Making good goals for the new year

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. All too often, people make resolutions for the year, with big intentions and a heart-felt commitment to achieve their goals, but then after a few months the passion fizzes and the resolution fades away.

I’ve been guilty of this so many times in my life. In the past I’ve started the new year with a commitment to work out more and get fit, to eat less junk food, to save more money, to read more books, to change habits and become a new “me.”

We all mean well, I think. We want positive change in our lives and in ourselves. We want to be better, to grow, and to feel the satisfaction of achieving our goals.

But meaning well isn’t always enough, and for so many of us the desire to change is quickly overpowered by our tendency to resort to what’s comfortable. It’s too easy to slip back into the way we’ve always been, or the way we’ve always done things. And before long, no matter how committed we were to our goals, we forget about them. We put them off and think, “We have plenty of time.” And then December 31st comes and we decide to try again.

I don’t say all this to be gloomy or demoralizing. And, of course, this doesn’t apply to every person and every resolution.

But the reality of these experiences in my own life have led me to change how I approach the beginning of a new year.

Instead of declaring a “resolution” and simply stating something that I want to see happen, I focus on creating realistic goals, along with a plan for how I’m actually going to achieve them.

I have a note in my phone where I’ve listed a few goals for myself in this new year. I’ll let you know what these are: In 2022, I want to accomplish these four tasks –

  1. Train for and run a 5k (starting small, then maybe next year I’ll work my way up to a bigger race!)
  2. Pay off my truck (I’m only a few months away!)
  3. Become proficient at playing the bass guitar (I’ve just recently started the learning process.)
  4. Read and finish 5 books this year (this is far more realistic, considering my time constraints with work, family, grad school, and time for fishing!)

These goals are a bit more specific than simply saying something like, “I want to learn a new skill”, or, “I want to develop a new hobby,” or even, “I want to get out of debt.” Being specific is the key and the first important step. Resolutions tend to be vague. Specific goals written down somewhere tend to pull us back to the exact thing we want to accomplish. Then, once the goal is specified, we develop a plan of action. How are we going to accomplish this goal? How is this “resolution” going to become a reality in our lives this year?

In order to train for a 5K I’m going to set aside time to run three times a week, working my way up to 3 miles each time.

In order to pay off my truck I’m going to budget carefully and discipline myself to pour money on the loan as much as I can.

In order to become a proficient bass guitarist, I’m going to make myself practice at least 30 minutes each evening, watch YouTube videos to learn skills and theory, and study music in my free time whenever I get a chance.

Then, in order to meet my goal of reading 5 books, I’m going to create a reading list, order the books I want to read, and set aside time each day to read for at least 15 minutes.

The really cool thing is that, in the process of working towards these goals, more vague and general “resolutions” will be achieved. Training for a 5K will lead to me eating better and exercising, which will make me healthy and get me in better shape.

Reading books will increase my knowledge, which will help me to learn new things.

Paying off my truck will lead to me having better control over my finances, will foster greater self-discipline, and will help me to develop a greater appreciation for saving money and living debt-free.

Being specific is always going to be better and more impactful than making vague resolutions and wishfully declaring things you want to see happen in your life and in yourself.

So, as this year draws to a close and the new year begins, let me encourage you to think a little more deeply about the things you want to accomplish this year.

Grab a pen and paper, or open an app on your phone and jot down some specific, actionable goals that you will realistically accomplish this year. And then, make a list of things you’ll need to do each month, each week, or each day in order to achieve those goals, along with a time frame for when you want to have reached them.

Starting the new year with a plan will help you move forward into this year with confidence, commitment, and hope for your future. And that’s an incredible way to begin a new season of life.

Grace for those who are imperfect but redeemed

My wife tells me often that I’m a great dad, that I’m a great husband, that I do a good job of taking care of things, that she appreciates me.

I have to admit that I don’t always agree with her. I often struggle to see my own “goodness” even when she makes a point to highlight what she believes is good about me. I appreciate her acknowledgement, and I love the love that she shows me in her words and actions.

But so often I feel quite inadequate, to tell you the truth.

I have a hard time seeing past my own brokenness and failures. I hang onto the things that are wrong with me, the things that I do or fail to do that tell me that I’m not as “good” as she says I am.

I get annoyed and frustrated sometimes. I lose my patience. I nag and gripe and complain. I stress over decisions and circumstances and my stress rubs off on her and our kids. I can be a selfish human, only thinking of my wants and needs. I have to catch myself sometimes and correct my thoughts and behaviors and moods and attitudes with the Lord’s help.

