Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Goals

Purposeful Pursuits

“In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.”

Attributed to Mary Kay Ash

Ouch! I can relate to both halves of that quotation. 

There are (far too) many days when I begin without a clearly defined agenda. Consequently, I resort to a series of familiar, but not always productive activities. 

Realistically, all of us have a certain amount of trivial, repetitive, more-or-less mindless activity in our schedules. Most of us don’t have grandiose thoughts as we empty the trash, put on our socks, brush our teeth, or check the status of our Amazon purchases. 

But that’s OK. The challenge is refusing to allow the trivial to define us and dictate our activities. Mrs. Ash was correct that we need clearly defined goals to prevent slouching our way toward the trivial. 

From a biblical perspective, I’d add one more step to the process. More correctly, I’d back up one step. We not only need clearly defined goals, but we also need an overarching purpose that drives everything we do, including our goals and activities. 

The Bible has numerous statements of purpose. Each of us would do well to adopt one of them as our own. 

  • Ecclesiastes 12.13 – “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”
  • Matthew 6.33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
  • Philippians 1.21 – “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Some biblical statements of purpose encourage us to look at our life’s purpose with respect to how we use our time.

  • Psalm 39.4 – “LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am.”
  • Psalm 90.12 – “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

Before we grade our daily to-do list, we should examine our goals. But before we set our goals, we should consider our purpose. Only then can we set goals and pursue activities that are consistent with our ultimate purpose in mind.

So instead of trivial pursuits, may God help us with purposeful pursuits.

Lowering the Goal

You may find this hard to believe, but when I was in ninth grade, I could dunk a basketball. One-handed, two-handed, tomahawk, gorilla – you name it I could do it. 

You see, my friend Monty had a basketball goal in his back yard with a rim that was six feet off the ground. That’s right, six feet. I could dunk the ball standing flat footed. It made for a lot of fun and was enormously ego-building. 

The problem was that on a real basketball court I wasn’t an especially good player. With my astounding twelve-inch vertical leap, I could barely touch the bottom of the backboard. Against real competition, with real equipment, real referees, and real rules, I couldn’t dunk. I stunk. Lowering the goal didn’t help me play better basketball, and in many ways, it probably made me an even worse player. 

Goals exist for a reason. Whether in basketball, life, career, or relationships, goals represent a standard or an ideal. They represent something we strive to attain, something that stretches us, challenges us, and promotes growth. Whenever we “lower the goal” we’re simply cheating ourselves out of reaching our potential.

Christians are challenged to, in the words of Oswald Chambers, to give “their utmost for his highest.” Jesus said it best: “Therefore you are to be perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48). You can’t set the rim any higher. 

When we read passages like that, we shake our heads and think, “Surely Jesus didn’t mean that.” But God the Father says, “Thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11.45b). God doesn’t lower the goal. 

What all of this means is that God himself is the standard of what he expects his people to be. Our holiness must resemble his holiness. Our righteousness must resemble his righteousness. Our love must resemble his love. Our forgiveness must resemble his forgiveness. Our mercy must resemble his mercy. 

Whenever we lower the goal, we flip the script. We become the standard, not God. We think that by lowering the goal it makes the standard more attainable. What it really does is make the standard less meaningful and less desirable. Holiness mixed with sin isn’t holiness. Love tainted by hate isn’t love. Forgiveness mingled with resentment and bitterness isn’t forgiveness. Mercy shaded with prejudice isn’t mercy.

Ultimately, lowering the goal is simply a form of idolatry, a way of putting something ahead of God. We don’t need any more idols in this world. We need the clear, unchanging, and lofty standards that reflect the holiness of God himself. 

Two Ways of Getting What You Want

What do you want in life, and how do you plan to get it? Proverbs 11.16 says,

A gracious woman attains honor, And ruthless men attain riches.

In this proverb Solomon makes three contrasts that address what we want and how we get it.

Contrast #1 is the difference between men and women. Solomon assumed his readers would see that. Men think the solution to anything is a bigger hammer. Men don’t use maps. Men will square off at the drop of a hat. Women, however, are usually humble enough to ask for help. They tend to be more patient. They seldom resort to force.

Contrast #2 is the difference between methods of acquisition. Solomon observes that women obtain by graciousness, kindness, and gentleness. Men obtain men by brute force, aggressiveness, and ruthlessness.

Contrast #3 is the difference between what they obtain. Women acquire honor, respect, and esteem as the outcome of their graciousness. Men get money or power or position or prestige.

By using these three contrasts, Solomon invites us to think about how we get what we want.

It’s worth noting that the Book of Proverbs doesn’t have a problem with riches, per se. Proverbs 22.4 says, “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor, and life.” The important thing, however, is the motivation and the method. A person who’s motivated by his relationship to God, and who does things honorably, will be blessed.

One side point: Critics of the Bible often complain that the Bible is sexist and misogynistic. This proverb demonstrates otherwise. It recognizes the woman as being superior to the male, in what she seeks, in how she seeks it, and in her overall character. There’s no sexism here.

Every day, we make decisions about what we want and how to get it. This proverb reminds us that the best things in life aren’t always monetary, and that the best ways of getting things aren’t always related to raw ambition.

So then, what do you really want in life, and how do you plan to get it? Choose wisely.