“Unless the Lord builds the house…” {New Year’s thoughts}

Happy New Year!!

So many of my friends and folks I follow have been sharing their resolutions, plans, and goals for 2017. I’ve spent this week working through my own goal-setting game plan, and I now have 8 specific goals that I’m excited to work on this year.

And I finally decided to take the plunge and order an Anchored Press planner for 2017. I might write a more detailed post about that in the future, but so far I am loving it! The short version: In addition to the usual schedule and to-dos, it has a daily devotional and other tools to help nurture your spiritual life.

One of those tools is a goal setting page in the front. There’s a spot at the top of the page to write a Bible verse for the year. Honestly, I’m not usually the sort of person to choose a single word or verse to define my year, but I am the sort of person who hates to leave things blank (haha). I decided to choose something that would help me have the right frame of mind when I come back to reflect on the goals below it.

After a few days, I finally settled on Psalm 127:1a:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

You’re probably more familiar with verses 3-5 of this Psalm, which talks about how children are a blessing from the Lord. But when I read Psalm 127 for the first time a few years ago, I was most struck by the first two verses. Altogether they read:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

[Psalm 127:1-2]

The reason these verses struck me the way they did was because of how they contrast with Proverbs 31. At that time, I was either engaged or newly married, and like many Christian women looking for advice on being a good wife, I kept coming across articles about the Proverbs 31 woman. They were either talking about how to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, or how we shouldn’t feel pressured to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife. I tended to agree with this second assessment, but still felt that the woman described in this passage was a good ideal to aspire to. I wrote some of the verses on note cards, put them in my planner, or made them a phone background. Some of my favorites were:

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.

[Proverbs 31:15]

 

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

[Proverbs 31:27]

These verses encouraged me to be intentional with my time, careful not to waste it. It’s a reminder I still sometimes need.

But I am prone to begin believing that my worth or salvation are dependent on my ability to keep these tenants. In some seasons of life, I have felt that every evening I wasted away on the internet or morning I slept past my alarm was some permanent black mark on my record. I have judged myself on how many to-do list items I had checked off at the end of each day.

So, in one of these seasons, the words of Psalm 127 spoke straight to my heart. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” In my fear of the “bread of idleness,” I had been stuffing myself with a different bread, and not realizing the toll it was taking on my soul.

I know I’m not the only one. In our culture, Christian and otherwise, we pride ourselves on productivity and business and will power. Anxiety disorders are becoming more common as we place more stress on ourselves than we’re designed to handle long-term.

But God’s word teaches a different way.

The Bible tells us this: That we are indeed held to a high standard, higher even than what we could come up with for ourselves. That we are not capable of meeting this benchmark. BUT, that God himself came and fulfilled those requirements on our behalf so that we can walk in freedom. It is not by our own works, but by the work of Christ in us, that we are saved.

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

[Matthew 19:26b]

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

[Ephesians 2:8-9]

I’m so glad that it’s not all up to me, because I am not as “good” as I wish I were!

Today during our worship service, our pastor preached on Hosea 6. In verses 1-3, the Israelites speak of returning to God, but God knows that they cannot keep a promise to remain faithful. He even says that their love is like the morning dew: here one moment, gone the next (verse 4).

The truth is, we are like the Israelites too, making promises to ourselves and to God, but failing often to keep even the most simple ones.

The good news is, God is faithful. If you skip ahead in Hosea, after God’s promises to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness, in the last chapter (14) God promises to eventually call them to repentance and forgive their sins. Not because of anything they do, but because of who he is.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.

[Hosea 14:4]

 

It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.

[Hosea 14:8b]

How good is it that our fruit comes from the Lord!? When I can remember that, it fills me with so much peace. I’m able to work on my goals and aspirations, but without the weight of the world (or my own salvation) on my shoulders.

Which brings me back to Psalm 127. The reason I chose this first verse to help shape my 2017 is because I constantly need this reminder.

There is definitely wisdom in avoiding the “bread of idleness” (it is in the book of wisdom, after all), but I don’t want to trade it for the “bread of anxious toil.” Christ came to give us himself, the bread of life, and letting him “build the house” of my life and goals is far more important to me than any other specifics.