I can keep going. If you’re a human, you know what I’m talking about. It’s easy for us to focus on our failures and faults. It’s easy for us to think that we aren’t “enough”, that we are still too imperfect, that we still have so much to change. And when we focus on these things, it’s hard for us to see what other people see in us or fully appreciate what they say about us.

Do you know what this is? It’s a failure to accept and embrace grace.

By definition, grace is “undeserved favor.” It means that we are given something that we have not earned and do not deserve.

God shows us grace in giving us forgiveness and pardon and a relationship with Him even though, because of our sin, we don’t deserve that.

Grace is displayed in the fact that we are loved by Christ every single day. Even on our worst days. Even when we don’t “feel” very loveable.

And it is grace that should compel us to look past our faults and failures and realize that, even though we are imperfect, we are redeemed and forgiven and still worthy of love. Not because of ourselves and our “goodness”, but because of Jesus and His work in our hearts.

This should then translate to us showing ourselves grace. We don’t have to be perfect. God knows we’re trying. We’re trying to take care of our families. We’re trying to be godly and strong. We’re trying to honor God by taking care of business – going to work, serving our neighbors, doing good things for others, being responsible and living right.

This isn’t always easy. Sometimes we mess up. But we have to remember, every single day, that grace is upon us still. Our mistakes can be redeemed by God. We are loved and made worthy because of Christ. And that’s all that really matters.

Dads, husbands, men – when your wife and kids tell you how much they appreciate you, when they comment on how “great” you are, accept the gratitude. Accept it in grace, looking past your imperfections and faults and knowing that God is still working on you.

Moms – when you get into bed at night and you back on all the ways you think you failed during the day, just let it all go. Accept the grace that God pours out upon you. Rest in the promise that, although it’s true that you won’t ever be “good enough”, you are covered and loved and redeemed. And that’s far better than measuring up to some other person-centered standard for motherhood.

You may still be far from who you want to be or think you need to be. But grace will keep working in you to make you who God is calling you to be.

For now, let grace allow you to rest and be confident in Him.

Kids: Let Them Be Who God Made Them To Be

My son is 9. He’s still discovering his interests and skills. He’s a smart kid. He’s gifted in many areas. There are things that he enjoys and abilities that he’s developing. This is all a part of the normal process of growing up.

There are also things that he just isn’t into very much, and things that he’s really not that great at. And as we notice these things and draw attention to them, one thing we try to intentionally teach is that it’s okay to not be good at something and it’s okay to not like something.

He tried playing baseball this season. He thought it would be a good way to have something to do after school and to socialize with his classmates. At first, he was interested in it. He was excited about buying new gear and having a real, official practice to go to. He liked being part of the team.

He liked baseball until he actually had to learn to play baseball. When the coach made him try batting and throwing and running the bases, my son quickly realized that baseball was not his favorite thing. In fact, he quickly remembered that he doesn’t even like sports. After a few long, grueling months for him, the season finally ended and he vowed to turn in his cleats and never try baseball again.

My son is not a sports kid. He doesn’t even like to watch sports on TV. Instead, he’s into books and science and animals and nature. He likes to swim and climb and explore. He’s inquisitive by nature and adventurous in spirit.

It’s important that my wife and I recognize these interests of his and reinforce them, rather than make him feel that he has to fit a certain mold or do what everyone else is doing.

Our kids’ unique sets of interests, talents, and skills need to be celebrated, not criticized or compared.

It’s really easy to want our kids to like or be interested in certain things. It may be that we were into sports or music or art when we were young, and we wish our kids would pick up where we left off. Or it may be because we see what other kids are good at and the recognition they receive, and we wish our kids could get a taste of that too.

But it really comes down to this: we need to love the kids we have, not the kids we wish we had. We need to appreciate and give value to the various interests, skills, and passions that our kids develop as they grow, and not redirect or squash them simply because they don’t align with our own wishes or visions.

We also need to be careful with the messages we give our kids about their interests or abilities. Sometimes even unintentionally we can make our kids feel inferior to others or reinforce the debilitating lie that they don’t measure up to someone else. Regardless of what talents their siblings or cousins or classmates have, our kids need to know that they have worth and value and that what they like matters. And they need to know that their worth comes not from what they do, but from who they are. They are not “less than” simply because they have trouble catching a ball or don’t like watching football.

