Read an Excerpt
The NKJV Daily Biblewith Devotional Insights from Charles Stanley
By Charles Stanley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2005 Charles F. Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter One1. Setting Goals for the New Year
Proverbs 21:5 reads, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty." The writer of Proverbs knew the importance of goals. Without them, our lives are at best a toss-up, with priorities being determined by the boss, the pediatrician, the loan officer at the bank, and/or the child's schoolteacher. If we don't give serious thought to our goals and how we can reach them, our time, money, and emotions will be dictated by others.
A wise person said, "If you aim for nothing, you are bound to hit it every time." The truth within these words is evident in people who wander through life with no specific ambition.
God felt that setting goals was vitally important. Although Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow," He didn't say, "Don't think about tomorrow." God's Word is clear. He wants us to make plans and that means setting goals. Think about it. We set goals all the time. Try having a wedding without a goal (a plan). Try starting a new business without a business plan. Try building a house without a blueprint. The outcome would be a disaster. Most people who work understand the importance of goals and plans in the business world, yet too many fail to see the importance of goals and plans in personal life.
It is obvious from the way we plan our careers that we understand, in a limited sense, the value of setting goals. We know goal setting is effective in reaching our career objectives. The top salesperson in the company has a sales strategy, a plan that will ensure her rank among the other salespeople. She wouldn't dare enter the competitive field of sales without a plan detailing the way she intends to reach the established goal. This person often collects the largest bonus at the end of the year. The application seems obvious. Yet, very often, we act as though it is unspiritual to set goals in personal life and for spiritual growth. If we believe what Scripture says, just the opposite is true.
2. We Set Our Goals in Faith (Part 1)
There are many seeming contradictions between living by faith and setting goals. I say "seeming" because there is no contradiction at all. Following are two observations about goals that illustrate that the walk of faith and plans for the future are not mutually exclusive.
First, setting goals establishes priorities. If you don't establish your priorities, someone else will. It is true, also, that spiritual growth can be monitored and measured by your priorities. When you become a Christian, your priorities change. You grow and mature in your relationship with God; the things you value (your priorities) will change. Likewise, if you fall away from the Lord through unwise counsel or fleshly desires, your priorities again will change. An honest look at the way you spend your time and how you spend your money will give you a good look at your spiritual growth—or lack of it.
Setting goals is one way you can be sure that you will focus your efforts on the main things so that trivial matters will not become your focus. There is so much to distract you. Your goals will ensure that you keep first things first. They will keep you from allowing this world to establish your life's agenda. It's a way of saying, "If I don't do anything else, I want to make sure I ..." It's your safety belt in a world that too often makes the things that have no eternal significance seem so essential.
Second, setting goals enables you to move from remorse to real change. As you read this page, you have probably already thought about something you intended to change but let slip through last year without ever making the effort to alter what was wrong. You are not alone. We all regret things we did or didn't do last year, but regret and remorse are no guarantees that anything will change. On the contrary, you can spend your life regretting things and never make it across the line that separates regret from rejoicing in an accomplished goal. That's because you had no goal in place.
3. We Set Our Goals in Faith (Part 2)
If you don't have a plan, if you don't set goals, you are left with good intentions, remorse, and regret, and year after year the cycle repeats itself. It is amazing to me how many people admit they have a problem in a particular area but are unwilling to come up with a concrete plan to change. Let's suppose you invited friends over for dinner next Saturday night. You would look pretty silly if you didn't plan what you were going to have to eat. Your intentions may be as pure as gold, but they never accomplish a thing without a plan of action.
Goals are a tool for character building. Setting goals is one of the most effective character-building tools that God has gifted you with. It teaches you discipline through delayed gratification. As you mature and understand the positive side of setting goals and working for them, you reap the rewards of delayed gratification and learn invaluable lessons. One of the most valuable character traits that many have put aside today is that of self-control. Having goals is a sure way of learning self-control. If your goal is to pay off your debts by next year, you will learn to exercise control in your spending habits.
