Gearing Up for the New Year: Charting a Course

Now that you’ve (hopefully) set some goals, it’s time to get down to business. You need to make a plan.

Planning comes more naturally to some people than to others. Some of us (raising my hand) feel like we can’t move forward without an exhaustive plan, while others like to wing it. The best approach, perhaps, lies somewhere in between. 

We don’t want to become bogged down with planning out every tiny detail, because life is too short and messy and unpredictable. If you wait until you feel 100% ready, you’ll never move forward. However, that doesn’t mean planning is useless. Although we can’t plan for every contingency, we should factor known variables — like our own personal limitations — into our plans. An imperfect plan is better than no plan.

So in this week’s devotionals, we focused on grounding our big dreams in reality. Here’s what we talked about:

Counting the Cost

By the end of Luke 14, Jesus’ ministry must have looked like a huge success. Luke tells us that great crowds accompanied him. His followers probably expected a word of celebration or encouragement. Instead, Jesus chose this moment to preach about the cost of discipleship. Following Him, He told the crowds, would be an all-or-nothing endeavor. They would have to be prepared to forsake everything else to be His disciples.

Jesus said this not to discourage them, but to prepare them for reality. What sort of person, He asked, decides to build a tower without first figuring out how much it will cost and whether he can afford it? A foolish one. 

Let’s not be foolish in our New Years’ resolutions. It’s ok to set big, audacious goals. But we’re unlikely to be successful if we don’t put some practical thought and planning into our dreams.

Action step: Spend some time thinking about what you’ll have to do to achieve your goals. Be honest with yourself about how much time and work it will take. Think about what you might have to sacrifice. Prepare yourself for the obstacles you might face. Count the cost and make sure you have what you need to finish — whether that’s emotional support, a step-by-step plan, an accountability partner, or time set aside specifically for working toward your goal.

Pacing Yourself

The tortoise and the hare was NOT my favorite fable when I was a kid. It’s still not, because I’m not a naturally patient person. I don’t like to waste time, and I don’t like to wait. Once I set my mind to something, I want to go RIGHT NOW, AT FULL SPEED, WITHOUT STOPPING until I finish. 

That approach works fine with some things — with simple projects, short distances, and small tasks. But it doesn’t work well for big, important things. You won’t win a marathon by sprinting, because running at top speed isn’t sustainable over long distances. You may start strong, but you’ll run out of steam before you finish. Similarly, you won’t achieve any big, long-term goals if you approach them the same way you do everyday tasks. You have to pace yourself.

In Galatians 6, we are promised that we will reap the fruits of our labor — but only if we don’t give up. So do what it takes to make sure you won’t give up.

Action step: Commit to chasing your dreams the way you would run a marathon. Give it your all, but be smart about it. Break big goals up into small, manageable steps, and celebrate every little victory along the way.

Expecting Adversity

You can expect that as you make progress toward your goals, you’ll encounter adversity. Why? Because everyone does. Matthew 5:45 reminds us that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Similarly, Ecclesiastes 9:2 says that “the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil.” 

In light of this, there are a few things we should do:

  1. First, don’t read too much into hiccups. Although difficulty doesn’t always prove you’re on the right path, it doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path, either.
  2. Look for the silver lining in adversity. Embrace it. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-5, we can rejoice in our struggles, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
  3. Learn to let things go. Despite our best efforts to plan and prepare, we can’t control all the variables in our lives. Don’t waste too much time or energy trying to figure out why something happened — learn from your mistakes, but don’t let yourself wallow in bitterness or self-blame.

Action step: Go into 2020 with realistic expectations. Achieving your goals won’t be easy. You will face challenges and obstacles. There will be doubters and nay-sayers. You will struggle, and it won’t be pretty. But that’s ok —  just keep going.

Picking Your Battles

As part of counting the cost, we need to pick our battles. Before going to war, a wise king would ask himself “whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand.” If the answer is no (as it likely is), then he should shift gears and try diplomacy instead. Surrender, retreat, concessions — though not ideal, these solutions are the wisest course of action in some situations.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid or abandon every battle that you’re unlikely to win. Sometimes the steep price of victory is worth it. But sometimes it just isn’t. There are hills to die on — and then there are regular old hills. It’s up to us to learn the difference.

Action step: Choose your battles wisely. Like every other human, you have a limited amount of time and energy, so prioritize the things that matter most to you.

Knowing Yourself

You’ve probably heard the saying, “When you know better, you do better.” I think this wisdom applies to how well we know ourselves and how well we achieve our goals. The more we know about ourselves, the more we can accomplish, because our plans will take our strengths and weaknesses into account. When it comes to this, what you don’t know will certainly hurt you.

I think we’re all a little scared of what we’ll find if we look at ourselves too closely, but this step is important. Ignoring your weaknesses won’t make them go away; it will just ensure they take you by surprise. And you can’t assume your strengths will come into play automatically; you have to actively exercise your gifts.

Action step: Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Think about how they might advance or interfere with your goals and factor that into your plans for 2020.

This weekend, get out a sheet of paper (or open a Google doc) and start writing. List your strengths and weaknesses. Consider the obstacles you might face and how you’ll overcome them. Take some time and really count the cost of pursuing your goals. 

Finally, come up with a plan. Break up your goal into smaller steps. Set some deadlines. Start with quarterly and monthly goals. Then set weekly and daily goals as you go along. These smaller goals will keep you moving toward your bigger goals without getting overwhelmed, and they give you something to celebrate along the way. ( I recommend Ruth Soukup’s method. Her (IM)Perfectly Productive Bundle, in particular, has a lot of great info and tools you can use.)

You may also want to consider investing in a planner that includes some sort of goal-setting component. Ruth Soukup’s Living Well Planner is one example, but you can find many others, too. The important thing is to find a system that will help you stay focused, organized, and motivated. 

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