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Friday, April 15, 2005

Random-after-lunch-thoughts . . .

Ahhhh. Tax day. Bummer on some levels, but what a small price to pay to live in a place where we can have the kinds of conversations we have right here. Well, I guess it's kind of a one way conversation unless you email me at

I was looking through my tax papers the other day, thinking about goal setting, thinking about work, thinking about our move this summer, etc. and I had some thoughts that have made there way into my message this week for Fusion. Let me share some of those thoughts . . .

Last year, we moved over 2000 miles. The packing was horrendous (okay, my wife did most of it but, I gave her backrubs at the end of the evening until my hands cramped). However, the silver lining in the dark cloud of packing is the opportunity to throw junk away. While sorting into two piles—the “keep pile” and the “oh-my-gosh-we-need-to-rent-a-dumpster-pile,” I came across a box marked “Trophies.” I took the next half-hour to walk down memory lane. In my early twenties, I sold life insurance and it was this well-respected profession that provided me the opportunity to collect many well-deserved plastic monuments to my success. There was the trophy I earned for becoming the youngest Vice President. There was the engraved clock for the biggest production of any office in our region. There was the promotion plaque. Then I remembered the other mementos of my illustrious career in insurance—the ulcers, the headaches, the fights with my wife, and the constant emotional struggle to stay on “top.”

I’ve heard it all my life . . . “Reach for the stars—be content with the sky.” “If you aim at nothing . . . you’ll hit it.” “See it . . . Believe it . . . Achieve it!” Goal setting, being all you can be, and going for it—nose to the grindstone (does anyone know what that means?) have always been a part of the counsel I have received over the years. And it rubbed off on me. There was a time when my daily devotions consisted of one part Anthony Robbins, a little Zig Ziglar, and a pinch of Schuler to start the day (Hey, they used the Bible at times).

My credo and work ethic in regard to goal setting have changed over the years. When I used to sell insurance, my favorite mantras used to include such things as “I have it because I wanted it more than you” and other self-serving pithy grabbers and proverbial catch phrases. I would be quick to preach hard work but, patience was seldom mentioned. I was quick to point out the benefits of determination but, surrender to God’s leading and wisdom was something we just didn’t talk about much. My goals were always focused on “me” achieving what “I” wanted (of course, I disguised it by the way I worded them and talked about them but, “I” was the bottom line).

Then, I went into “professional” ministry. To my disappointment, everyone was still speaking the same language as Corporate America. “You have your ministry goals lined up yet, John?” “What are we going to accomplish this year at the church?” Now don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in hard work, determination, goal setting, stick-to-it-tiveness, and the likes. I’m not looking for an excuse to be lazy. It’s just that it was hard for me to take what I knew about goal setting and apply it to ministry. It didn’t seem to jive. In my world, goals were equated with production, sleeplessness, 16 hour work days, and exhaustion.

I started asking God the question “How can I set goals and be a worshipper at the same time?” It’s been a steep learning curve but, there’s been progress. God changed my philosophy of goal-setting in the “what for” and the “who for” of the goal. Each and every goal I set whether it is spiritual, physical, social, financial, educational, vocational, or recreational, I want to be a goal set in light of eternity. At the risk of sounding super-spiritual, I want to ask the question “What difference will this make for the kingdom of God?”

There are a great number of things we could pursue in life that we could call worthy goals. A worshipper should have one supreme goal that, to the world, may seem totally contrary to goal setting. That goal is complete, total, absolute, surrender.

The enemy used to whisper in my ear “You’re not doing enough for God. You’re not doing enough for your church. You’re not doing enough _______ (fill in the blank)” I think busyness, a full plate and unrealistic goals are subtle tactics the deceiver uses to drive us mad. If we are achievement driven and focused at the expense of others and our own health, even in the name of ministry, we are headed for trouble.

Paul urges us in Romans 12:1 to offer our selves as “living sacrifices.” This is worship. Surrender is always part of worship. So, is goal setting contrary to a life of surrender? Does “sacrifice” mean that we put aside all our desires, dreams, aspirations, and wait for a bolt of lightning to strike us and move us in the right direction? Absolutely not. Goal setting can be an act of worship when everything we plan to do is pursued in light of eternity. The Holy Spirit that moves spontaneously in us and through us is the same Holy Spirit that guides us in making wise choices, planning and setting goals.

We can achieve many things in this life—power, prestige, honor, material wealth, fame, popularity, status, etc. All those things may be within our grasp but, they are meaningless without surrender. I like the way my friend Mike says it— “If we forsake surrender (emphasis mine) to Jesus Christ, we have forsaken the best . . .The problem in life is not that we need more hours in a day, but that we need more vision in the midst of our hours—a vision of eternity. We need to bring eternity into the here and now, day after day after day. This is how we can ensure, while we still have time, that the things we’re really living for really are worth Christ dying for.” (Mike Paolicelli,, International Center for Christian Excellence)

I’ve always been driven. I pray that I will continue to be driven for the sake of the kingdom. However, I cannot buy the Little House on the Prairie line that “God helps those who help themselves.” Scripture teaches that God helps those who can’t help themselves. Just because something “can” be done doesn’t mean “we” have to be the ones to do it. We can’t do it all. We shouldn’t try to do it all.

Here are some questions I ask myself when goal setting in light of surrender:

1. Is this still a priority or do I just want to carry it over so I can eventually cross it off my list?

2. Have circumstances changed recently that should cause me to reevaluate this goal, pass it on to someone else, or cross it off altogether?

3. Is this realistic in light of my current responsibilities? If I take it on, can I do it with excellence (notice I didn’t say perfection)?

4. If I ran this goal past my wife or my accountability partner first, would they have some things to say about it?

5. Will I have to give up something in order to achieve this goal?

6. Could there be a “bigger yes” that should cause me to say “no” to this at this time?

7. Will this goal rob me of my time or money to be generous to others?

8. Have I tried this before and failed? What has changed to make me want to attempt it again?

9. Will anyone be disappointed in me for adding this goal to the list?

10. If God took a big red pen to my goal sheet, what comments would He make in the margins?

By the way, the trophies currently reside at the county landfill in Sacramento, California.


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