Hebrews 12:1-3 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Philippians 3:12-16 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
While I am glad that the walk-a-thon is behind me, I have to admit I miss the focus, I miss the challenge, I miss the preparation that led up to the walk-a-thon. The goal of walking across Putnam County gave me increased focus, tenacity, and determination. There was a resolve in my spirit and a reliance on God that I hadn’t had for a long time and that I already miss. I told Thom I feel like I need a new physical goal; like I need to train to climb a mountain somewhere. It’s not that I like the physical activity, but I like the challenge. I guess I like the feeling of accomplishment. I like forward progress. I like to be out there a little bit on the edge where if God doesn’t come through I look like a fool. So, you have been warned. I am looking for something risky, dangerous, and difficult to set my mind and heart on! Maybe I’ll learn to juggle swords or walk on glass! Stay tuned!
What I have realized as I have processed all of this is the power of setting a goal. Goals will keep us disciplined and moving in a forward direction. I must comment on our culture as I believe that often what we see in the natural parallels what is taking place in the spirit realm. I believe many are satisfied with status quo, just getting by, making it through the day, punching the time clock, hoping Friday comes soon, and dreading the start of Monday. They sort of stay the same throughout life. They don’t go too far, learn too much, or risk anything. They not only play it safe, they play it boring, and they become their own minimizers, their own limiters, and they never achieve their potential.
In last week’s message I mentioned each of us is given a gift or ability to show others who God is. I also said we are to use what we are given to achieve our God-given potential. Neither of those will happen by accident. They have to happen on purpose. Goals will help us make forward progress in our physical lives which God desires and they will also help us make forward progress in our spiritual lives which God desires as well.
Hebrews 12:1 tells us we are to run a race that has been marked out for us. While we trust God to set the race up, we must recognize we have a part to play in order to cooperate with His plan. In order to run the race, we have to endure some training. Listen to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I believe too many people are going through life aimlessly, many without even recognizing there is a race to run, one that requires they engage in some goal setting and training in order to make it to the finish line. Spiritual goal setting will help us achieve our God-given potential.
Setting goals keeps you from wasting time. Ephesians 5:16 tells us we are supposed to be smart about the way we use our time. I didn’t think I had time to train to walk across the county. I am a busy person. Our family life is full. Our ministry life is full. But setting the goal of walking across the county forced me to find time to train. Now that I no longer have that big goal of walking a great distance, I am finding it hard to find time to even walk three miles a few times a week. What a difference the power of a goal makes! Each of us has the same number of minutes and hours in a day, and each of us has one lifetime to try to figure out how to use those minutes. I want to be productive and fruitful with my life. I want to make a difference, and I also want to enjoy life. I want to set goals to go places and have experiences that I think will be challenging, rewarding, and fun!
Setting goals helps you overcome distractions. Distractions can be the death of your dreams. How many of you are willing to admit right now you have an unfinished project waiting on you? Sometimes those unfinished projects drag on for years! Goals will help us finish what we start. You may have heard the story of John Stephen Akhwari, the marathon runner from Tanzania who finished last at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. No last-place finisher in a marathon ever finished quite so last.
Injured along the way, he hobbled into the stadium with his leg bloodied and bandaged. It was more than an hour after the rest of the runners had completed the race. Only a few spectators were left in the stands when Akhwari finally crossed the finish line.
When asked why he continued to run despite the pain, Akhwari replied, “My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me here to finish.” (http://odb.org/2003/04/29/keep-running/)
There is never a shortage of distractions. It will never be a “better time” for you to set spiritual goals than this time. Something will always come up to try to derail you. You have to make up your mind to stay the course no matter what.
Setting goals simplifies your decision making process. As I was training for the walk-a-thon I knew what I was going to do every morning. I didn’t have to wonder what time I should get up or what I should do. The first thing I did was walk. It just became routine. I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to ask myself, “Do I feel like walking?” “Is it nice enough outside to walk?” “Should I skip today?” Knowing the county trek was ahead of me, and knowing I wouldn’t be able to accomplish it without the daily discipline of walking many miles I just got up and got to it. When you know you are getting up early to walk, another decision is made for you. Going to bed early isn’t an option. That means you get off the computer or turn off the TV or get home early. Even though I was fitting in a lot of walking time into my busy schedule, in some ways, the rest of my schedule became streamlined, simpler and easier.
Setting goals will produce persistence and determination. I will add, if you share your goals with other people, the persistence and determination are more likely to be produced. Once I went public with the walk-a-thon and announced the date, there was no turning back. I couldn’t start asking people to sponsor me and then decide I was crazy. I persisted and was determined to accomplish the goal even though I knew I was crazy! (Benefits of goal setting adapted from this message at (http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/setting-goals-for-success-sesan-banjo-sermon-on-goals-163783.asp)
Many of you in the corporate setting or in professional settings where you undergo regular training have heard about the benefits of SMART goals. SMART goals are those which are:
For instance, people who set a goal to lose weight that just say, “I’m going to lose weight” are much less likely to lose weight than people who say, “I’m going to lose fifteen pounds.” Getting specific about your goals will help you achieve them. Fifteen pounds is a measureable amount of weight. Whatever goal you set has to be able to be measured so you know when it has been accomplished.
