It is the 30th of December and you ought to have your goals done by now for 2016. I read an article on goal setting recently and the writer of the article said that only 2% of the adult population of the United States has written goals. That is very sad to me because goal setting is probably the best tool we have to motivate ourselves beyond mediocrity in life. I would no more try to live life successfully without goals than I would to try and manage my money without some kind of record system. A person with an income of $500 a month and few bills could possibly operate out of his head financially. A key word in our living for God is stewardship. Everything belongs to Him and He entrusts us with time, money, opportunities, spiritual gifts, children, ministries and if we steward well for Him what He has given us He will entrust us with more. If we are a poor steward with what we have been given He will not give us more and He will take back what He has already given to us and give it to someone who is being a faithful steward. When I think about why most do not set specific, measurable goals that are written down I have come to the conclusion it is because of the fear of failing. Once a goal is set and written down we have defined success for ourselves and we would just as soon stay average than feel bad for not accomplishing a goal. The key is to make them achievable but a little bit beyond what we have previously done. Be flexible, and don’t assume your goals are the Ten Commandments. If they are to difficult change them. When a person first starts with the discipline and skill of being goal oriented it is enough to just learn the mechanics of it and to do the basics of pursuing goals successfully. Once the routine and the knowledge of how to use goals successfully in our life is achieved the difficulty level can be raised gradually until you are a very productive person. Don’t wait another year.
Patty and I left our house at 6 am this morning and drove 3 1/2 hours to our daughter Hannah”s house in South West Washington. Her husband Kyle is a youth pastor there in the small town of Naselle. We were headed for our second Christmas with them bringing gifts for our three sweet, highly intelligent, very well behaved though super hyper, incredibly talented, grandchildren, Jackson, Blakely, and Henry, 4,3 and 1 years of age. Patty drove all the way up and I slept very soundly all the way there, and I drove home while she slept. Though we were there only 8 hours it was a very enjoyable day. The grandkids ran around showing off for grandma and grandpa and I clapped and cheered egging them on. Proverbs 17:6 says, “Grandchildren are the crown of old men”, and that certainly is true for me, all 22 of them. In my prayer journal each one of them has a page and after a day like today I like to write a bit about each one of them that helps keep me mentally and emotionally connected so that I pray for them each day with more fervency.
These statements are what’s most important to me, and by writing them down and reading them several times a week it helps me to think and reflect on whether I am being successful in living these values or not. You could write your own. I have 12 but you could have 6 or 20. Here is my list again; (1) Love God, (2) love Patty, (3) love people, (4) raise champions, (5) Make disciples, (6) keep it simple, (7) train well, (8) be strong, (9) be wise, (10) work hard, (11) be a witness, (12) finish strong. These are not goals, but most of my goals are set with these values in mind.
Well, I have 12 personal purpose statements and this is the last one. It is #11 on the list but I started with #12 and moved to #1. “Be a Witness” is not a pastor thing for me, it is a personal responsibility given to me as an adopted child of God. Every Christian who has been given the free gift of eternal life with God has been given this responsibility. Most believers are very irresponsible when it comes to being faithful to this calling given to us by Jesus. I want to be faithful and responsible to God, but I don’t want to be obnoxious and offensive to people so I have come up with a personal stategy to be an effective witness of the gospel. The first part of my plan is to identify people in my life who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, put their name in my prayer journal and pray for them every day. This doesn’t take more than 5 minutes each day to do and I believe it moves God to work in their life and in mine. In their life God convicts, draws, frees from demonic blindness and controls, and enlightens. In my life He gives wisdom, boldness, and opportunities. The next part of my plan is to look for opportunities to hang out and visit a bit with them to get to know them and then if possible to do something social with them that is fun such as a meal together, cards, golf, bowling, fishing or whatever works. During these hang out, chit chat times I listen for a need that they share about that I could do something about. It can be as simple as loaning a tool to or helping with a project. The next step is very powerful, I listen for a need, worry, or trial that I can offer to pray for. I will pray out loud with them putting my hand on their shoulder if it seems like they would be comfortable with that. I put the need in my prayer journal and pray for it faithfully every day. Another key part of my plan Is to identify with Christ, my church, the Bible as often as I can in a natural, gracious way that is not preachy, just telling my personal story. At some point I will invite them to church, give them a CD of a Billy Graham presentation, give them a book or whatever seems appropriate. When it seems like the time is right I share the gospel and ask them if they would like to be part of Gods family.