That’s good news I want to reflect on all year long.

With hope because of Christ,

Andria

*All verses are from the ESV

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My goal-setting game plan for 2017

Now that the Christmas frenzy is over, I’m thankful to have this week to live at a slower pace. The lab I work in is currently all packed up to move to a new location next month, so I literally can’t do any lab work this week! I’m still doing some writing and other computer projects, but I can do them from home and spend some time catching up on things around the house. I’m also using some of this time to think about my goals for 2017.

It’s really only in the last couple years that I started setting goals for myself. Initially, my desire to self-improve came out of frustration with the lack of progress I was making in certain areas of my life. I am learning to have a little more grace for myself, but that doesn’t mean I want to become stagnant. Setting goals and working toward them help me know I’m being intentional with my life.

But if you’re like me, you’ve probably failed at more goals than you’ve accomplished. I’ve realized that the act of setting good goals and achieving them is itself a skill, and one that I’ve been pretty bad at in the past.

I’ve tried annual goals… and quarterly goals… and weekly goals.

I’ve tried setting one goal at a time and setting twenty goals at a time.

I’ve tried writing goals down and telling my friends my goals.

And I still ended up feeling like I was spinning my wheels.

This year, I’m doing something a little different. I’ve been listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, This Is Your Life. He’s a Christ-follower and a successful entrepreneur, and his advice on goal-setting from his last 3 episodes is based on research and experience. I’ve taken the thoughts from those episodes, plus some of my other previous experience, and come up with my own game-plan for goal setting. However, I can’t and wouldn’t want to replicate all of his advice here, so if you want to get the context for my game plan, I’d recommend listening to those three episodes.

I usually start brainstorming about my next year’s goals in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I never really do that intentionally, but with all the blogs and posts about goals, it’s hard not to get thinking. This week I am taking some time each day to work through the process below and formalize my goals. However, you could probably do something similar in a much shorter time span. In the past, I have taken a few hours to go sit in a coffee shop by myself to do this sort of planning. My process this year:

 

1. Pray

Where there is no vision [no revelation of God and His word], the people are unrestrained; But happy and blessed is he who keeps the law [of God].

Proverbs 29:18 (AMP)

In my mind, there is no point in setting a goal that is not in line with God’s will. I want to ensure that I am approaching my yearly goals with an eternal perspective and purpose. I don’t need every goal to come to me carved in stone and delivered by angels, but I do want to test my goals against God’s commands to love Him and love others.

I’ll spend some time before each of my planning sessions praying that God would help me set and pursue goals that would be glorifying to Him, and not only for my own selfish purposes. This is something I know I have to continue to pray throughout the year, because I have a tendency to take plans and intentions which are good (e.g. eating well and working out because it helps me have the energy to better serve others) and turn them inward (worrying about my diet and exercise habits for reasons of vanity). That’s also when I tend to stop having grace for myself, so it’s bad all around, and I definitely want to start on the right foot.

 

2. Brainstorm

Usually by this point, I already have a few goals in mind, but I want to get them all down on paper and come up with some more.

To help me with this process, I like to use a concept from the book The Miracle Morning. I haven’t read the book; honestly I found this list on Pinterest! The concept is called “Level 10 Life,” and it’s based on evaluating and goal-setting in 10 areas of your life. For me, they basically serve as reminders of different areas in which I might want to set goals for myself. They are (in no particular order):

  1. Personal Growth & Development
  2. Spirituality
  3. Family & Friends
  4. Significant other/romance (Marriage)
  5. Finances
  6. Career/Business (or School for perpetual students like me)
  7. Health/Fitness
  8. Physical Environment (Home/Office)
  9. Contribution/Giving
  10. Fun & Recreation

Most people (myself included) tend to focus on a few specific areas like Health/Fitness, Finances, or Spirituality. Using this list helps me remember to be more well-rounded. What good would it be to have my health and finances in order if I’ve let all my personal relationships fall to the wayside? I will try to end this step with at least 2-3 possible goals per category.