The goals we set need to be challenging, but attainable. I could set a goal to become the world champion arm wrestler, but no matter how much of a body builder I became (I see visions of muscle now dancing in your heads) no matter how dedicated I was to lifting weights, I would never have the “guns” to pull it off.
That leads me to the fourth letter in the word, “SMART.” It wasn’t realistic for me to think I could walk across the county in one day. That’s why I did it over four days. It was still challenging, but doable if I followed through with my training.
SMART goals are also timely. I gave myself two months to train and four days to accomplish the task. I put it on the calendar. I didn’t leave it open-ended and simply say, “Someday I am going to walk across the County.”
Let’s look at spiritual goal setting. First of all, are you in the race? Galatians 5:7 “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
Paul is talking about people who started well. They intended to follow Jesus. They were running well. They were keeping a good pace, but something happened. I know there are many people who love God, but over time, other things have gotten in the way of their pursuit of Him. Something has “cut in” on that pursuit and they have stopped running or have been pushed off course by people or circumstances. Life can be tough, but let me say, you are the only one responsible for your spiritual progress. Whether I preach in a style that tickles your fancy or challenges you or whether you “get something” out of our worship experience or not or whether you like the kinds of classes and spiritual experiences we offer here at TVCOG or not, not one staff member, not one ministry leader, not one Bible teacher is responsible for your spiritual growth. How far you will go spiritually is up to you.
One goal to set is to not let people or circumstances get in the way of your spiritual pursuits. Now how can that be a SMART goal? To be specific you could determine you are going to grow spiritually by reading your Bible outside of church. To drill down even more, perhaps you could determine you are going to read the book of Proverbs. To be measurable perhaps you would say you are going to start reading your Bible three times per week for fifteen minutes each time. Most of us in this room can count to three and can set a timer for fifteen minutes, so you would know whether or not your mission was accomplished. You could even determine the days would be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That is definitely an attainable goal and realistic goal. If reading is a challenge for you, there are ways to listen to the Word being read which is what I enjoy doing most mornings. As far as being timely, you could say you want to get through the book of Proverbs in thirty days.
Perhaps your goal could be an increased commitment to your church attendance. For those of you who do come every week except for a vacation, maybe you could start attending our Wednesday night classes. If you come with an open heart, more Bible teaching will result in greater understanding. For those of you who only make it once or twice a month, making that commitment to not let anything distract you from getting here on Sunday mornings would be a great goal to set.
“Nextstepdiscipleship.org” is a great, family-friendly website which has super short discipleship lessons and videos on how to grow in Christ. One goal I want to set is for our family to view all of them together before Christmas. Notice I didn’t say we will gather nightly for a half hour of family devotions every day until our kids graduate from High School. Noble, but a ridiculous goal because it isn’t realistic! Let me encourage you as you think about some goals to improve your spiritual life that you could consider smaller goals that would be achieved in reasonable time periods. Then you can set additional goals to keep you moving forward. We can all set some kind of goal this morning which will strengthen our faith and help us move forward.
Maybe you can sign up for a daily email devotion to be delivered to your inbox or phone? It could be something that just takes a couple minutes to read but would be something that could impact the entire course of your day.
What kind of goals can you set to help you develop a spiritual mind? Perhaps taking a thirty day challenge to listen to only Christian music? I’m not going to tell you any certain style or genre of music is ungodly or satanic (though SKA are GRUNGE are debateable ). I believe God created all music. I don’t believe Satan created any certain beat or style. You may love the honkytonk sound of country music, and I am sure there are great country songs and great country artists, and some if not many who do love Jesus, but there is quite a bit of content in country music (and every style) that doesn’t glorify God or put your mind in the right place. I can embrace lyrics like, “God bless the broken road that led me straight to you,” and “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.” Those kinds of lyrics move and empower me.
But to just listen indiscriminately to any station on the radio puts my mind and heart on the wrong things. We have just spent two weeks of sermons on getting our hearts and minds in the right place and one twenty-six and a half minute sermon each week is no match for a steady diet of drinking, cheating, dying, back-stabbing, lying, cussing, loneliness, murder, misery, lust, and self-destruction, all of which are common country song (or any genre) themes. I Googled “Themes of Country” music and all of those were listed. There were a few positive themes like patriotism and redemption, but overall, the themes that were listed aren’t themes that will put my mind on obedience to God. They don’t even build me up as a person or put me in a good mood! In fact, I just took a minute to Google the top country song right now, and it is a beauty by Luke Bryan called “That’s My Kind of Night.” Here’s what it says:
- I got that real good feel good stuff up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck. Rollin’ on 35s pretty girl by my side. You got that sun tan skirt and boots waiting on you to look my way and scoot your little hot self over here, Girl hand me another beer, yeah!