The same is true when you think about living for tomorrow rather than for the thrill of today. Sin never makes sense in the long run, but if your focus is shortsighted, you are prone to look at the immediate situation and not consider the long-term implications. The pie that your next-door neighbor brought by to thank you for your kindness looks tempting, but if you have a goal to lose weight so you can become healthier, it makes sense to look at the long-term benefit of not eating the pie. Living for the future puts things in perspective. It puts choices you make, as well as the sins you are tempted to commit, in their proper perspective. One way to make sure you stay focused on what you desire to achieve is to have a plan of action in place.
4. We set Our Goals in Faith (Part 3)
Goals are evidence that you are serious about your God-given responsibilities. This is perhaps the most important reason to set goals. Too many people have bought into the popular belief that it's okay to live only for the day and refuse to accept responsibility for their lives. The news is full of stories about people who spend their entire lives seeking out new and better ways to avoid accepting responsibility for their choices.
There are some practical ways to accomplish what you need to in setting goals that will lead you into a deeper relationship with God, a healthier relationship with your family and friends, and the peace of mind that results from a well-planned strategy.
Write down each of your goals. Then write beside each one why it is important to accomplish the goal. The why will be your motivation.
For instance, your goal may be to pay off your mortgage this year. Why? Perhaps you want to live without debt or have the assurance that you would have a safe place to live should something unfortunate happen to your health or your job. The why will motivate you to continue in your efforts when other things come up that tempt you to use the money you've budgeted for this goal.
Marriage goals are crucial. Why? Because you want to demonstrate to your spouse that he or she is a priority in your life and, in doing so, enhance your life together. Perhaps you want to become a better parent to your children.
A third goal is that of character—what you want to become. Thousands of self-help books describe how to be healthier physically and have a better and longer life, but little is said about character. You might ask yourself, What do I want to become as a person and why? That would certainly be a question worth spending some of your quiet time thinking and praying about.
You must have a better understanding of what your goals are and why they are worth attaining if you are to be successful and achieve your ambitions.
5. I've Tried That!
The prospects of overcoming your greatest temptation may seem slim. "I've tried and failed so many times before," you might say. "Why frustrate myself all over again?"
There are several reasons why you must take up the struggle once again. First of all, a defeating habit in your life will rob you of your confidence in the power of God to give people victory over sin. A sinful habit in your life will destroy your incentive to share your faith. And on those occasions when you do muster enough conviction to say something, you will not have the confidence you could have if you were free.
One immediate result of being set free from a controlling habit is the desire to share with others the power of God that has been experienced. Satan loves to keep us in bondage because it greatly diminishes our potential for the kingdom of God. It diminishes our potential because we feel like hypocrites and we may also look like hypocrites if others know about our sin.
I've known several Christians who were never seriously motivated to quit smoking until they committed themselves to making an impact on their world for the Lord. One fellow commented: "Nobody will take me seriously as long as I smoke. People look at me as if to say, 'If God is so powerful, why doesn't He help you quit smoking?' " That's a valid question.
Another reason you must take seriously those areas of your life you have allowed to slip is that choosing not to deal with sin ultimately leads to what Scripture calls a hard heart. A hard heart develops when people hear the truth, believe the truth, but refuse to apply the truth. Developing a hard heart takes time. Each time Christians recognize sin in their lives, feel convicted, and yet do nothing about it, they become less and less sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Finally, they reach the point where they feel no conviction at all over particular sins. They become callous, and they quench the Spirit in their lives (1 Thess. 5:19), which is a dangerous thing to do.
6. One Thing Leads to Another
Another reason you must once again take up the battle against the sinful elements of your lifestyle is that one sin always leads to another. Sin is like a cancer in that it spreads. One undealt-with area opens up other areas as well. Once you become accustomed to a particular sin, once it becomes entrenched in your lifestyle, it is only a matter of time until other areas become problems. It seems like most of the counseling sessions I am involved in begin with a story about some small sin that was allowed to go undealt with. This one area opened the door for other things that soon blossomed into major problems.