One of my conclusions after raising 8 kids and having grandkids around all the time and seeing lots of kids in church is that every person is born lazy. If I would think, study, and read about what is the most predominate tendencies of our flesh I think I would say laziness. I believe Solomn came to that same conclusion as he writes the book of Proverbs to his son on how to live successfully and repeatedly encourages diligence and warns against being a sloth. As almost all character does diligence starts in our mind with right thinking. Growing up on a dairy farm I was blessed with a Dad who taught us kids how to work hard and more importantly,to enjoy working hard. Now, I have some self-talk rituals that I constantly use to keep the joy of working hard strong in my life. Each morning as I write my to-do list for the day I ask God for guidance, strength, and motivation and thank Him for giving me significant things to do with my life and not putting me on the bench. In the evening before going to sleep I again thank the Lord for the day and what I was able to accomplish for Him and then I ask Him if He would give me a little bit more to do tomorrow than I had today. In the evening I usually pray a short prayer before closing my eyes, “Lord, I want to be able to say what You did just before You were crucified when You declared that You had accomplished all the work the Father had given to You to do”. There is only one thing more enjoyable than working really hard all day long and that is Fishing. When I had been pastoring for just a couple of years I went to an event in Portland for Pastors and their wives where Chuck Swindoll was speaking. He said that the greatest occupational hazard for pastors was sloth. He listed half a dozen reasons why none of which I remember, but I do remember making a commitment to the Lord that I would work as hard as a pastor as I did as a dairy farmer. Proverbs 23:7, In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
The basic message of the book of Proverbs in the Bible is that if you seek for wisdom like silver, or gold, or precious treasure than you will get it. One of the things my Dad used to say often was ” just because you get older doesn’t mean you are necessarily wiser, there are a lot of old fools.” We must seek wisdom diligently, constantly or we will wake up some day and realize that we are an old fool. Wisdom is knowing what to say and what to do in any situation that we find ourselves in. As a pastor who counsels others often I want to have wisdom, as a Dad and grandfather and husband I always want to do and say the right thing. The most important source of wisdom for me over the years is counsel from others. Shortly after the first of our eight kids was born we would meet weekly with a Dad of 12 kids who were the best behaved and smartest most talented kids I had ever seen. When I started pastoring I was so dumb but I knew some very wise and experienced pastors who were willing to meet with me at least monthly and let me ask lots of questions. I have an ongoing goal of reading 100 pages in good books each week to learn and to acquire knowledge, and wisdom. I also listen to good preachers each week. With smart phones and pod casts this is so easy and convient. I ride my stationary bike an hour each day and I read while I ride and listen to the best preachers in the world. It is easy to acquire wisdom and then forget it so I do a lot of writing attempting to put into words on paper what I have learned. Thinking through situations and what I should have said or done and writing it down is a great way to write your own book of Proverbs for life. Psalms 119:97-100 says that reading the Bible will give me more wisdom than the aged or my teachers or even than my enemies. And James 1 promises that If I ask God He will give me wisdom. He won’t give to those who are naive or lazy but God does give wisdom to those who seek it diligently as if their life depends on it.
Of the 12 personal “Purpose Statements” that I wrote, wrote about, read often and meditate on, this one #8, “Be Strong”, has had the greatest impact on my life. In Joshua 1:9 Moses says to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” and in 2 Timothy 2:1, Paul tells Timothy “Be strong”. This command is not talking about physical strength but an inner strength to deal with anything in life and to carry a heavy load of responsibility. It is all about how we think when pressures mount, crisis comes, and major obstacles come into our life that have to be fixed or solved. As I talk to young pastors I often say that their inner strength determines the maximum size of their ministries. I have 5 rules that I follow to “Be strong”. The first is “Never talk tired or stressed”. People often say, “I am so tired”, or “I am so stressed out”, or “I am so busy” or “it is so hard”. I work at not saying things like that because it only makes it worse and it is not what strong people say. Second, “Don’t grumble or complain about anything”. If I am going to be strong, I need to act like a strong person and strong people don’t whine. Third, ” don’t think weak, negative, self pity, or anxious thoughts”. I control my thinking by replacing weak thinking with Bible verses that I have memorized and begin to meditate on them. This requires the daily discipline of memorizing Bible verses and reviewing them.I practice this with immoral thinking, angry thinking, prideful thinking, bitter thinking as well. Forth, I ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit and give me His strength whenever I am feeling tired, discouraged, depressed, or unmotivated. Fifth, I spend time every day “waiting on the Lord” reading the Bible, praying, journaling, reflecting and listening to my thoughts. Isaiah 40 says that those who wait on the Lord will “be renewed in their strength”. An additional key principle is to “Rest systematically”. Rest for me is not only sleeping but doing things that I enjoy and are challenging in a fun way. I would like to say at 85 years of age what Caleb said at that age, “I am as strong today as I was when I started on this journey” about 40 years earlier. I will do my part.
