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Socrates once said a “life that’s unexamined is not worth living.” While he may not have realized it, his wisdom is wholly applicable and important to would-be disciples of Jesus. It’s much like the advice one receives when travelling on an airplane. In case of a loss of pressure in the cabin, we’re told to secure our own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others.

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If we aren’t living our lives in tune with God’s will, we won’t be able to help others appreciate its beauty. The only way to be certain we’re in step with Christ is to take regular periods where we examine our own walk with Him.

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Becoming a disciple of Jesus can seem like a lot of work, but upon closer examination, we see work has little to do with it. Instead, following Jesus as a true disciple is about doing just a few things well. As I’ve continued my journey to discipleship, I’ve come to realize there are three keys to spiritual success. Craig Groeschel summed these up well in his latest book, “Divine Direction”.

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He wrote, “It’s the faithfulness to do mundane things well, develop productive habits, and to remain faithful that eventually leads to success.” These are three simple concepts, all of which have the potential to unleash incredible results in our quest to live a more Christ-like life.

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A vile disease has wormed its way into the hearts and minds of modern Christianity.  The teaching of “God wants you to be happy” is preached from pulpits across the nation regardless of the fact this principle is not found in Scripture. I don’t find anywhere where God said to “Be happy because I am happy”.  What I do find He says is to “Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) There is a vast difference between holiness and what we equate with happiness.

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Before you get too depressed, know this: there is no joy like being obedient and faithful to Jesus Christ. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, counts for nothing, and fades as quickly as it came. Holiness lasts forever, counts for everything in the eyes of God, and is hard to shake once you’ve tasted its beauty.
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As I write this, it is mid-October. Most would think this a bit early to start thinking about goals for the next year, but I start the process every year around this time. If you’re kind, you may think me an over-achiever, but I’m guessing most will probably see me as somewhat neurotic and obsessive! Regardless, I’ll bet you’re wondering what any of this has to do with following Jesus.

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The truth is I had an epiphany as I began to think about my goals for the next year.  Every time I set goals, they are centered on what I want to accomplish. Yes, I do set spiritual goals, but traditionally those have been just one slice of the goals I set. It suddenly occurred to me the only goals that matter are the ones concerning Christ and not me.
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The point of it all, everything we do in life, is to glorify God. The word glorify is a word we don’t use a lot in everyday speech, but essentially it means we reflect the love and character of God in our thoughts, words, and actions. Everything we think should reflect the love and character of God. Everything we say should be full of love and truth. Our every action should demonstrate the love and trustworthiness of God.

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Nothing else matters. All of the goals and dreams we had had for ourselves died when we committed our lives to Jesus. His dreams become our dreams. His goals become the things for which we work.
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I’m an extremely driven person with enough dreams and aspirations to span a couple of lifetimes. One of the biggest challenges in dealing with my personality is remembering to focus on the most important things in life. In my case, that means taking time to concentrate on Jesus and make the adjustments necessary in my life to be a consistent follower of His. There is a tendency in our Western culture to be very busy; nobody really cares what you are busy doing, just as long as you are busy. We’ve lost the simplicity of previous generations, and we may be losing our souls in the process.

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I believe that every true follower of Christ desires to make an impact on their world. It’s in our spiritual DNA; if we love Jesus, we will do what He tells us to do. That means making disciples of other believers, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and looking after the orphans and widows. As long as we are living out the mission of Christ, it will be our unending passion to impact our world for His glory. The question that we all need to ask ourselves is, “In what way are we making an impact for the Kingdom?”

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As this year begins to draw to a close, many of us look excitedly toward the possibilities of the next. I am a goals oriented person, and this is the time of year when I begin to solidify my objectives for the next twelve months. It is also a time of reflection to review the previous year’s goals, to see what I did well and what I could have done better. Nothing is as exciting to me as a new beginning, a chance to achieve anew those things that are most important to me. If you’ve never set goals before, stick with me as we look at how they can be important to becoming the person God has created you to be.

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Somehow we lost our way. At some point in time we decided that the things of this world were more beneficial than the things of God. We traded eternity for temporal, spiritual for material. Inexplicably we lost our awe of God and in turn became enamored with ourselves. I’m not sure exactly when it happened or what we possibly could have been thinking; I only know that we now find ourselves mired deep in the mess of the results. God spoke, we heard, and we ignored; instead we listened to the siren song of the American dream. We saw that it was desirable and we took of it, just as our oldest ancestors did in the Garden of Eden. We have learned little in the past six thousand years or so, and yet God continues to call us to Him.

Our modern apples of temptation are money and pleasure. We seek to fulfill the longing in our hearts with physical instead of spiritual means. At our core we are created in God’s image which means deep inside we are spirit beings. One cannot fill the spiritual with the physical; it simply will not work. The only way to fill the deep gnawing in your soul is to seek what is important to God, those things that further His kingdom on earth. No amount of wealth, fame or entertainment can satisfy the hunger inside. Only by surrendering to Jesus and living a life of service to Him will we find any peace and comfort for our longings.