 

3. Narrow and Hone

In previous years, I have tried to work on several goals from each category (i.e. the list I made above) at one time. That turned out to be way too many. According to Michael Hyatt, having around 7-8 goals per year is much more reasonable. So, my plan is to pick 1 goal from each of 8 categories. These will be the things which I think would have the most positive impact on my life if I accomplished them next year. After doing that, I am going to ask if they pass the SMART goals test, and modify them until they do.

If you’re not familiar with SMART goals, it’s a list of characteristics that make goals more effective. Note that there are some variations on this list, but in general goals should be specific, measurable, ambitious but attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Specific

Unspecific goals are not motivating, or measurable (see below). Rather than saying that you want to have a better relationship with your spouse, a specific goal might be to complete a specific “relationship challenge” with or for your spouse, or to go on a vacation for your anniversary. Saying you want to “get healthy” is great, but you’ll likely feel overwhelmed by that idea unless you figure out what getting healthy means to you.

Measurable

Similarly, you should be able to answer the question, “Have I completed this goal?” If you can’t, then the goal isn’t measurable. It’s difficult to see progress of any kind, which is key to staying motivated, if you don’t know how you are defining “success.”

Ambitious but ATTAINABLE

Michael Hyatt talks in his podcasts about setting goals that are in the “discomfort zone.” That is, they aren’t “comfortable,” and require a bit of a stretch, but they’re not delusional. A good goal should be something you can reasonably do but not so easy that there is no fun in the challenge. If it’s something you’ve already done before, you may want to find something a little more difficult!

Relevant

A good goal should actually be relevant to what you want/need to accomplish more broadly in life. I think of this the way I described it above: What would have the most positive impact on my life if I accomplished it? Sure it would be fun to take an online photography course, but given that I don’t have the financial resources, time, or inclination to start a photography hobby right now, this goal would probably lead me to a dead end right now. Perhaps it is an idea to revisit in another season of life. However, taking a course on vegan cooking, which I already do but would like to get better at, would be fun and would help me create a wider variety of healthy and inexpensive meals, feeding into other broader goals about health and finances. This characteristic is a filter I will use when choosing my final 8 goals.

Time-sensitive

I have often heard that goals should have a deadline, but I’ve been really bad about this! I know from experience that projects without deadlines often work their way down the to-do list indefinitely. Even if you don’t meet the deadline exactly, having it there helps create a sense of urgency, and can even help people who are holding you accountable to actually hold you accountable.

Since I have 8 goals for the year, I am going to put the deadline for 2 of them each quarter of the year (so 2 will be “due” March 31, 2 June 30, and so on). I’m going to base this on the time I think it will take to accomplish each goal, also keeping in mind that I’ll work on them most intently in the quarter that they are due (so I’m not juggling the bulk of all 8 goals all year long).

 

4. Flesh out the details

Again, based on some ideas from Michael Hyatt’s podcast, I have a few questions I want to answer once I have each goal in its final form. They are:

What is my why? What will I gain if I accomplish this goal? What will I lose if I don’t?

This question is all about motivation. As I revisit these goals throughout the year, I want to remember why I made them in the first place.

What is my first step toward achieving this goal?

This question is all about action. A big, ambitious goal can feel overwhelming at first, but you can usually think of one or two action steps that will get you started in the right direction.  That first step is something you can actually put on your to-do list or calendar.

 

5. Make plans to stay on top of it

One thing I’ve sometimes done well in the past is with checking in on my goals on a regular basis. I usually like to take the first Monday of the month (or last Monday of the previous month, depending on when it falls) to have a “date” with my planner. I’ll buy myself a fancy coffee drink and sit down for an hour or so to review the previous month and make plans for the next month. It helps me to figure out when these days are in advance, so I can have them on my calendar and guard them from other commitments.

This year, I’m making sure 3 things are on my agenda for this time: 1) Review the “why” for each goal to stay motivated, 2) celebrate any progress toward each goal, and 3) identify 1-2 next action steps for each goal.

I’m hoping that this process will help me stay motivated all year long and make progress on the “big stuff.”

Do you usually set goals for the year? What kinds of goals are you setting for 2017?