I know of a teenage girl whose involvement with soap operas developed an inordinate amount of sexual curiosity in her. After numerous one-night stands and a short marriage that ended in catastrophe, she found her way to our church and told one of our pastors her story. It was unthinkable that someone with her background could ever live the way she found herself living; she was a model teenager at home, church, and school. Yet by her own admission, the afternoon soaps led her into sin that she never imagined possible.
A fine Christian man began stopping at a local bar after work to spend some time with his buddies. He had never had any desire to drink, but he figured one beer wouldn't hurt anything. He even convinced himself that by drinking one beer he would be able to relate to his friends better and maybe get an opportunity to share Christ with them. Before long, one beer became two, then three. Soon he was going home drunk, and eventually he lost his wife and kids. As he told his story to me, he said, "In my heart I knew it was wrong, but I figured every man has his vice."
Did he wish he could go back and deal with his drinking problem when it was just one beer every once in a while? You bet he did. But it was too late; the damage had been done.
7. Temptation: Be Realistic!
If you are like many people, you may not have taken temptation any more seriously than you have because somewhere along the way you adopted some erroneous thinking about God's attitude toward temptation. One of the most common statements people make to excuse failure in the area of temptation is this: "I'm just human, and besides, nobody's perfect." Let's take a look at that for just a minute.
There is some truth to this statement. Only God is perfect. The problem is that this statement confuses present character with potential behavior. Let me explain. When people say, "I am not perfect," they are referring to their personhood or character. They are basically saying, "Since I am not perfect internally, don't expect perfect behavior externally." But in a discussion of temptation, character is not really the issue. The issue is whether or not at a given moment in time people (in this case, believers) have the potential to do the right thing. God says they do. Paul wrote,
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. —1 Corinthians 10:13
All believers have the potential to say no to temptation. Pointing to character as an excuse for giving in to temptation holds no weight with God. We are all in the process of developing character, but where we are in that process has no bearing on our potential to overcome temptation. It may affect our desire to overcome temptation, but not our ability.
Oftentimes we forget that in the process of struggling with sin, God is at work. Through the trials of temptation He develops in us patience, endurance, sensitivity to others, and most of all a sense of moment by moment trust in the sufficiency of Christ. James wrote,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect, lacking in nothing. —James 1:2-4
Are you willing to exercise your potential as a believer and say no to temptation?
8. A Godly Life
In a day when we have a desperate need for godly people in our homes, at work, among friends, and as leaders in our land, perhaps it would do us well to determine the characteristics of a godly man.
We could look at many passages of Scripture, but I think the very first psalm gives us a wonderful characterization of what a godly man looks like, acts like, and thinks like.
First, the person orders his life around godly counsel: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly" (v. 1). A man who follows the Lord with his whole being does not want to seek advice from others just because they are successful. A godly person is not too proud to seek advice or too self-centered to ask. He understands that he can still learn and that there is much he doesn't know. He wants to dip into the well of godly advisement.
Second, a godly person seeks friends with fellow believers, not with the lost: "Nor stands in the path of sinners" (v. 1). That does not mean he does not have friendships with unsaved people because he knows being a friend is part of bringing them to Christ. But I believe the Bible means that a godly man's closest friends are believers.
Third, the godly person gets enjoyment, encouragement, and refreshment from the Word of God: "But his delight is in the law of the LORD" (v. 2). He loves the Bible more than television, his hobby, or magazines. He delights in the Word of God. The godly person meditates on the Word: "And in His law he meditates day and night" (v. 2). Meditation is gnawing on what was just read. It is different from memorizing. Meditation asks questions such as, What did this just tell me about God? What did this just tell me about Jesus? What did this just tell me about myself? What do I need to change? How does it apply to my work and my friends and my home?
9. Why God Speaks Today
We might ask, "Why would God still want to talk to us today? Hasn't He said enough from Genesis to Revelation?" There are several compelling reasons why God still has His lines of communication open with His people.
Excerpted from The NKJV Daily Bible by Charles Stanley Copyright © 2005 by Charles F. Stanley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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