My #7 personal purpose statement is “Train Well”. Most people when they want to overcome a bad habit or character flaw or a sin in their life ” Try Harder”. Trying harder doesn’t change much and usually results in frustration, guilt, and despair. Training as an athlete or a piano or violin player would is what produces steady and lasting growth. A synonym for training is practice, and almost all of us have had experience in sports, music, or other endeavors, and know that to get better at any skill we need to practice. There are five key words that make practice effective. The first word is pressure. We don’t improve without increased pressure that we create for ourselves by choosing harder music, lifting more weight, attempting to run faster, or practice longer. The second key word is gradual. We add or create pressure at a gradual pace so we can grow and change and get better. To much pressure to quickly results in injury in sports and failure and frustration in life. The third word is patience or endurance. We recognize that it takes years of practice to be an excellent piano player so we keep at it without giving up. Those who want to become like Jesus in character in a short time usually don’t even come close because they quit. The forth word is basics. There are basic drills in sports. When players or teams aren’t doing well a coach often takes them back to the basics. There are certain repeated basics that results in automatic responses or behavior in the midst of the game when choices have to be made quickly and without thinking. Living life is the same way. Most poor choices in life are made in the midst of termmoil and pressure because we hadn’t trained ourselves to respond correctly automatically. The basics as a Christian are reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, attending church, examining our life and confessing sin, giving money, worship etc. the fifth word is devotion or commitment or faithfulness. Practice doesn’t work if done occasionally, intermittently, conviently, or comfortably. Daily is usually the price tag for success in any area of life with occasional rest days. The bottom line key for these five key words to happen is personal goals that are clearly written to express exactly who we want to be and what we want to accomplish. If we don’t have a clear picture of what we aspire to we won’t practice faithfully, we just won’t.
My # 6 “Purpose Statement” is “Keep it Simple”. That basically means be content with what we own and work at getting rid of some of the stuff we have. 2 Timothy 2:4 says ” No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” The Apostle Paul is talking to Timothy who he has trained as a pastor on how to be successful in ministry. It basically is a time issue. Everything we own, owns us, we have to take care of it, use it, maintain it. There is 24 hours in a day and we get to use it up every day. It is our choice if we use it up on things that mater or things that don’t. The more we own the less time is available to serve the Lord and people. It is basically an energy issue. What we own owns us, and we have to use energy to wash it, grease it, fix it, and use it. We all have a limited amount of energy and when we get tired we don’t do much that really matters. We tend to think about, worry about, protect from getting stolen the stuff that we own. So this stuff that owns us not only takes our time, our physical energy, but it also uses up our emotional energy. In my life emotional energy is super important in teaching and creating sermons that motivate and inspire those who hear to live for God. It is an issue of money. There is so much good that can be done for people who have needs that we can meet if we have some extra money that is not being used to purchase or take care of stuff. It is an issue of love. The Bible says we can’t love God if we love mammon, the Bible word for stuff. The stuff we own owns us. It takes our time, our energy, we worry about it, it sucks up our money, and we fall in love with it. A garage sale sounds like a good idea or a dumpster.
Just before Jesus ascends into heaven after the crucifixion and resurrection, He gives to His disciples what has been termed the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 when He says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all my commandments, and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”. It seems that if this is the major responsibility given to those who follow Jesus then I should make that one of my main purposes of life. Every person who is a follower of Jesus has a “Spiritual Gift”. This gift is an ability that is given to us by God that is supernatural and intended to do the work of God in the lives of people. God has given me the gift of teaching His Word. I want with all my heart to use this gift to make disciples. A disciple is a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ who is doing the will of God and bearing fruit for God. God has given me this gift but it is my responsibility to develop it and make it better and better. Whenever I preach or teach my Parkinsons isn’t an issue, and the normal weariness that I have most of the time from that disease seems to go away. A key part of the “Great Commission ” is to teach so I am committed to teach as often as I can, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes into my life, and to create opportunities as well. As I have the purpose of making disciples I am committed to teaching and encouraging people to do what disciples do, to faithfully read the Word of God every day, to be devoted to prayer, to be a seeker of wisdom, and to be a fisher of men.