“I am resolved, no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delights…” So one of the great gospel songs begins. I have often heard and sung that song and it is one of my favorites. It expresses a resolution to be closer to Jesus and to follow him throughout this world and into the next. One of the issues that arises, though is the practical question of “how” to do that. When we start to ask that question it takes on another dimension. It’s a lot like our new year’s resolutions. If you have made new year’s resolutions before, you know that most of us almost never keep them. I looked at a resolution I made last year. It said, “Lose 50 lbs in 6 months.” When I finished the year I had not lost any weight. I comforted myself by saying,”Well, at least I didn’t gain any.” But the real problem was that the resolution took more of the form of a hope or a wish, than it did a concrete goal.
One of the things I learned when studying New Testament Greek, was that verbs have moods. Later, as an English teacher, I taught that as well, though I really can’t remember learning that in English. In Greek class we learned that sometimes verbs (actions words) were conveyed in the indicative mood. This is the mood of reality. I went to the store. “Went” was my action, and I really did. Related is the imperative mood, which indicates a command, “Go to the store!” and the expectation is probably that you can do it--that’s reality too. There’s another mood, though, called the subjunctive mood--in step away from reality. “I should go to the store.” Rather than doing it, I just knew that I should. I mean, the reality is that I could have done it, but whether I did or not remains to be seen. In fact, using the subjunctive probably means I haven’t done it--at least not yet. Finally, there is the optative mood. This is two degrees from reality: “I wish I could go to the store.” The expectation that I can even try, is almost not even there.
So, why the grammar lesson? Because often we need a change of mood. Too many times our dreams are, just that, dreams. Our resolutions are often nothing but an expression of what we know we should be doing. But in order to really bring our dreams, our resolutions to fruition, we’ve got to make them mean something. And we’ve got to have a PLAN for putting them into action. When I wanted I wanted to lose wait, that was an admirable--optative--goal. But simply writing it down, doesn’t make it happen. In my case, I remembered that was my resolution, though I had totally forgotten the six month time frame. I didn’t consistently put it into action or frame it in a way that I could. What would have made it better then? How about this:
Make the wish into a SMART goal. If you have read anything about strategic planning or goal setting, then you’ve probably seen this acronym. The acronym has taken on sort of a life of its own, because the words it stand for vary slightly according to the source you read. What we’re talking about are goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Take that for what you will. Don’t make ‘em too broad. Make sure you can tell whether you’ve reached your goal and make sure it’s something you can actually do and is worth doing. Also, give yourself a deadline. When I was going through the office in the summer camp I used to manage, I found sign that belonged to the old manager: “I don’t work well under pressure, but without it, I don’t work at all.” Now what’s funny about all this, is that my New Year’s resolution on weight loss actually met the criteria for a SMART. Specific--Me, lose weight. Measurable--50 lbs, any bathroom scale will do. Achievable--I know someone who had “I LOST 50” on her license plate, and anything that has been done, can be done. Relevant--as long as my doctor and the reflection in my mirror keep haranguing me. Time-bound--6 months is sufficient. But it still went wrong. So now what?
Create a plan to fulfill the goal. How will I lose the weight? Eating right. Okay, what kind of diet, how many calories? What about exercise? What type, how often? Even though my goal was specific, I needed an even more specific action plan. I also needed to
Periodically review the plan. I mean, I basically had given up on it right? If not, how would I have forgotten half the resolution a year later. A written plan is good, and regularly reviewing to check for progress and examine motivations is even better.
So, there we have it--a foolproof way to set and keep goals, right? Welf, self-help is okay, but what we really need, as people, is God-help. Proverbs 16:9 says “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Often our plans are not God’s plans. Often life sends us trials and our own concrete, indicative, goals are are sent flying back into the subjunctive and optative moods. From that point, it’s hard to know where to turn. But, God says turn to me. We have a pretty modern American perspective, we modern Americans. We want happiness, sure. And prosperity. Material wealth. Self-actualization. And those of us who are modern Americans and also Christians, I think, can fall into the trap of thinking that God’s goal is to help us become better modern Americans. Really is goal is for us to become more like Christ. We actually don’t serve a God who promises to help us achieve our goals (though there is certainly God given wisdom in planning, goal setting, etc.). Rather we have a God who expects us to fully rely on him. We do not have a Savior who says, “Come unto me all who are unproductive and unfulfilled and I will give you happiness and wealth.” Rather we have one who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus is describing the rest that comes with full reliance upon God. In 2020, I hope you reach many of your goals (optative mood). If I take the right steps there is no reason I shouldn’t achieve mine (subjunctive). But the fact of the matter is that Jesus is always there, offering the Great Invitation (indicative--really real!). So, no matter what happens, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). It’s imperative!
Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash