This is the time of year when the resolutions or goals you set on January 1 can start to come undone. With a long weekend already here in Australia, the fuel for staying motivated and disciplined might be already draining from your tank.
What if your overall goal for 2020 was for it to be the best year of your Christian life? How can you prevent fatigue, distractions or loss of interest from eroding best intentions?
“You can’t just go 100 per cent all the time.” – Stephanie Dunk
“When you have an idea of the goals you want to set – which will be specific to each person – then the way to make the year ‘great’ under God is to start to think about things like rhythms and seasons and sustaining practices.” So advises Stephanie Dunk, a lecturer and researcher in strategic management and organisational behaviour.
Yes, setting realistic goals for 2020 requires recognising the need for rest and refreshment, and building that into what you believe God wants you to achieve.
Leading a masterclass this week on Goal Setting and Year Planning at the School of Theology – run by Anglican Deaconess Ministries in Sydney – Dunk will not be pushing participants to pursue every dream or ambition they can muster. Instead, she promotes working within the limitations we all have.
“Build into your year an understanding of ‘you can’t just go 100 per cent all the time’,” says Dunk, who is ADM’s Chief of Operations and previously worked at Australian College of Theology, University of Sydney and Alphacrucis College.
“God has set up for us, in creation, an expectation that we do need rest. That we do need to spend time with him. We need to refresh ourselves in his word. We need to refresh ourselves in community.”
Dunk recommends prayerfully considering all the amazing things God is doing across the world – and then narrowing down to the particular part he has called us to, given our circumstances and abilities. We can move from God’s big picture to our own lives, and then get specific about how years, months, weeks and days have their own rhythm of activity and rest.
“It’s about having a direction for your efforts.” – Stephanie Dunk
But is there not a problem with Christians setting any targets to aim at? What about what it says in James 4:13-15, a passage often plucked out by someone wanting to shoot down the plans we can make: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Dunk has heard this retort before and confidently says James 4:13-15 does not speak against making plans – “and there are so many examples throughout the Bible of people making plans and carrying through their plans.”
“This is a beautiful passage to moderate the level of control that people feel they have over their lives.”
Dunk emphasises that the passage itself emphasises “if it is the Lord’s will …” The defining aspect of goal setting and year planning , according to Dunk, has to be anchored in who actually sets the agenda and how we throw ourselves into our part of that.
“Setting goals is not about predicting the future. It’s not about saying with certainty that something will happen or by my own power I will do this.
“It’s about having a direction for your efforts. So, everyone will be expending effort through their lives – even if you are expending your effort to do the least amount possible!
“You will be doing through your life, so the discipline of goal setting is about directing that effort, consciously, towards the things God has laid out for you.”