We have been conditioned to believe that happiness is based on what we achieve and acquire. Jesus taught instead that true meaning is found only through how we serve and sacrifice. Instead of hoarding for ourselves, we are to share with anyone in need. Rather than do whatever it takes to get ahead, we must humbly put others before our own desires and dreams. This is the only goal worth pursuing, because this goal leads to the life found only in Jesus Christ. We can’t achieve our way to Heaven, nor can we reach there by climbing up our pile of stuff. The way to Heaven is the way of Jesus; His is the way of humility and service to others.

We all have dreams, passions and abilities; it is not that we must put these aside, but rather we must use them to achieve the purposes of Jesus rather than our own aspirations. Of course, it is a beautiful thing when our dreams align with His. This is where our life begins to resemble that of Christ; we begin to want what He wants, and to act and love as He does. We are all uniquely gifted and prepared for accomplishing good works for God, but we will not live out our calling as long as we continue to pursue the wrong goal. The goal is not the American dream but rather the mission of Christ. The goal is to give rather than get, to serve rather than be served. This is what it looks like to follow Jesus; this is the mark to which we must all aspire.

We have a lot to unlearn. All our lives we have been taught to grab all that we can, to chase after all we deserve. As a reminder, the Bible teaches that what we deserve is a life spent separated from God, an eternity in hell. Do you really wish to chase after what you deserve? By the grace of God we have an alternative way; we can choose to follow Him and obtain a life that is far beyond what we deserve, a life filled with His love and mercy. It is not an easy life, but it is one of infinite worth and satisfaction. Turning your back on the American dream will be difficult; you will be ridiculed and perhaps even cut off from your friends and family. No longer will you want what others want; no longer will you live life for yourself. The reward is beyond words. Only when you let go of all you think you want will you truly find what you’ve been seeking.

Are you ready to pursue the mission of Christ? Can you let go of the goal of the American dream, the seeking of wealth and entertainment? Jesus said there was much work to be done but few willing to engage in it. We have been squandering daylight and the night is coming. Darkness continues to invade our world and we must fight back with the light of the love of Jesus. We must pursue Christ at any cost. Our mission is straightforward and clear: love God and love people; serve God and serve people. Are your goals in line with God’s? Are you pursuing things of eternal worth? Or are you seeking that which you cannot keep, clutching to what you must leave behind? Jesus is the only way to peace and fulfillment. Pursue Him with all that you have; make Him your sole focus. This is the only goal worth achieving.

As we stare down the end of the year, it’s worth reflecting on how we’ve grown over the past eleven months. Are we becoming the person we were intended to be? In what ways have we noticed a maturing in our faith and in our love for God? We should never stop growing, never stop striving to become more and more like Jesus. If this past year didn’t bring the growth we expected or the maturity we desired, now is a great time to start figuring out how to have better results next year.

Goal setting has long been a tenant of the personal development crowd, but I think it also serves Christ followers well to set some goals in their spiritual life. Who were you created to be? What were you created to do? What is the difference between the answers to those questions and where you now find yourself? This is an excellent first step in setting some goals. If you were to be all that Christ intended you to be, what kind of person would you have to become? In what sort of activities would you engage? What kind of books would you read and what sort of words would you speak? Before you can become the person you were created to be, you need a clear picture of what that person looks like. Once you have that picture you can set goals that will mold your personality into the proper character. Becoming who God purposed you to be will usually not be an overnight transformation. In most cases, it will be a process of single steps compounded over time.

After getting clear about the kind of person you must become, the next step is to understand what actions you were created to accomplish. What sort of skills and talents do you possess? Are you an artist, a caregiver, a compassionate person, a good listener, a strong leader or patient teacher? This is a very short piece of an almost infinite list of gifts and capabilities. What is it that you are really good at, what attributes and abilities have you been given? If you are not currently making use of the talents God has entrusted to you, this is another great place to come up with some goals. What could you do next year that you have neglected to do this year? How could you make better use of your skills and expertise? If you are currently using your gifts for causes other than to further the Kingdom, in what ways could you begin to transition your work into something that reflects and honors God? What is it you have been putting off and can now determine to take action upon in the coming year? Don’t take the time to edit, but rather write down everything that comes to mind.

Once you have listed all the ways you can utilize your abilities for Christ, it’s time to whittle the list down into perhaps twelve specific goals (one for each month) for the new year. Compare your list with the picture of the person you wish to become. What items on your list would that person undertake? Picture yourself as the person God intended you to be and choose goals that you can envision that person achieving. Write everything down. Written goals are powerfully motivating. You can reference them regularly to remind yourself what you have determined to do. Make sure you review them no less than once every week. Commit your goals to memory; post them on your bathroom mirror or on the dashboard of your car, anywhere you will frequently see them and be reminded of the person you are becoming.

By visualizing the person you were created to become in Christ and carefully determining specific, measurable goals for your journey, you will be well on your way to exponential growth in the coming year. All of this must be done with a heavy dose of prayer. Ask God to show you who He wants you to become. Seek His wisdom in determining what He would have you to do. Knowing that He will provide the power behind our meager offerings is an invigorating and motivating force. We can become the person He sees in us; we can accomplish great work for His Kingdom. Don’t let another year go by without the growth that you desire. Tell God that this year you are going “all in”, and diligently follow your plan to do so. Take the time to set your spiritual goals now. Persist in achieving each of your goals. God delights in those who seek Him and He will help you every step of the way.