This is especially true and necessary for fathers and sons. It has been said that boys get their nurturing from their mothers and they get their identity from their fathers. If this is true, then it presents a hard challenge to the way that many fathers parent their sons and the messages that they reinforce.

Dads, be careful not to devalue your sons simply because they are “different” or don’t have the skills or abilities that you think they should have.

The same advice can be helpful for any parent of any child. Let them express their own interests. Let them grow. Be patient as their abilities and “talents” develop and change through the years. Guide them, but don’t squash what comes naturally out of them. And don’t work so hard to create a mold of yourself that you miss out on who God has wired your child to be.

3 Principles for Understanding Our Purpose and Calling

“God didn’t just stumble across your life and decide to use you.”

This is a quote from my pastor’s sermon from this morning, as he talked about the calling that God has placed on all of our lives, and the fact that none of us has been forgotten when it comes to God unfolding His sovereign plan.

He talked about Jeremiah’s call into the ministry of being a prophet. God told Jeremiah that He had known him, sanctified him, and appointed him and that he would use him to fulfill a certain task – to go and preach a specific message to the people of Israel for a specific period of time.

Jeremiah didn’t FEEL called. He couldn’t see how he was in any way qualified for the task that God was laying before him. But the Lord made it clear that He had been preparing Jeremiah all along – from his lineage, to his birth, to his training as a young Hebrew child. All of these things had been ordained by God in order that He might one day use them to bring about His ultimate calling for Jeremiah.

The same was true for the apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:15 he describes God as being “he who had set me apart before I was born and who called me by his grace.” Paul understood that God had been preparing him and equipping him all throughout his lifetime, and that God had designated a specific time to reveal Himself to Paul and then to call him into the ministry. This calling and appointment was from God, not something that Paul had manufactured on his own.

With all of this in mind, here are some important truths that we need to understand about our God-given purpose and calling:

God has specially designed each of us for a purpose and a calling.
Those words that God spoke to the young prophet Jeremiah about being known and sanctified and appointed can just as easily be appointed to us. Our callings are different, but the New Testament is clear that all of us – if we are saved and a part of God’s family – have been given a ministry. Paul calls it a “ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians. In Ephesians he says that we have been given spiritual gifts so that we might use them for the work of the ministry. What all of this tells us is that every single believer is just as known, sanctified, and appointed today as Jeremiah was thousands of years ago. We all receive a calling from God – to be disciples and make disciples, to love others and point them towards Jesus, and to remain faithful followers all the days of our lives. There are other, more specific callings too. But God reveals those to us at different times and for different seasons.

Our lives, experiences and backgrounds are essential to our callings.
Throughout our lives He has been preparing and equipping us and getting us ready to carry out the tasks to which He has apppointed us. As my pastor said, God didn’t just stumble across our lives and decide He wanted to use us for something. He already knew, before we were born, what His plans were for us, what He wanted us to accomplish for Him, how He had designed us to serve Him. Another pastor once said that God has pre-designed each of us with certain spiritual gifts that He intended to use to bring about His glory in the reaching of the nations. The backgrounds, experiences, and prior training of our lives (even if we didn’t realize we were being trained) are all essential parts of the unfolding of our callings. Even right now, I have to believe that God is going to put me in a role one day that will make sense of my years spent as a high school Spanish teacher. This experience is somehow vital to my preparation. I need to walk by faith every time I carry out my work, knowing that it is a part of God’s bigger plan for me.

Our purposes are revealed in His timing, not ours.
Someone once told me that, when you stop trying to control things and just surrender it all to God, that’s when He begins to work. I think this principle should apply to our callings too. I can look back over my life and identify all the times when I tried to manipulate or force my calling or role, thinking that I could get God to let me do things my way and just bless all of my efforts and work. I spent years trying to force myself into full-time ministry and escape the “secular” world, only to realize that God had me in that world for a purpose and that it was actually my calling, the place where He wanted me to serve and bless and make a difference. I then took on a mininstry role that, after four years, I realized was not really what God had designed me for, which is why it felt like an utter failure and was so easy to step away from. When we let go of our need to control our destinies and our purposes in life, then we get to experience the work that only God can do. He WANTS to use us. He has created us and endowed us with certain gifts that He desires to use for His glory and for the sake of the gospel. We are all called to be ministers. He isn’t going to look at any of us and say, “I want to use everyone except you. You just sit there and be quiet.” So, if we believe that God wants us to serve Him and has a calling for us, we need to wait patiently for Him to open up the opportunity and point us in the right direction. And we also need to pay attention to how He might want to use us right where we are at the moment.

