At the beginning of a new year, many Christians make new goals or resolutions. In some way, these goals are always hard work. They take time to accomplish. The problem though with goals is we can fall prey to two extremes – on the one hand we can make them everything and view them as a foundation to stand on. We shouldn’t do that. The gospel is our only foundation to stand on that will never fail us. Our own ambitions will fail, but God will never fail – let knowing you can fail at your goals fuel you to accomplish them. On the other hand we can make them just because we feel like we should and the hearts not in it. We make them without really thinking through them and thus we barely remember them two days later. I want to offer what I believe is a healthy middle – grace fueled goals.For the believer, God gives us grace through means. God gives us grace not by zapping us without us knowing but through ordained means. Just like a car is filled with gas through the means of a gas station, so the Christian is filled with God’s grace through a variety of stations. What are they? The Word of God, prayer, the Church, a good book, creation, and godly friends, to name a few. That’s the gas you need. Many try self-help books and will-power advice for accomplishing goals. But to get inner power from those for the soul is like pouring rotten grape juice into your gas tank and thinking it’s going to make it run well. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these books can be useful for information or for advice in certain areas, but they do nothing when it comes to strengthening the soul of a Christian. It is by “looking to Jesus” that we receive strength. It is by focusing on Christ that you receive “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” But just like we shouldn’t focus on ourselves to receive strength, we can’t focus on the goal either. Ironically, the best way to accomplish a godly goal is not by focusing on the goal or yourself, it’s by focusing on Jesus. This fuels you with grace. It is by taking in water and sun a plant grows strong, and it is by taking in the Word and prayer that a believers soul is fueled with grace. Let me be clear though, we don’t focus on Jesus in order to accomplish our goals, we focus on Jesus because he deserves it, period. He deserves our focus, he deserves our attention, he deserves all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But as we focus on Jesus, he tells us that we will bear fruit, and it is my prayer that our fruit aligns with our goals this year, and a test to tell if they do is answering this question: “How does this goal glorify God?” If it passes this test, it’s a good goal.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
As you begin this new year and your new goals (or if you’re like me and you’re continuing goals from 2018 you didn’t finish!), analyze how they glorify God, and if you can’t see how they do, throw it out. After you’ve done that, always remember that apart from Jesus, you can’t do anything fruitful for God. Take to heart deeply the reality that “apart from me you can do nothing.” We need his grace to bear any fruit! As this takes hold in our hearts, it will cause us to abide in Jesus more, and when we see fruit, we will glorify God and say “thank you for strengthening me” rather than glorifying self and saying “man, I’m a great Christian.” By abiding in Jesus through the above means of grace, we receive as the small plants we are on this earth – water and sunlight to grow. Being in the presence of the sun provides warmth, but you must get into that presence. Although God is always with the believer, it is by intentional communion with God through the Word and prayer we remove the clouds so to speak and receive the clear warmth of the Son. We receive the grace to love deeper, the joy to press on, peace in the midst of pain, patience when others hurt us, kindness for the family member who doesn’t deserve it, gentleness in our words of rebuke, and self-control to manage the time well to accomplish our goals to the glory of God.