Roles First, Then Goals?
I’m all for having goals in life; I certainly have my fair share of targets that I’m aiming for. As the saying goes, “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time”. Or “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. There is an element of truth in both these pithy phrases. Goal-setting is a powerful way to lift up our vision and direct our energies. And if our goals are managed well—for example, if we relate them to time-frames with a good dose of the twin powers of faith and humility—they also help measure our progress, enabling mid-course corrections where necessary. However, there is a dark side to goal-setting.
First, goal-setting can easily be birthed in the lair of ego. Come on, we’ve all embarked on a “noble goal” that was actually the offspring of selfishness and pride. Or at least I have … and it wasn’t pretty. (The word “monster” comes to mind; a monster with an unending appetite for more).
Second, even goal-setting that is correctly conceived in faith and humility can still play to our base, driven motives. It is tremendously easy to dip into the cesspool of one’s own strength and energy to try to accomplish what may be a true and noble goal. And in doing so, we stroke our egos at each gain made. Again, I’m speaking from hard experience.
These two dangers of goal-setting are easily detectable and relatively easy to avoid—as we walk in the fear of the Lord and the counsel of others.
What is a little less obvious is how easily we can begin to define ourselves by the goals we have; finding our identity in what we do, or more specifically, what we intend to do. This third, more subtle danger is just as insidious as the first two.
Whether we have set goals for a new year or a new decade, a new career or a new business period, a new relationship or a new ministry initiative, in seeking to achieve them we can easily start to find our sense of personal-worth in chasing these noble aims. Then our identity becomes precariously locked into our progress (or lack there of) and we begin to slide perilously close to the edge of madness.
Yes, this is not an overstatement. Many people do lose their minds, trading their soul in the chase of a goal. At the very least, the lust for the “end game” can justify whatever means we think will help us achieve our objective; when this happens, the life drains from our soul.
Again, it may be worth clarifying that I certainly don’t think goals are wrong in themselves. However, before we set and then launch out in pursuit of our goals we ought to first define, or affirm, our roles. Roles first, then goals.
What do I mean by “roles”?
By “roles” I’m referring to those God-given responsibilities of life that define who you are. Of course, our identity ought to be secure in the Father-heart of God. This means that we are essentially—foundationally, primarily, significantly—a son (or daughter) of Father God, first and foremost. As I often say, we’re a son first, then a servant, a steward and a soldier. If we fail this sonship issue, we quickly end up as slaves, hoarders and renegades instead.
Out of this sense of being a child of God, a secure identity connected to the Fatherhood of God, I am able to fully engage with the “roles” He has entrusted to me.
For me, I am essentially a husband to Lorna, a father to my children, a brother to my spiritual family, a servant to others and a witness to the world. The first three roles—as a spouse, a parent and a brother—define my foundation for the second two, a servant and witness. Out of my vital relationship with Father God I am to faithfully reveal His heart to Lorna, my girls and those I am in covenant community with. Before I think of pursuing some noteworthy, in my own mind, ‘world-changing’ goal-set, these relational roles are essential to who I am. Far too many spouses, children and spiritual families are sacrificed on the altar of some individualistic pursuit of a goal (or three).