10 Christian Goal Setting Principles to Live By

Goal setting is a great way to achieve more in life. But, is it Biblical? And is it possible to set goals that honor God? The answer, is in these 10 Christian goal setting principles.

Christian goal setting principles to live by

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I don’t know about you, but I LOVE a fresh start! A new year, new month, new day…to me, it’s an opportunity to set new goals, learn from past mistakes, and hopefully be more productive and disciplined than I was yesterday.

(And, yes, sometimes it takes me, like, 50 tries to get stuff right! I’m only human.)

Another thing I enjoy, is taking a massive project, dividing it up into smaller tasks, and tackling each one in turn. Even when the scope of the whole ‘elephant’ overwhelms me, it IS satisfying to ‘eat the elephant one bite at a time’, you know?

But, there is one thing I’ve wondered, and maybe you have too: Is goal setting Biblical? That is, is it right for us as believers to make plans and set goals?

Is it okay to set goals as a Christian?

One thing we have to remember about Christian goal setting, is that our goals should look somewhat different (and have very different motives) than the goals and plans that unbelievers chase after.

In both cases, goal setting is inherently GOOD, because it causes us to live more intentionally. I know for me, if I didn’t set any goals for my life, I would be so lazy! I wouldn’t take care of my body, or nurture my relationship with God, or give generously, or do good work for God’s kingdom… without goals, I would be pursuing only what pleases me in the moment! (Junk food, romance novels, all fun and no work, etc.)

So, it’s not that goal setting is a bad thing… it’s all in WHY we set goals, and what we achieve through them. Chasing after riches, fame, fortune, and pleasure are common reasons people set goals for themselves…but these are definitely NOT things that should be our chief aim as Christians.

For us as believers, setting good spiritual growth goals should be our #1 priority. Growing in our relationship with God, and learning to be more like Jesus are of utmost importance. And secondly, we can use good Christian goal setting principles to achieve personal and professional goals that bring glory to God, and enable us to love our neighbors more.

Christian goal setting

10 Christian Goal Setting Principles to Live By

But, let’s go a little deeper… What does God’s Word actually teach about making our own plans versus God’s plans? And how should we go about the actual process of setting goals and reaching them, in a way that honors the Lord? To answer those questions and more, I gathered up all the Scriptures I could find that related to this subject, and broke it all down into 10 these Biblical goal setting principles to live by…

1) Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus!

Like I mentioned above, setting spiritual goals should be your first priority, ahead of other goals! Our relationship with God should always take center stage. And, when we become more spiritually mature, then we’re able to set better, God-honoring goals in all the other areas of life.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
2 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

2) Set Kingdom-focused goals

The underlying reason for everything we do, should always be to love God + love people. Jordan Raynor says it best, in his book Called to Create: “Following the call to create means that we no longer work to make a name for ourselves; we work for the glory of the One who called us.” Whatever goals we set should be for the glory of God, and the good of others.

That means, ordinary goals that are normally ME-centered, become much more. It’s not just about losing weight to fit into that bikini…but rather, taking better care of your body which is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and thus setting a good example of health for others. It’s not just cleaning out the clutter, but providing a better environment for you and your family to live in.

And, we should strive towards goals that are all about pleasing God and loving our neighbors: Like, cutting back frivolous expenses, so we can give more to people in need. Or, doing an act of kindness for one co-worker each week. And, maybe even just putting our smartphones away, to give the person we’re talking to our full attention, and make them feel loved and respected!

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:33 (NLT)

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

woman walking towards cross

3) Recognize that God is in control of the outcome

Have you ever been disappointed, frustrated, and bitter because your plans didn’t work out? I think we’ve all been there! It’s important to note, that the Bible never says that setting goals is bad, or that we shouldn’t make plans. BUT, it does say a lot about God’s plans being superior to ours!

That’s why, for Christian goal setting, humility and deference to God’s will is SO important. What does the Bible say about setting goals? As you see in the verses below, it has plenty to say about how foolish it is to make plans and expect that our plans will prevail over God’s.

We can make our plans,
but the Lord determines our steps.

Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
James 4:13-15 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

4) His presence is what will set you apart

Another truth we need to be aware of, is our need for God’s presence and help to be successful in whatever we set out to do. No matter how noble our goals to love God and love people in our everyday activities, we can’t be effective without God Himself.

The story of Moses and the Israelites traveling through the desert in Exodus 33 provides a fantastic example of how God’s presence sets us apart! God instructed Moses to take the people to the promised land…and at first, God said that He wouldn’t travel with them. But, Moses insisted!

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)

And of course, we can’t forget what Jesus said about how important it is to remain connected to Him…

[Jesus said] “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5 (NIV)

Jesus is the True Vine - Bible study and Bible journaling

5) Delight in the Lord, and your plans will align with His

Psalm 37 is a great treasure trove of wisdom when it comes to Biblical goal setting principles. You’ll see that I referenced much more of this Psalm in the points below, but for now, let’s focus on verse 4.

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

What does that even mean, that He will give us the desires of our heart? I used to think that covered anything I could possibly want: health, happiness, material wealth, etc. But in reality, if we’re truly delighting in the Lord, the desires of our heart will be focused on those things that God deems important: faith, love, service to others, and so forth. The things that truly matter!