- All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown, but you look like the kind that likes to take it way out… out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat. Floatin’ down the Flint River, catch us up a little catfish dinner, gonna sound like a winner, when I lay you down and love you right. Yeah, that’s my kind of night!
- You can hang your t-shirt on a limb, hit that bank and we can ease on in, Soak us up a little moonlight. You know I know what you like, yeah!
My kind of your kind of it’s this kind of night. We dance in the dark and your lips land on mine. Gonna get our love on. Time to get our buzz on.
Who felt inspired to love and serve God as you heard those poetic thoughts? Anyone?
So you all don’t think I’m picking on Country music, I also Googled the number one rock song in the country. Here are the inspirational lyrics of the number one song, “The Love Club.”
I’m in a clique but I want out
It’s not the same as when I was punched
In the old days there was enough
The card games and ease with the bitter salt of blood
I was in but I want out
My mother’s love is choking me
I’m sick of words that hang above my head
What about the kid? It’s time the kid got free
Be a part of the love club
Everything will glow for you
Go get punched for the love club
For the love club.
I joined the club and it’s all on
There are fights for being my best friend
And the girls get their claws out
There’s something about hanging out with the wicked kids
Take the pill make it too real.
The other day I forgot my old address
I’m sitting pretty on the throne,
There’s nothing more I want
Except to be alone.
Awkward to hear those in the sanctuary, right? A bit uncomfortable? I read those lyrics and I wasn’t inspired. I was sad. They made me feel a bit hopeless for a minute. I can’t imagine just leaving the radio on and listening to those kinds of messages over and over and over. If that’s your habit, maybe a good spiritual goal is to switch to K-Love radio for thirty days.
You see, In order for us to succeed spiritually, as well as in every area of our lives, there are things we are going to have to start doing and things we are going to have to stop doing. There are things that will need to be added to our lives and things that need to be subtracted! Hebrews 12:1 tells us to throw off the things that hinder us and to discard the weight of sin that easily entangles us so that we can run the race marked out for us.
What goal could you set to dump some dead spiritual weight or to discard sin in your life? Perhaps you are in a relationship that has now compromised your Christian convictions and it has gotten you spiritually off track. That relationship has got to go. Perhaps you are hanging with the wrong crowd, being influenced by people who want you also to live contrary to God’s word. Those relationships have to go. Maybe you spend significant time on the computer, playing on your I-phone, or watching TV when you could be cultivating your spiritual self, investing in relationship with someone else, doing a service project, doing something to better your family, etc. It is amazing how much a person can accomplish if they turn off the TV or limit their computer time. Maybe it is fear that hinders you, and you need to set a goal on purpose to help you overcome your fear. Maybe you are addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography or some kind of sexual bondage which is keeping you from having pure thoughts, a pure heart and the ability to spend your money and time God’s way and to use your body to glorify God rather than for momentary, perversions. What goals could you set to rid yourselves of those things which are weighing you down and taking you off track spiritually and personally?
Maybe things are rolling along well for you spiritually, but this morning God would lead you to set some goals in your friendships, your finances, your work or education, or in the area of your physical health. You are more than your spiritual self. God desires for every area of your life to be blessed and growing.
Today is a day to throw off excuses and quit procrastinating. If anyone had good reasons to make excuses it was Jesus. Let me share just some of the things that were against Him that could have distracted and kept Him from achieving His goals:
- He was born to an unwed mother – Mt. 1:18-19
- Born to poor parents – Luke 2:24
- His life was threatened as a baby – Matt. 2:13ff
- His birth was the cause of terrible suffering – Mt. 2:16ff
- He was raised in a despicable town – Nazareth – Luke 2:39
- His father died when He was young – Mt. 13:53-58
- He was homeless – Mt. 8:20; Luke 9:58
- He was hated and opposed by others – Mark 14:1-2
- He was charged with insanity – Mark 3:21
- He was charged with demon possession – Mark 3:22
- He was opposed by His family – Mark 3:21-22
- He was rejected, hated and opposed by the audiences who came to hear Him speak – Matt. 13:53-58; Luke 4:28-29.
- He was betrayed by a close friend – Mark 14:10-11; 18
- He was left alone, rejected and forsaken by all of His friends – Mark 14:50.
- He was tried before the high court of the land and tried with treason – John 18:33.
- He was executed as a common criminal by means of crucifixion – John 19:16ff.
And guess what? None of that kept Jesus from accomplishing His life’s goals! Today is a day to set spiritual and personal goals for growth and victory.