Monday, February 02, 2009

Q&A: Why Set Spiritual Goals? Isn't Submission Enough?

In response to my most recent Today’s Christian Woman post, “Spiritual Resolutions: Do you stick with your spiritual goals?”, a reader writes:

I do not make goals for myself—at least, not the kind you list in this article. Since I am in Christ, and most importantly, His Spirit is in me, I only work on submitting to Him and let Him set the goals. I find that much easier to do. It makes my life's resolution—not a yearly one—simple: submit my will to His will and I will never fail to achieve my goal. Not only that, I am no longer trying to figure out which goals are the right ones, and I can be sure that I am not working on the goal alone. Now make no mistake about it: that is a tall order. My will is rarely His will. It's always His will in the easy stuff. Back in 1999, right after I had just bought a new television and gotten a contract with Charter Cable, He told me to quit watching TV. That was a shock! I knew that was His idea because I'd just purchase all I needed to do just the opposite. But He made a way. That one turned out to be easy. I quickly acquiesced, and said to the Lord, that if this is of You, I should not expect to receive any more Charter Cable bills—and I haven't since that day. In fact, Charter sales' people came to my place twice trying to sell me cable because they happen to be in the area and could offer me a deal. But He doesn't always make it that easy. I have to struggle with some things so that when I achieve the goal, my character will be in tune with the goal He has set. So I flounder around for a while, but I still let Him set the goals, because I know that in Him, all of me will be complete.

Holly says: Your attitude of obedience and submission to God's will is inspiring.

I do have to restate that I think we do benefit from making specific spiritual goals. You likely have several that you actively work toward, even though you haven’t used the word "goals" to label them. Let me explain.

Consider how we have to be intentional in every relationship: We make plans to get together with friends at specific days/times; we call family members on their birthdays; we buy gifts and do special things for our spouses on our anniversaries.

You offered the example of doing what the Holy Spirit asks you to do. That’s a good start, but I think part of loving God with our minds is to deeply think about ways in which to love him.

Here’s an illustration: Say I decided to start only doing the things my husband specifically asked me to do for him. The first night I wouldn't make dinner for him because he didn't ask me. The next day, I wouldn't kiss him goodbye in the morning because he didn't ask me. And on the weekend, when he asked me to wash his shirts AND pants AND unders, I wouldn’t wash his socks, since he hadn’t asked for that particular item!

My husband would likely have a couple thoughts: (1) Why do I have to ask my wife to do the simplest, most obvious things for me? and (2) Why does my wife make such a minimal effort to love me? (since I certainly wouldn’t do special things like slipping a love note into his pocket, or buying him a book that I know he’d appreciate, or baking cookies for him). Perhaps he’d question why he married me in the first place.

Aren’t we blessed that God doesn’t act like a human—that God puts up with our all-too-often minimal love?

The point is: Relationships require us to be intentional. Having a relationship with God requires planning and effort. We need to schedule devotional time (i.e. planning it and then actually doing it, as opposed to merely thinking about doing it). We need to plan how to read the Bible (as opposed to the "open-it-up-and-see-where-my-finger-points" method). We need to worship with real love and emotion behind our songs/words/actions (as opposed to singing or saying the words without thinking about their meaning—i.e. the words “I love you, Lord” shouldn’t have the same emotional depth as “I had cereal for breakfast”). We need to be intentional in thought, emotion, and deed.

I can see that you're deeply committed to strengthening your relationship with God, as evidenced by your amazing commitment to get rid of TV. We should all be praying, as you do, "Father, I want you to change me. I want you to make me more like your Son, Jesus, through the work of your Holy Spirit." And then we should be intentional about identifying and implementing ways to strengthen our relationship with God—and with other Christians, as we’re instructed by God to do this.

One of my spiritual goals is to recognize my personal need for Christian community. I often think about what I give to the body of Christ, but honestly, sometimes I overlook how much I receive. So I’ve been looking for opportunities to receive the spiritual gifts of other Christians.

One way I do this is to be alert for things I need or couldn't do on my own. I then try to be intentional about thanking the person who met my need. This is an ongoing goal, and the more I look for ways to receive the gifts of others, the more I recognize that I'm part of the body of Christ. I feel more connected, more supported, and stronger. I've been amazed to find that dependence on other Christians makes me feel stronger than my independence!

I love that God is specific in calling us to love him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. This combination tells me that God wants every part of me: I need to express emotional surrender and a willingness to submit/obey. I need to make a mental effort to think about God's character, to contemplate his Word, and to plan my efforts to get closer to him. I need to physically carry out those plans, to do what I've said I’m going to do.

In setting spiritual goals, I think about a couple questions: What does it mean to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind? and What do I currently do to show my love to God? In which areas am I lacking effort? (e.g. Perhaps I have the desire to love God but don’t take the time to plan how I will worship him. Or perhaps I make a plan, but don’t follow it through. Or perhaps I go through the actions, but my heart isn’t in it.) We need to regularly evaluate ourselves—and to receive accountability from other Christians—to monitor whether our efforts to love God are complete and consistent.

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