Goals in the Christian Life (1): On Your Mark

The first in a series of articles on the value of goals in the Christian life.

Runners spring forward at the crack of the pistol, leaving the white line behind as they race towards their dream—a podium finish. The athletes’ eyes focus on the track ahead, but the finish line is visible only in their minds. This is no 100-meter sprint. It’s not a burst of power, or, “10 seconds to glory.” The 10,000-meter event is about pacing, expending energy wisely; a balance of speed, endurance, and sweat-soaked determination. It’s the picture of the Christian life.

The Coach’s Strategy

Cheers from the stands threaten to confuse a runner. Are they chanting her name? Someone yells, “Faster, faster!” Is the sudden roar for her, or for a rival? She doesn’t turn to look. She doesn’t change her pace. Only her coach’s words matter. He knows her best—her strengths and her limits—and his advice comes from experience. To the Christian, His words are plain, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).

Paul coached from experience. He said, “Reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phi 3:13-14). And he spoke of his strategy, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (1Co 9:24).

Long before he hears, “On your mark,” the long distance runner’s mind divides the miles into milestones. To him, obtaining isn’t a daunting 10k impossibility, but a series of stages, each with its goals, forming a well-defined strategy. There will be the unexpected—a tumble, a breakaway, a throbbing hamstring—goals will be adjusted, but they are none the less critical to reaching forward, pressing toward the mark, and making a runner a prize contender. Do we have a race strategy? Or do our lives look more like a stroll through the park than a striding toward the mark?

A Stroll in the Park

A casual reading of James 4 might leave us with the impression that Christian living should be impromptu, off the cuff—that God is against setting goals. Verse 13 reads, “Go to now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.” Is James promoting a plan-nothing-see-what-happens approach? No, planning is not the problem. Notice verse 15, “Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” We should have goals in life and we should aim to do “this, or that,” but our goals must be formed around what we know to be the Lord’s will and be open to change as He reveals more of His will to us.

The Bible condemns aimless, “stroll in the park” living. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Pro 6:6-8). Ants thrive because they live goal-oriented lives.

Christ told His hearers that before they could take their first steps on the narrow road, they needed to set a goal: “Strive to enter in at the straight gate” (Luke 13:24). If focusing on a purpose is vital at the beginning, it’s no surprise that God expects us to fix our minds on an eternal purpose as a way of life from that point onward.

The Hall of Fame

Focused, forward-looking living is modeled all through Scripture. The coaching on how to run the race in Hebrews 12 follows a guided tour through the heroes’ gallery in chapter 11. Snapshots of former runners in mid-stride are framed and captioned. They were victorious because they had vision. Their belief in what God promised gave them a sight of the finish line. And that foresight changed their day-to-day living from a see-what-happens mind-set, to an often painful push forward.

The New Testament has no shortage of its own spiritually fit. Paul, for example, was a visionary goal-setter. We find him “purposing to come,” and saying, “Let us go.” He set his sights on cities, regions, countries, and continents. Paul aimed high, disciplined himself, and dashed forward. When he learned the Lord’s will to do otherwise, he adapted to a new plan and took on the next stage with fresh passion and determination. He never sat on the sidelines—not even when chained in prison.

But the best of Paul’s running was only a warm-up when compared to the perfectly focused, forward-looking, most patiently endured life of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews, after leading us through the gallery and laying out the strategy, points to the supreme example. How are we to run? “Looking unto Jesus…Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Seeing His goal, He endured, He suffered, and He was victorious.

If you were to map the Lord’s journeys, they might look completely random, but a closer analysis of His life would show that objectives were established, plans were made, and stages were completed—all in keeping with His Father’s will. Are we training by example? Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1Co 11:1 ESV).

Setting the Stages

You’re in the race. Miles may lie ahead of you. Are you looking forward? What’s your strategy? Have you split the course into stages? Do you have milestones to motivate, measure, and pace yourself?

The purpose of this series of articles is to evaluate our approach to running. With our toes along the starting line, we have seen from scripture the necessity of having a strategy. From here, Lord willing, we’ll chart out Biblical principles and examples to help us establish goals in different areas of our lives. Why? The voice of experience says, “Run that ye may obtain!”