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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Spiritual Goals

Learn how to make spiritual goals that will help you grow closer to God and others.
Spiritual Goals

I recently found an unused planner for 2020 buried under a stack of papers.

The planner had “Best Year Ever” printed across the top, and I didn’t know whether to laugh at the irony or cry over the disappointment. You may have decided as I did in 2020 to settle for survival rather than sticking to spiritual goals and striving for spiritual growth.  

Research has shown that 77% of people who make New Year’s goals or resolutions are able to keep them for the first week, but only 19% are able to sustain their change and hold to their decision after two years.

These statistics sound daunting, but they don’t account for God’s presence in our lives that can help us to not only make spiritual goals but also see real change in our hearts as a result of them.  

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you, he will neither fail you nor abandon you.

Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT

Whenever we decide to move forward in pursuit of God’s dream, especially in the new year, then God promises to go ahead of us. Though we may be afraid to fail, God will not fail us, and He will never leave us alone without His help.

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid so we can set the kind of goals through which God can help us grow in our faith and change in 2021.

Focusing on yourself

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life? 17 Why do you ask me about what is good? Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

Matthew 19:16-17 NIV

This man was focused on himself and what he could gain rather than how he could grow closer to God. It is clear from this passage that his intent was to be good in order to achieve something for himself.

I have made this mistake many times in the past when I made a list of ways that I would become a better version of myself rather than becoming a person who is closer to God and others. When I have fallen into this trap of self-help and self-improvement, it has left me disappointed and burnt out rather than refreshed and inspired to make a difference.

Our goal must be to empower others to do what is right and good for them, and to bring them into spiritual maturity.

Romans 15:2 TPT

When making spiritual goals for the new year, decide to grow in ways that would inspire others to grow as well, and make a change that makes a difference in someone else’s life!

Reflection questions

  • Who’s faith can you inspire as you make personal changes in 2021?

Fantasizing about change

Lord, I don’t feel proud. I don’t see myself as better than others. I am not thinking about doing great things or reaching impossible goals.

Psalm 131:1 ERV

For many years I have made goals that are too big, unrealistic and seemingly impossible to meet. Friends still laugh about my late night expensive “P90X Extreme Home Fitness Plan” purchase.

We tried it one time, six years ago and never did it again because it’s impossible to go from no fitness to 45 minutes of push-ups and pull-ups.

Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

Ecclesiastes 7:18 NIV

The Bible warns us to not be extreme in our goals and endeavors. Spiritual goals can also be more of a fantasy when we decide that we will help 20 people in a year to become Chiristians or we will do hour long prayer walks each morning at 5 am.

Change is a process, and God is patient with us. He meets us where we’re at and then helps us make steady progress each step of the way to change into who he’s destined us to become.

Reflection questions

  • What goal can you make that will help you to grow closer to God?

Forgetting your strengths

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

God created each of us to be an original. He has designed us with a unique purpose and plan.

At times our insecurities can keep us from seeing the talents and strengths that God has given us. If we forget our strengths and envy those of others, we will miss the good things God has planned just for us to do.

God wants us to see ourselves as He does and to make goals that reflect His vision for us rather than trying to become someone else.

Reflection questions

  • How can you use your talents to do good in the new year?

Feeling regret

My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life: to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment. Don’t ever forget how they empower you.

Proverbs 3:21 TPT

One of the mistakes we can make when making spiritual goals is to refuse to learn from the past.

This scripture teaches us that we will be empowered if we walk in wisdom and gain understanding from reflecting on our previous experiences. God wants us to look back over the past year to learn from our mistakes and to realize that failure isn’t fatal.

God designed us to feel remorse over sin in order to produce repentance that leads to victory. This leaves us with no regrets but the sorrow of the world works death.

2 Corinthians 7:10 TPT

When we turn to God by seeing what the Bible says about our sins and confessing them to Him in prayer, we can gain an understanding of how our sin has hurt God and feel for how we have hurt others.  

Focusing on God’s forgiveness and His desire for us to be close to friends and family will help us look for opportunities to change rather than being stuck in regret.

Reflection questions

  • What can you learn from last year that will help you to have closer relationships in the next year?