Discovering our purpose from God is not hard. God is a mystery, yes, but the call to follow Him isn’t supposed to be complicated. Remember, when Jesus found Peter and Andrew and invited them to become His disciples, He simply said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He didn’t tell them how. He didn’t tell them what eactly that meant. He didn’t give them any indication what their decision to follow Him would involve. He wanted faithful obedience. And, as it turned out, He wanted to use them for Kingdom work for which the Father had already been equipping them.

Let’s not miss out on the purpose and calling that Jesus has for us. Let’s just faithfully follow Him and walk in humble obedience. When we do this, we can experience an abundant assurance that God has designed us for the very things He has put in front of us. No more guessing or stressing or worrying that we missed something. Just obedience in every moment until God moves us into something different.

Viewing Enjoyment as Worship

I have come to greatly enjoy the art of fly fishing. I call it an art, because I’ve learned that it involves way more than just tossing a hook into the water and waiting for a fish to grab it. Fly fishing involves a technique that needs to be finely tuned and practiced. It may not be that the cast makes much of a difference when it comes to actually catching a fish, but it sure looks a lot better when you’ve figured out the form.

One of the reasons for my newfound love of fly fishing is the setting in which it takes place. The caricatures we tend to imagine of fly fishermen standing waist deep in a river throwing a line back and forth isn’t actually too far from the truth. There is something deeply peaceful and calming about wading into the cool water, quietly casting the line and waiting for something to happen. Even if the fish just aren’t biting and the hook never feels a tug, at the very least a person was able to stand in water up past their knees in peace and quiet for a few moments or more. This is hard not to enjoy for most people.

For me, fly fishing is therapeutic. When I feel the stress of my life beginning to weigh me down, when my shoulders feel the pressure of all of my responsibilities, when I’ve been too much in my emotions or my thoughts have been clouded and confused, these are the times when I need to be in the water. Some might call it “communing with nature.” Others might see it as an escape. I consider it a recentering of my life and a maintaining of my sanity. Not only this but I see it as a gift from God – this opportunity to find calm and tranquility and practice a skill – and it’s a gift that I want to enjoy for as long as I can.

Art. Therapy. Skill. Peace of mind. Recentering. It’s amazing how many benefits one simple activity can bring about in a person’s life; how simply devoting two or three hours to something you love, even once a week or once a month, can bring so much good to your mind, body, and soul.

These lives of ours are gifts themselves. And they are gifts that we need to be cherishing and caring for and keeping a close eye on if we want them to be enjoyable for all the days that we have been given here on this earth.

I’m reminded of some words from the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer has this to offer about this life we’ve been given:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.”

Ecclesiastes 5:18 ESV

Finding enjoyment in the toil. That seems rather oxymoronic. But I wonder if this is what the author is saying to us:

You are going to have toil in life. Not necessarily trouble or grueling pain or hardship or suffering but, very simply, work. You are going to be busy. You are going to have experiences that make life less than easy sometimes. You are going to have to carry out tasks and perform functions and fulfill responsibilities. This is everyone’s “lot in life” and this itself is a gift from God.

But, in the middle of all of that “toil”, you can find enjoyment. You can eat and drink and enjoy what you partake of. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor and the blessings that come from the work that God has given you to do.

But, when that toil becomes overwhelming, you can still look to God for the enjoyment that He wants to deliver to you, because God wants us to experience His joy and goodness and to give glory and honor to Him for what He allows us to have.

So, for me, fly fishing is more than just therapy and art and skill. It is worship. It’s the manner in which God has allowed me to experience the kind of enjoyment in life that comes from Him. And, even through standing waist deep in water and casting a line to wait for a bite, I can glorify Him.

Our worship of God is not just in song or Bible reading or prayer. Those things are necessary and good and right. But our worship of God is also in the way in which we receive the blessings He bestows upon us – eating and drinking and enjoying the fruit of our labor and experiencing the enjoyment of life in a million different ways.

So, worshiper of God, enjoy your life. Find a river. Pick up a book. Take a nap. Find a trail to hike. Sing a song. Write a poem. Build something. Create something. Do the thing that God has put in your heart to enjoy, the thing that brings you peace and joy and satisfaction, the thing that you can use to bring more worship to Him.