Setting Spiritual Goals (part 1)

"I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By  no means do I count myself an expert in all this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward---to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back."--Phil. 3:12-14 (The Message) Don't you just love this paraphrase of Philippians 3? It has been one of those verses that I have read, re-read and memorized so many times that it has gotten stale (or to be honest, I have lost the excitement of it). But it is still one of my favorites, one that inspires me to keep running after all that God has for me.

Every year, I make a spiritual goal (or several) goals in the area of disciplines that I hope will help me to keep running towards Him. In making these goals, I desire to see Him become more and more my first love and intimate companion throughout my days. This morning, as I was reading in Ephesians 1, I was struck by verse 4. God has goals for me too! It tells me that "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."

Wow. God is not just after our salvation. He is after our holiness. The question for me then was, is this my goal too? Or am I satisfied with good enough? Better than the next person? Or is my goal Jesus himself?

Ultimately, every goal I make, spiritual or otherwise, must have this purpose. When I look at all of life as God's training ground for me to become more like Jesus, it will flavor all that I do each day. Some of that training is through indirect methods: growing patience as I deal with an angry child, learning love as I give sacrificially to serve my husband, developing my thoughts as I blog each day. But some of that training also requires that I focus thoughtfully and deliberately on growing my soul. Indirect training is not enough.

As I mentioned earlier, I set spiritual goals for myself so that I can put myself in a place where God can directly address issues in my life, build my worldview, prepare my hands for the work He has for the day. I confess that I tend to look at my time with Him as an academy of sorts--very cerebral and academic.

But in recent years, I am realizing that God doesn't just want me to meet with him on a purely academic level. He desires to build a relationship with me too. He wants to hear my thoughts and dreams, my worries and fears, my hopes for the future. It is in this relationship that He begins to transform and change me into holiness.

So, what goals do I have this year? I usually set goals in several areas:

1. Time in the Word. Every year, I make sure that I take time to get to know His heart---which is most clearly seen in the Word. Last year, I spent time reading through the entire Bible, not just to tax my perseverance and endurance, but so that I can get a sense of His heart. My goal last year was not just to get down chronology, names and facts but to try to grasp His character and His nature. As I read, I journaled the thoughts the Word inspired. Put together, it created a rich and beautiful tapestry of who our God is, from the beginning of creation to the end of it. That discipline helped me to gain a bigger picture of who He is, in particular the fact that He spans all time---and that He is writing that story still.

This year, instead of going for the panoramic view, I am aiming for depth in my Bible reading. As I was reading last year, I didn't have time to go in depth (not if I wanted to finish the goal!) and so I kept in mind a few books I wanted to really dig deep into. So this year, that's what I'm going to do. God willing, I hope to spend about 3 months each in the books of Ephesians, Proverbs, 1 Timothy and Ruth/Esther. I am looking forward to the variety of genres and seeing what God wants to teach me through Scripture.

To be continued, tomorrow!