Research has revealed that people have more difficulty setting goals than they do accomplishing them once they are set. The hardest part for most of us is sitting down and thinking about what God wants us to do in our lives. As pastors, we struggle to find time to plan and just think.
An interesting national survey a few years ago showed that the biggest difference between moderately successful people and highly successful people is that the second group wrote down their goals. In just about every other area – education, ability, talent, etc. – they were equals. What’s true of the general population is also true of us in ministry. Those who set goals in ministry are typically the ones who succeed.
What does God have to say about goal setting? The Bible says in Proverbs 24:3-4 (LB), “Any enterprise built by wise planning becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts.” God says it makes good sense to plan. It’s good to have goals in every area of your life – marriage, family, finances – and your ministry.
If that’s true, then there ought to be some models in the Bible on how to set goals. Just take a look at Genesis 24 and the story of Abraham and his servant. Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. In the NIV version of this chapter, you’ll find the word “success” five times. The word success is used more times in this chapter than any other chapter of the Bible. You could say it’s the success chapter of the Bible.
If you look closely at this chapter in Genesis, you’ll find 10 steps that Abraham and his servant followed to reach their goal. We’ll talk about the first five steps in this article and the next five steps in the next issue of Toolbox.
1. Determine your position.
Determine where you are and evaluate your present condition. I do this about once a quarter. I give myself a spiritual check-up to see if I’m still headed in the right direction. You need to know where you are before you can determine where you are going.
Abraham did this in Genesis 24. Abraham knew God had promised to multiply his life, his seed through many generations. He had a son, a miracle child, but Isaac didn’t have a wife yet. Abraham determined his position and decided to do something about it. He was at least 115 years old at this point, so it’s never too late to dream!
2. Define your purpose.
Clearly state your goal. You need to know exactly what you want. You know where you are and then you need to know what you want. Abraham told his servant, “I want you to go to my country and to my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” The goal was clearly defined. Later on he gave other conditions: “I want a wife of the same nationality, from the same hometown, same faith, someone who is beautiful, a virgin.”
Those are not vague goals! You’ll never reach a vague goal. The more specific a goal is, the easier it is to reach. If you ask God to bless your church, how do you know when he does? A vague goal has no drawing power. You need to know what you want.
3. Discover a promise.
Often, we let fear take control of us once we start moving forward toward our goals. Abraham’s servant expressed doubt as well. He asked Abraham what would happen if the woman wouldn’t come back with him. Abraham did what we all should do when doubt creeps into our goal-chasing. He found a promise to claim. When fear steps in, don’t focus on how the goal will be reached. Focus on God’s promises in his Word.
In verse seven, Abraham reminded his servant of one of God’s promises: “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’ – he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.’”
When you’re setting goals for yourself or your church, don’t look at your own resources and your own abilities. There are more than 7,000 promises for you to claim in the Bible. Let God determine the size of your goal. We’ve set big goals here at Saddleback and people say, “Who do you think you are?” That’s the wrong question. The issue is not who we think we are. It’s who we think God is.
4. Describe the profit.
Every goal must have a payoff or reward. If there’s no reward, then there’s no motivation to reach it. You’ve got to settle the value of the goal in your mind. In the second part of verse seven, God says, “‘To your offspring I will give this land’ – he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.”
What motivated Abraham’s servant? Isaac was going to get a wife. God’s purpose was going to be fulfilled. Abraham was going to be pleased. There would be a payoff.
Ask yourself three questions about your goal. What is the reward? Why do I want it? How will I feel when I get it?
You need to describe the profit up front. When you settle the why, God will show you the how. When you know why you want to do what you want to do with your life, you have a calling.
If you don’t understand the profit, you’ll get discouraged and give up. You know what profit motivates me? One day I want to stand before Jesus Christ and hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” When he says those words, it will be worth it all. That’s what I’m going to live my life for – one sentence. “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
5. Desire in prayer.
Praying for your goals does two things: It reveals desire, and it shows your dependence. It shows God how much you want something, and it shows him you trust him to help you.
Abraham’s servant prayed continuously through this entire process. He prayed before he went (v. 12). He prayed after he arrived (v. 15). He prayed in front of the family of the girl (v. 52). He constantly bathed his goal in prayer. We all should do that.
Are you praying for your goals? Have you just set them, or are you really praying for them? Your goal sheet ought to be your prayer list. They shouldn’t be the only thing on your prayer list, but they should be part of it.
Determine your position, define your purpose, discover a promise, describe the profit, and desire in prayer. But don’t stop there. In the next issue of Toolbox, I’ll share five more steps to setting and reaching your goals.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved