A New Year can make for a great time to put the past behind us, renew our priorities and focus on changes in our lifestyle. Have you ever approached a New Year with ambition and zeal for change only to sense your initial enthusiasms lose momentum and your resolutions slowly disintegrate? I too have felt the excitement of setting goals in the New Year and the disappointment of falling terribly short of reaching those very same objectives. Yet, I believe there is hope for those who desire to make progress in this New Year and the answer is found in the power of prayer.
For the last five years my friend Jon and I have set goals for our personal lives. We take time at the end of each year and individually walk through an exercise to set goals for our relationships (with God, family, friends), our health (mental, emotional, physical and spiritual) and our stewardship (over our work, spiritual gifts, finances and possessions). Once we’ve written out our goals, we meet together to discuss each goal and to encourage, counsel and pray for one another. We gather together again at mid-year to review our progress, our failures and our hopes for the second half of the season.
In the first year that we set goals I was full of hope as I wrote out all the desires of my heart for the New Year. My goals were quite ambitious and multifaceted. Yet at the middle of the year when we reviewed our goals together, I had accomplished little to nothing of what I had set out to do. In fact, I had even forgotten a good portion of the goals I had set only 6 months prior. I was determined to make the rest of the year more fruitful, but was again disappointed and disheartened by my lack of progress at year end.
As the upcoming year approached, I struggled to find the courage to set new goals. I realized that my goals done in my strength would only produce more of the same results. During this moment of discouragement, I sensed that God was gently reminding me of my utter dependence upon Him. I began to pray and ask God for His guidance as I considered setting new goals in each category for the upcoming twelve months.
Seeking God for Your New Year Resolutions
As I began to write out new goals for the upcoming year, with God’s guidance through prayer, I was directed to find Bible verses to support each goal. By doing so, I was better able to align myself with God’s will and purposes for my life. In some instances, my goals became more focused and less vague. Instead of pursuing “to grow deeper in my walk with God”, my goal focused specifically on learning to trust God more in the upcoming year.
As I prayerfully considered the previous year’s goals I realized some goals were overly ambitious for one year. I sensed that God was telling me to keep my life in balance by seeking gradual progress and avoiding over strenuous goals in any one category. My first year’s goal for my physical health included running on the treadmill every day. After having an injury part way through the year, this goal was soon abandoned. In the upcoming years, I focused less on “mileage” and more on “regular maintenance” and care for my body, God’s temple.
In prayer, I was also reminded of the areas God had begun to work on in my life the previous year and often sought to align my goals for the upcoming year accordingly. One year I knew I needed to focus on overcoming ungodly anger, another year I needed to gain greater victory over anxiety.
Praying Through Your Goals
I print all my goals out and put them at the front of my prayer journal. During my prayer time each morning I pray over the goals for that year. This has produced several significant changes. For one, my prayer time helps me to stay mindful of my commitments before God. Each day as I pray, I am reminded how God has directed me to grow in my walk with Him. During difficult times in my days the Holy Spirit will remind me of my goals and my morning prayer.
Secondly, by committing these goals in prayer, I acknowledge before God that “apart from (Him I) could do nothing.” (John 15:5) As I commit each goal to God in prayer, God has worked on my behalf giving me strength and favor to achieve these objectives. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3, NIV)
Since I’ve incorporated daily prayer for my goals, I have made great improvements and growth in character and usefulness for God’s kingdom. I know for a fact that these achievements are a direct result of God’s answer to my prayers. My goals in essence have become prayer requests. They are areas of my life that I am inviting God to reform, transform, renew or empower. God has proved to be genuinely interested in assisting me in meeting godly, biblical goals as long as I acknowledged my dependence upon Him and give Him all the glory.
The Apostle Paul’s Example
The apostle Paul is a great example of one who learned to commit his goals to prayer. He wrote to the Roman church, “I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.” (Romans 1:9b-10) His goal to visit some churches was at times thwarted by the enemy (1 Thess 2:18), but other times he was restricted by God’s sovereign plans. “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” (Acts 16:6) Paul’s example shows that we need to persist in prayer, but always remain sensitive and flexible to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to redirect our goals in order to align with God’s greater purposes. He wrote to the church in Rome, “but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.” (Romans 16:7)
Letting God Set Your Goals
In the last two years, I’ve gone a step further in seeking God for the goals I set. Instead of taking time to pray to God for His guidance and then writing my goals, I take time to ask the Lord what my goals should be for each category and then quietly wait listening to what He speaks to my heart. I’ve found that by listening to the Lord in prayer I can further align myself with His specific purposes for my life and therefore have greater success in reaching the goals He gives me.
When I know my goals have come out of my time in prayer with God, I can go to Him with confidence asking for his strength and grace to achieve these goals. God will empower us to achieve those goals that are aligned with His will. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14, 15)
Making Progress in the Will of God
By committing my goal setting and the goals I have to prayer throughout the year, I have seen wonderful progress. Even when I don’t completely reach a goal, I no longer feel defeated and discouraged. Knowing that my goals have been submitted and committed to the care of Almighty God, I can trust that either His timing or His plans are different than my own. This brings me back to seeking Him in the New Year to better align myself with His plans and desire for my life. Each new year, I learn more about the heart of God and His will for my life and make advancement in finding His will for me.
As you approach a New Year, consider asking God what goals He would have for you to reach. Share these goals with a good friend, preferably one who will help you to discern God’s will in prayer and also pray for your success. Then pray for God to give you the grace and courage to fearlessly attempt what only He can do in and through you.