave them to us and he loves us more than we’ll ever know.
5. Take Someone With You
Discipleship and doing life together is a passion of mine. If there is one aspect of our Christian life, I would like to help more people see; it is that we aren’t supposed to do this alone. When we work with other people, we grow more than when we do it alone. I did a three-part podcast on being a disciple and discipling others. What it boils down to is this, taking others along with us first, keeps us accountable to someone. Whether we are discipling, being discipled, or just meeting with another Christian, we are accountable to them to do what we say.
The second thing taking others along with us does is it gives us a person to encourage us when life isn’t going like we planned. My life gets out of whack and I need people who can see past my false self and help me correct my view. Like I said earlier, be completely honest with God, get someone in your life you can be completely honest with. I’ve seen a lot of Christians who were “Fine” all the time and their world was falling apart. The bible tells us to confess our sins to each other. That’s not a suggestion. We need people in our life who know us and who we can trust. I was told very early on my road to ministry that I couldn’t be vulnerable with other people because they would use it against me. Today, I’m okay with that. My life is an open book and if someone shares something I told them in confidence, it just proves I’m human and a sinner. People are people, so we have to adjust accordingly.
The golden rule applies in our interactions with others. If we want to have people in our life, we have to be the kind of person people want to be around. Act toward others the way you would like others to act toward you. I have a list of six things on the front screen of my phone I want in my life. The first thing on the list is to speak ill of no one. I know that if I talk bad about someone; it hurts me more than them. It also hurts my interaction with the person I am saying it too. They will wonder if I am complaining about them to other people, so I’m doubly sinning when I do it. Love God, love yourself, love others.
I hope these five suggestions help as we get ready to start a new year.
Find what works for you and do it, but do something to stretch your spiritual growth in 2021. Remember, trust God, Love others and don’t be too hard on yourself.