Just as we set objectives in our education, career, finances, and health, it is even more vital to establish spiritual goals.
Spiritual goals are about deepening our relationship with God and becoming the people God destined us to be; they go beyond any life stage or temporary achievement.
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Go away from here! Herod wants to kill you!” Jesus said to them, “Go tell that fox Herod, ‘Today and tomorrow I am forcing demons out and healing people. Then, on the third day, I will reach my goal.’
Luke 13:31-32 NCV
Jesus set spiritual goals: he planned to defeat the darkness in the world by giving up his life as a sacrifice for sin. Staying focused on this spiritual goal gave him the resolve and confidence to keep moving forward even when faced with obstacles and distractions. We can learn from Jesus’s example to set powerful spiritual goals for ourselves so that we can confidently live out the purpose God planned for us.
What are spiritual goals?
My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life: to walk in wisdom and to discover your purpose. Don’t ever forget how they empower you. For they strengthen you inside and out and inspire you to do what’s right; you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring.
Proverbs 3:21-22 TPT
Spiritual goals are about living for something greater than ourselves. They help us know God more intimately and empower us to live out the purpose for which God chose us. On the contrary, a “humanistic” goal is one that is motivated by human wisdom and achieved through human effort.
Humanistic goals aren’t necessarily bad—they just tend to be temporary or short-term. Spiritual goals are powered by the purposes of God and have great power. Jesus’s spiritual goals set him apart from the ordinary, mediocre, and stagnant religious establishment of his time; they led him to make an impact that has lasted more than 2,000 years and counting. His spiritual goals filled him with confidence, courage, and compassion:
Every goal Jesus had brought him closer to God, aligned him with God’s values, and led him toward a greater purpose. Our spiritual goals will do the same.
One mistake we often make is setting goals without questioning whether we are thinking spiritually or humanistically. If we are focused on surviving day-to-day life or measuring up to other people, our goals will reflect that. Goals that come from this kind of thinking tend to be humanistic; they are about how we can better handle our lives through our own human effort and strategies.
How can we tell if we are thinking spiritually? It comes down to who motivates us to grow: God, other people, or ourselves?
Think about what we have in Christ: the encouragement he has brought us, the comfort of his love, our sharing in his Spirit, and the mercy and kindness he has shown us.
Philippians 2:1 ERV
In this verse, the apostle Paul calls us to think about Jesus, not ourselves. To make spiritual goals, we must become spiritually-minded individuals who think about the encouragement, love, kindness, and spiritual power of Jesus and want to follow his example.
If we want to change things in our lives—like the way we treat our spouses or friends, or our level of discipline, or even our morning routine—we should start by thinking about how Jesus lived his life. It’s great to have goals, but without doing the spiritual work of focusing on Jesus we will be left trying to change our habits with human effort instead of changing our hearts with spiritual power.
The more we think about and try to become like Jesus, the more our hearts will change from the inside out. He gives us the ultimate example of how to live life in a human body; he was loving, forgiving, purposeful, courageous, and disciplined. He conquered temptation with spiritual power, and he gave us all the instructions we would need for doing the same thing.
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
Proverbs 23:7 NKJV
Too often we try to change our habits without changing our hearts. And this begins with how we think; if we’re spiritual and God-focused on the inside, that’s who we will be on the outside too.
Pause and reflect
Asking ourselves “Why” questions like these helps us get beyond our habits and start thinking spiritually:
- When looking at the past few weeks, months, or year, what have I experienced spiritually, relationally, and emotionally? Why?
- What was great about these periods? Did I grow in my relationship with God? Did I enjoy spending time with him more? Why or why not?
- Why did some of my relationships grow and thrive, and why did others not?
- Why was I able to overcome certain sins, resentments, addictions, impurity, or fears, while others still currently have a grip on me?
- Why have I been inspired to love and serve people over the last few weeks, months, or years? Or why have I not been inspired to do so?
Take time to reflect on some of these questions so you can start establishing spiritual goals!
What distracts me from my spiritual goals?