Psalm 37 - commit to the Lord

6) Commit your plans to Him, and He will make you shine

Likewise, in Psalm 37:5, we see that if we devote our plans to His good purposes, God will make sure that His glory is reflected in us. Everything from our dedication and perseverance in reaching important goals, to the integrity we have in our work (even if it’s just doing the dishes!), can be used to glorify God.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

Psalm 37:5 (NIV)

Commit your works to the Lord [submit and trust them to Him],
And your plans will succeed [if you respond to His will and guidance].

Proverbs 16:3 (AMP)

Bible journaling - work as for the Lord

7) Work diligently and honestly

No matter what goals you set, projects you take on, or work you commit to, do it to the best of your ability! This is something we should always be considering: how can we do the best job possible (at work, home, school, church, etc.)? It’s not about being perfect, but doing our best. Let’s put it this way: Your boss/sister/neighbor/whoever is watching, and how you live your everyday life has an impact on how they perceive Jesus and the Christian faith as a whole.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

Not to mention, the hard work and dedication you put into your Christian goal setting and achieving DOES have a direct impact on your success (God does still have the final say, though—remember principle #3 above).

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity,
but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5 (NLT)

8) Do your part, and then wait for God

So, thus far our Christian goal setting principles 1-7, we’ve talked about the actual work and process of Biblical goal setting (what kind of goals we should strive for, how to approach goal setting in God-honoring way, and so forth). Now, these last three principles are more about what to do AFTER you’ve set your goals, and put in the work. You know, when you’re seeing the results (or lack thereof), and maybe there are some things you’re disappointed with, or it seems like things are not happening like you expected.

I’ve been there, done that. Those times when I did everything I could, but things are still not ‘happening’…it’s a frustrating place to be. But, if we’ve truly committed our plans to the Lord, then we need to wait for Him.

Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him […]

Psalm 37:7a (NIV)

waiting upon the Lord

9) Don’t compare-and-despair

And, the other part of ‘waiting’, is that we shouldn’t look to closely at what other people are accomplishing. Of course, it’s especially important to ignore the worldly success that unbelievers might be experiencing. But even in Christian circles, sometimes it’s tempting to compare and despair. I’ve heard even Christian authors, speakers, and pastors confess that they have (at times) compared themselves to other ‘more successful’ people in Christian ministry…like, his book sold millions more copies, that pastor over at ABC Mega Church gets asked to speak at churches all over the world, etc.

Comparing and despairing (also known as ENVY, or coveting others’ belongings), is a slippery slope, no matter who you are. So, when we’re waiting to see results, or disappointed in what results we’ve already seen, let’s make an effort to cling to God and not to the results. Your calling, successes or failures, gifts or talents, blessings, and so forth, are unique to you. Give God praise and glory for wherever you’re at, and whatever He’s given you!

[…] do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37:7b (NIV)

By the same token, the worst thing we could possibly do while waiting, is to force our own hand, and use selfish or even downright immoral or unethical means to get what we want. It’s always better to do things God’s way, rather than the world’s way!

Better is a little with righteousness
Than great income [gained] with injustice.

Proverbs 16:8 (AMP)

10) Trust God with ALL the details

Lastly, no matter where you are in the process of Christian goal setting, or what kind of faith goals you’re trying to achieve, know that you CAN trust God with all the details. Sometimes, it might be tempting to think that God doesn’t care about the details of your life, but nothing could be further from the truth!

If you’re seeking God earnestly, and committing your plans to Him, then you can be sure that His hand is on every detail of your journey!

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

creative Christian goal setting

How to Set SMART Goals for Spiritual Growth & Intentional Living

Okay, so now that we’ve established the Biblical goal setting principles that we need to live by… Practically speaking, how can you actually set and achieve those good, God-honoring goals? That’s where the SMART acronym comes in handy! It’s a great blueprint, to set goals that you’re more likely to reach…

  • Specific: What exactly are you going to achieve? What steps are required to get there? What might the challenges or obstacles be, and how will you overcome them (such as, throwing away all the junk food in your house, to reduce temptation)?
  • Meaningful: What’s your underlying motivation for achieving this goal? How does your goal enable you to glorify God + serve others?
  • Achievable: Is your goal a reasonable one? (For example, if you’re a single mom of 3, maybe studying your Bible and praying for an hour every morning is not attainable right now, but 10 minutes is.) Of course, some goals might seem totally out of your league, but if it’s something God is calling you to do, He can equip you and move the mountains to make it happen!
  • Results-Based: What kind of outcome are you aiming for? What measurable results will tell you if you’ve reached your goal, or not?
  • Time-Bound: Give yourself a specific timeline in which to reach your goal, so you stay motivated and on track, and don’t let short-term distractions keep you from reaching your long-term goal..

And, like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s very helpful to ‘eat the elephant one bite at a time’! Break down your goals and projects into manageable steps, and find a way to hold yourself accountable as you work towards achieving them (recruit a friend to be your accountability buddy, create a list or spreadsheet to track your progress, and/or use a Christian goal setting planner).

I hope these Christian goal setting principles have you helped you! Remember, it’s totally okay and wonderful for us to set goals as Christians, as long as we’re seeking God earnestly, and committing our plans to Him. Every detail is in His hands!

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