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How to Make a Success of 2024

Back when I was a teenager in high school, I had a teacher who used to say, “If you aim at nothing you will probably get nothing.” He happened to be a believer and so he applied this philosophy to his spiritual growth, as well as to other areas of his life and work. That simple statement made an impact on me, infusing my teenage imagination with a deep desire to be fruitful and strategic for the Lord. I hadn’t grown up in a Christian family and I hadn’t been a believer for very long, but I knew with all my heart that I didn’t want my life to achieve “nothing” for the Kingdom of God. And so, as a 15 or 16 year old, I began a lifelong journey of seeking to be strategic in discovering and following God’s will for all kinds of different aspects of my life.

One of the ways that this desire for growth and fruitfulness worked itself out in practice was that I planned various “checkpoints” throughout the year when I took time to set personal goals and to evaluate the ones I’d been working on for the previous few months. The start of a new year was an obvious time to have one of these “strategy times” with God – not in the traditional sense of making “new year’s resolutions,” but rather by planning an extended quiet time with my heavenly Father, a time of praying, seeking His will and His priorities for the year ahead. Then, as I heard His voice and reflected on my own dreams and hopes for the coming season, I would take some time to write down practical goals for the next few months.

If you’ve been in YWAM for a while, you may be familiar with the concept of SMART goals. Depending where you read it, SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound… or other words that are similar. When you express your target in a way that’s specific enough to be measured, you’re more able to evaluate whether you’re being successful and to make any necessary adjustments along the way.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of SMART goals when I was a teenager, but somehow I instinctively knew, or I discovered by experience, that writing down, “I’m going to read my Bible five times a week for 10 minutes,” was going to be much more fruitful than saying, “I’m going read my Bible more in 1975.” (Yes, I’m that old. Probably I was setting personal goals before you were born!)

I discovered that having goals with a deadline, goals that were expressed clearly and specifically enough to be measured, not only set me up for success and growth, but turned out to be motivating rather than discouraging as the months went by. It’s a great feeling to see yourself making progress!

Many of my early goals were about my relationship with God. They involved targets like how much of the Bible I wanted to read, how much time I’d spend daily in prayer or in worship. Decades later, I still set goals to help me grow or be consistent in my spiritual rhythms throughout the year. One of my 2023 goals, for example, involved intercession for a number of people that I wanted to pray for on a regular basis. It was a fairly modest goal rather than a big, ambitious one. I assigned certain people to various days of the week: some family members on Monday, a couple of my non-Christian neighbours on Tuesday, some Christian friends on Wednesday, my YWAM team members on Thursday…. The time slot I chose was when I was walking my dog in the morning; I used that walking time to pray for the people on my list. Some days I prayed for 20 minutes, while on others I only interceded for eight or ten minutes – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you add it up over a week, you find you’ve spent an hour or two in prayer for the people that God had put on your heart. It wouldn’t win me any “intercessor of the year” awards, but I was consistent and faithful, and it was certainly better than promising to pray and never getting around to it. How often do we tell someone, “I’ll be praying for you,” and then it just doesn’t happen because we didn’t bother to make a plan?

When it comes to personal goals, I always find it helpful to think of all the different areas of my life. “Spirit” goals are about prayer, the Bible and my relationship with God. “Soul” goals are about reading, studying, learning a language or developing a hobby. “Body” goals are to do with healthy eating, getting enough sleep or enough exercise. 

Of course, as we get more involved in ministry projects, and especially if we have a leadership role, other kinds of goals will be added to our list: faith goals for the ministry God has entrusted to us; raising finances to go on an overseas outreach or saving money to buy a new computer. I also have communication goals, like how often I want to send a newsletter or a personal note to those who pray for me and support me financially.

Setting targets at the beginning of every new year, and evaluating my progress every three or four months, has become a life habit for me – something that I started as a teenager, carried into adulthood, into my working life and into my involvement as a YWAM missionary. I love to look back at the end of every year and see what God has done, see how I have grown and developed in those different areas of personal goals and ministry goals. Sometimes there are failures too – goals that haven’t worked out for one reason or another – but the general pattern is an encouraging trend of success and fruitfulness.

One of the things I’ve learned along the way is that relational goals are important too. As missionaries with a passion for discipling nations and completing the Great Commission, it can be all too easy for us to neglect those equally important roles of being a spouse, a parent or grandchild. So, in the second half of my life, I’ve been discovering what a difference it makes to think in more specific terms of how I’d like to be a better aunt to my niece, or a loving and caring daughter to my elderly mother. I need to be just as intentional about my role as a sister or a friend as I would be about my role as a school leader or team leader.

If you’ve never done this before, if you’ve perhaps thought that goal setting isn’t really something that fits with your personality, let me encourage you to step out and be strategic with God as we begin this new year. 

1) Think about your personal life – body, mind, emotions, spirit – and  how you want to grow in each of those areas.

2) Identify a handful of roles that are important to you – relational roles and not only ministry roles – and what you’d like to see happen in those areas of your life.

3) After you’ve decided on some big, broad goals that you’d like to achieve in the coming year, choose just two or three areas that you’d like to focus on during January and write down smaller steps that are more “SMART” – goals that are specific, attainable and measurable over the course of a few weeks. 

We’re unlikely to be successful if we’re trying to work on a dozen goals at the same time. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can come back to your list after a few weeks and decide which other areas you want to prioritise in February or March.

Let’s not be people who aim at “nothing” in 2024. Wouldn’t it be awful to finish the year with no clear sense of where we’ve been going, and no way of evaluating whether we’ve actually grown and developed in the course of the year? Let me invite you to join me in the adventure of being strategic and setting personal targets for the new year that lies ahead. With God’s help, let’s be the best we can be in the roles and vision that He has entrusted to us.

Barbara Connor

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