Each year I set several goals for myself. Some are related to personal growth, some are related to church life, and some are things I want to accomplish. My desire is to intentionally do things that will bring noticeable change in life.
One of my goals for 2018 was to read 10,000 pages of non-sermon related material, meaning I did not count commentary reading towards the goal. Although it is my habit to set yearly goals, this goal was uniquely instructive to me. Having reached this benchmark, I thought it worth while to reflect on what I learned and to challenge you to consider setting some goals for 2019.
I received many benefits from this exercise. First, it brought intentionality to my reading. What instigated this idea was that I have a shelf in my office dedicated to books I have not read. Although I am an avid reader, it seemed that shelf remained largely untouched, so I decided to shrink it. Therefore, I divided my unread books up into four categories: theology, puritan, pastoral/church, and biography/history and began reading from each category. This brought balance and intentionality to my reading.
Second, this goal required growth in discipline. Although I love to read, reaching the 10,000-page mark required work. This goal required I read 200 pages a week for 50 weeks. The first book I picked up was a 2-volume theological work on the doctrines of grace. Slogging through 900 pages of theological exposition at the rate of 200 pages a week proved difficult. Yet I am a production-oriented guy, so ticking the pages off my reading chart proved a good motivator to stay on track. Discipline is a good thing, especially for Christians, who are told to discipline themselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). This is why I set goals. I need them to keep me doing what I should be doing.
Third, an area I have not read enough in is biography. With a growing number of biographies sitting on my shelf, this goal pushed me into them. This category of reading is what caused the most growth in me. Reading missionary biographies made me want to imitate their faith and brought conviction that I should do more for Christ than I am. Uniquely helpful to me were biographies on John Patton, George Whitfield, and Adoniram Judson.
Finally, I benefited greatly from reading the theologically challenging writings of the puritans and Sinclair Ferguson. The Puritans thought deeply about God, man, sin, salvation, sanctification, and the Spirit’s role in the believer’s life. Ferguson, who has immersed himself in the Puritan writings, is every bit as good in these areas. These are things we need to think deeply about if we are to have depth in our relationship with God.
Aside from the spiritual benefits, reading is good for the brain’s health.
Despite the many benefits, there were some drawbacks to this exercise. Sometimes I found myself more concerned about ticking off pages than processing what I was reading. If I picked up a book that was a slow read, I would be frustrated. I started picking books based on their readability rather than their content. Yet running your eyes over pages is not the point of reading. This caused me at one point to seriously consider abandoning the goal, as it seemed to be working against what I had hoped to accomplish.
Closely related to this is the desire to reach a page-number count caused me to not read a couple of books that I had originally planned on reading because I knew they would keep me from reaching my goal. I reached my goal, but it came at the expense of some good books, which is unfortunate.
Finally, setting and reaching high goals can cultivate pride. Yet God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. I found myself wrestling with this attitude at various points in this process.
Overall, my reading goal netted positive results. I found new authors I plan to read more from. I acquired a love for biographies. I had my theology challenged and sharpened. My Christian walk was as well. Therefore, I am setting a new reading goal for 2019. There are 3 theological works I plan to process. For Christmas last year my wife bought me the complete works of John Owen, which comes in 16 volumes. Originally, I thought I would work through one volume a year until they were done. Because Owen is hard to read and the font in these books is small, I only read half of volume 1 this year. It was one of the books I set aside to reach my goal. I want to finish volume 1 and read volume 2. I also purchased a book called Reformation Worship, which details the development of corporate worship among the churches spawned by the Reformation. I want to work through each of these books slowly, processing their material well.
This is not all the reading I will do, but they are my reading goal for 2019.
What are your goals?
Although I do not like ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ (most people don’t make it 12 hours on their resolutions), I do believe Christians should set goals and work on habits because we are concerned about personal growth and holiness. Paul wasn’t joking when he told Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness. Self-examination and purposeful pursuit of holiness through spiritual disciplines should be a part of every Christian’s life. This is why I set goals every year in my personal life, professional life, and things I would like to see God accomplish at church. That last one I cannot control. God must do that; yet it causes me to pray and work towards things that I believe God would have us do. Interestingly, I have only done this twice (2017 & 2018), and God has honored each of those goals. Makes me excited to see what he will do in 2019!
As 2018 draws to a close, I would heavily encourage you to examine yourself, and then set some goals for personal growth in 2019. Here are five tips to help you accomplish your goals:
1) Make your goals attainable. Most goals are doomed to fail before we begin because we set the bar out of reach. If you are not a reader, do not set a goal to read 10,000 pages! You will not get there. I knew I could reach that goal because I was already reading around 8,000 pages a year. If you have not read a book this year, then a much more attainable goal would be to read 6 books, one every two months. If the goal is not reachable, it will be dropped very quickly, and guilt will set in, which Satan will use to keep you weighed down.
2) Create a plan. This is where most ‘resolutions’ fail. People decide they are going to lose weight in the New Year, but they have no concept about how they are going to do it. If you do not have a plan, you will not meet your goal. To reach my reading goal, I had to a) set aside specific times for reading, b) create a reading plan, and c) track my progress. If your goal is to read your bible every day but you do not have an action plan (like a set time and reading plan), you will not accomplish your goal.
3) Make your goals clear. Vague goals are doomed to fail. A good goal identifies an area of desired growth, creates a plan to address it, and has a way to track growth. A goal of being a better parent is commendable but hopelessly vague and therefore unattainable. Identify something specific that will make you a better parent, plan how you will pursue that behavior, and track your efforts.
4) Think long-term. The reason we set unreachable goals is because we really want to reach that point, but it is too big of a step to reach all at once. We might need to set 10 reachable goals spread over 5 years, before we get there. That is okay, we will get there eventually! The beauty of setting goals annually and is that you can see growth that you can build on. I have been setting annual goals ever since college. As a result there are areas of my life that I have seen substantial growth in that seemed hopeless ten years ago. We must run a mile before we can run a marathon, yet too many of us set the goal of running a marathon without considering the miles it takes to get there.
5) Finally, it is okay to fail! The purpose of goal-setting is growth. My reading exercises were very beneficial. That would not have changed if I had fallen 200 pages short of the goal. The point was never the number of pages read, but to benefit from reading. Sometimes we set goals that we fail to reach. I usually complete about 2/3 of the goals I set for a year, and that is okay. The ones I fall short on I adjust and try again because what I am really concerned with is growing as a follower of Christ.
Our goal as Christians is to draw closer to God and to be conformed into the image of Christ. I encourage you, as 2018 draws to a close, set at least one goal that would cause you to grow as a follower of Christ in the coming year, create a plan on how you will reach that goal, and then discipline yourself to do it for the purpose of godliness.