Spiritual goals keep our focus on God, who is the source of confidence, courage, and compassion. But without these spiritual goals, our lives go from soaring to sinking. As the pioneering American automaker Henry Ford profoundly stated:
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
Peter, one of Jesus’s first followers, experienced this when Jesus called him out of his boat to walk on water. Jesus had a spiritual goal in mind for Peter—to expand his faith by taking a risk rather than remaining captive to fear and humanism:
But Jesus quickly spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” Peter said, “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. But when Peter saw the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. He shouted, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind became calm.
Matthew 14:27-32 NCV
Peter’s failure was not that he began to sink, but that he took his eyes off Jesus and the spiritual goal Jesus had for him.
When we take our eyes off of our spiritual goals, we’ll start drowning in anxiety, doubt, and fear. Spiritual goals help us move closer to God and his vision for who we are meant to become. Without goals we stop growing, and our faith begins to die:
“Not having a clear goal leads to death by a thousand compromises.”
Mark Pincus, Founder and Executive Chairman of Zynga
At any given time in our spiritual lives, we must never shy away from asking ourselves if we’re growing spiritually or dying spiritually. The moment we stop asking ourselves this question is the moment we settle for something far less than God’s dream. We will sink into a life in which spiritual growth and personal change give way to spiritual stagnation and compromise. Ultimately, this will lead to spiritual death in our faith, love, and purpose.
“You are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hidden. And people don’t hide a light under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand so the light shines for all the people in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16 NCV
God does not want our lives to blend into the darkness of the world; he wants us to change it. Each of us is called to bring more light into the world. This is why we need to set goals that add spiritual and relational value to the lives, relationships, and communities around us.
“If your presence doesn’t add value, then your absence won’t make a difference.”
Zero Dean, Author
Setting spiritual goals is about asking ourselves how we can grow spiritually—not only to add value to our own personal lives, but also to help others. Our growth will become an inspiration and example of God’s power to other people; seeing us change will help those around us believe that God can help them overcome their limitations and sins too.
Pause and reflect
- What has been distracting me from setting or keeping spiritual goals?
- Am I growing in my faith? Or have I been settling for something less than God’s dream?
What spiritual goals should I have?
Agree with each other, and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think. In whatever you do, don’t let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble, and honor others more than yourselves. Don’t be interested only in your own life, but care about the lives of others too. In your life together, think the way Christ Jesus thought.
Philippians 2:2-5 ERV
Simply put, spiritual goals are not selfish, but selfless. When we think the way Jesus thought, we will want to grow in order to make others greater. We will believe in the positive impact we can make in the world, and we will desire that more than we desire honor for ourselves.
The evidence of our spiritual growth won’t be in our achievements or accolades, but in how we add value to the lives of others. Do people around us become bolder, more confident, more aware of their value, and more faithful because of us? Are people around us better off in their relationships with one another and with God because of our help?
Jesus’s purpose of changing and saving lives will unify us together so that we help each other reach our goals. Unspiritual goals will create disunity, distance, and discord in our relationships, friendships, and marriages. This is because unspiritual goals are self-centered, not God-centered; they are about getting what we want rather than living the life God wants.
Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance.
Philippians 2:5-7 GW
Jesus emptied himself to add value to others. He became a servant to other people. As in the story of Peter walking on water, Jesus’s spiritual goals weren’t self-centered, but involved Peter’s growth. He wanted to see Peter be great more than he wanted to make himself great. This was the attitude Jesus had, and the attitude God calls us to imitiate. Setting a spiritual goal requires the spiritual attitude of emptying ourselves of pride so that we can add value to others.
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
Albert Einstein, Physicist
Pause and reflect
- Are your goals centered around you, or around how you can help others become who they are meant to be?
- What spiritual goals could you make to add value to the lives of people around you?
Goals are essential to our spiritual lives, and the kind of goals God wants us to set are bigger than anything we could think up or achieve with our human effort. Spiritual goals keep us alive and growing in our faith; they focus us on Jesus and change us and those around us for the better. We can set spiritual goals by slowing down to ask ourselves “why” questions and setting our minds on following Jesus’s example. As we do, God will move in our lives and relationships in ways we could never imagine!