Goals (by Sean Palmer)

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.14.56 PMSean Palmer is Lead Minister at The Vine Church in Temple, TX. Read more from Sean at The Palmer Perspective (www.thepalmerperspective.com), follow him on Twitter: @seanpalmer or follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpalmerwriter.

In a time of resolutions and goal setting, God may not care about your success. Yeah. It’s possible. God might not only want your goals to falter, you may need them to!

It’s good to have goals. Each year my wife and I set aside a few days to make our personal, family, and career goals for the upcoming year. It’s a thorough process involving a goal setting course, prayer, seeking motivations, examining where we fell short and why, and what we think God wants for our family. It’s daunting.

Goals can be good. But that doesn’t mean God cares about our particular goals, and may be opposed to them.

There’s an overlooked story in Luke’s gospel. After the Lord sends out 72 disciples to minister they return having experienced incredible success. They were able to do precisely what Jesus prescribed. They report, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name (Luke 10:17).”

Hearing this news, you’d think Jesus would celebrate, maybe relive the Wedding at Cana and start flowing the wine. Perhaps you’d expect Jesus to tell the disciples to start a two-day leadership conference to tell remind other disciples how much more effective they are than the average, small-town disciple.

But this news is even better than anyone nowadays could imagine! Not only Jesus can perform miracles, the disciples can too! I imagine if you were one of the 72, this kind of accomplishment is exactly why you went to Disciple School in the first place.

But Jesus doesn’t respond like we might when we’ve reached our goals. Jesus says, “…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).”

Here’s another way to say what Jesus is saying: Your goals and accomplishments aren’t something to rejoice in. Whose you are is most important.

Guess what? Had the disciples gone into the world and demons hadn’t submitted, their names would still be written in heaven. Success isn’t to be rejoiced in.

Here’s why God wants you to know who you are more than rejoice at your accomplishments:

  1. If you don’t know whose you are…reaching your goals won’t matter. Accomplishment – particularly in a youth coveting, acquisitive culture like ours – has an insatiable appetite. After you reach this year’s goal, you or someone else, will move the goalpost and insist you haven’t yet reached the finish line. Next year, either out of a sense of your own failure or out of a cultural craving for more, you will feel like you didn’t do enough. Accomplishment is never satisfied, it’s always just outside your reach. When Tom Brady retires from football, given all the Super Bowls he’s won, he will always be pestered by the ones he didn’t.
  2. If you don’t know whose you are…you will pick the wrong goals from the start. Looking over most goals, even the ever-present SMART ones, most folk’s goals are pretty poorly chosen. Lose weight. Make partner. Get a higher paying job. We take our cues for success from our culture, which means we’re bound to pick the wrong ones. Most of our goals aren’t rooted in having our names written in heaven, they’re based on making us more comfortable on earth. We will set our target on what will get noticed, what will be hailed by others, and what’s get temporal reward, these ambitions are hardly ever the things of heaven.
  3. If you don’t know whose you are…you will never understand your life’s true value. Because it’s so easy to mistake the culture’s values for true values, without knowing what’s most important, we will choose culture over truth and completely miss the point. Though the scriptures speak about the corrosive effects of the love of money, most Americans forget that when setting goals. How many say, for instance, we were able to meet all our financial commitments last year, let’s do that again? And because we don’t, we launch ourselves on an unending quest for bigger barns. Many of us are set-up to awake one day and realize that we’ve spent too much of our lives chasing after too few tasks of eternal value.

If accomplishing your goals serves as an impediment to your relationship with God, God may rather have your goals falter. If, like me, you’re stubborn and learn slowly, then you might have to fail spectacularly.

Disciples must learn to rejoice in the right thing, not accomplishment and power, but that our names are written in heaven. And, according to Jesus, we shouldn’t rejoice in anything else.


About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.