Finishing at the start

So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around.

1 Corinthians 9:26 TLB

Starting our year with spiritual goals can produce hope and inspiration, but only if we don’t finish right after our goals are written down, forgetting about them until later in the year.

There have been many years that I have felt a sense of accomplishment just by writing out some goals on paper. Even if we purchase a cool new journal with a motivational phrase on the cover and words of affirmation on each page, our goals will fail if they don’t include a plan of action or specific steps leading to change.

If we aren’t willing to put work into making our spiritual goals measurable, then we are just planning to fail and finish right when we are supposed to begin.

Reflection questions

  • How can you prepare yourself with detailed goals and ways to keep track of them?

Fearing the future

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. [12] Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

Jeremiah 29:11-12 NIV

The holidays may be over, but many of the songs are lingering in many of our heads. The song Walking in a Winter Wonderland has some memorable and also helpful lyrics including; “to face unafraid the plans that we’ve made.”

I have been thinking that God made those words stick to remind me that I don’t have to worry about the future because He has my future already planned out. God’s plans are to prosper us, to protect us, and to give us hope. Sometimes I fear that the emotional, physical or relational challenges in my future will be worse than the past, and I won’t be able to handle them.

If we fear the future when trying to make spiritual goals, we will anxiously strive to make things happen that only God can do.  God’s perspective, plans, and power can help us face the future with faith.  

Reflection questions

  • What do you believe God can do to make next year better than the last?

Failing to let go

Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me.

Philippians 3:13 ERV

This scripture teaches us that part of making a spiritual goal is to forget what was in the past. Although it is good to take a look back and reflect on lessons learned, holding on to past guilt or the hurts and disappointment of the past can hold us back from growing in the future.

Sometimes we can hold on to our habits and ways of thinking that will keep us from moving forward. Making a decision to pray through sins and personal challenges of the past year will help us to seek God’s forgiveness and healing. 

Having conversations with spiritual friends can also help us to let go of the past and gain a new perspective and vision for the future. 

Reflection questions

  • What do you need to let go of from this past year so that you can make spiritual goals with reflection rather than trepidation?

Fighting for control

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9 NIV

Years ago a friend gave me a book called “Control Freak”. Thinking I didn’t have much to learn from this book, I skipped to the first sentence of the first page of the last chapter which read, “If you skipped ahead to this chapter, you really have a problem with control.” I closed the book and never picked it up again.

Clearly, a desire to control is something I have always struggled with, and it has affected the spiritual goals I have set for myself. Although it is good to make plans, we must understand that only God has control.

If we are going to grow spiritually, we have to be flexible and trust God is helping us to change and make progress even when things seem out of control. Fighting for control not only stops us from growing by getting our focus off of God and on to circumstance, but it also hurts our relationships and ability to grow closer.

Reflection questions

  • What are areas of control that hold you back from discovering and experiencing the new changes God desires in your life?

Flattering yourself

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

God promises to give us more power when we see and accept our weaknesses. Facing our weakness can be a painful experience that we can often avoid through denial or flattery.

Psalms 36:2 says that when we flatter ourselves, we cannot see or hate our sins. Flattery is based in deceit and, if we are lying to ourselves, we will be incapable of making appropriate spiritual goals for our future.  

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.

1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT

God wants us to embrace our weaknesses so that we can rely on His power and relate to others who are feeling weak as well.

Reflection questions

  • What weakness do you need to embrace so that you can grow in your reliance on God?

Finding substitutes

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Galatians 1:10 NLT

If we are seeking to gain the approval of others with our goals, we will be serving ourselves rather than Christ. Approval and applause from others can be a substitute for God’s love and acceptance.

It’s important to search our hearts and our motives when making spiritual goals to make sure our aim is to please God rather than people. When God is our focus, then our goals will become more spiritual, leading to a change of heart rather than behavior.

I will make them truly want to be one people with one goal. They will truly want to worship me all their lives, for their own good and for the good of their children after them.

Jeremiah 32:39 NCV

God has a goal for all of us in the upcoming year to become closer and more unified. Our unifying goal should be to put God first in our lives. As we grow to love and serve God more, our change will inspire others to grow as well.

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