Have you ever set a goal and failed to achieve it? I confess, I’ve had times where I not only failed to achieve the goal I set, I didn’t even start on it! Failure to achieve goals is often simply because we don’t know how to set the right goals, or when we do, we are not realistic about the goal and the parameters we need to set to achieve them. Fortunately, our distracted age has become quite good at setting meaningful and effective goals. Here’s a quick guide to setting smart goals for your quiet time. Setting smart goals is not just about being intelligent in the way we set goals. S.M.A.R.T. is also an acronym that has been in use for a few decades to help remember the key elements of effective goal setting. I’ve taken this idea and applied it here to setting goals for our quiet time.
SpecificOne of the traps for setting goals is that they are often too generic. For example, when we consider goals for our quiet time, we might be tempted to set a goal like, “read the Bible every day.” This is a great goal, but it is very generic. How much of the Bible? What part? You could meet this goal by reading a verse of the Bible or the entire Bible. Depending on the type of goal you are aiming for, you will need to be more specific about what it is that you are trying to achieve and how you will achieve it. We’ll consider this in detail in another post.
MeasurableIf you set a goal, how will you know whether you have achieved it or not? Goals are not very helpful if we can’t measure our progress toward them. I hear you, “How do I measure growth in spiritual maturity?” Well, don’t forget that what we do is evidence of the master we choose. Therefore, we can measure our maturity to some extent by our lives. For example, growth in patience can be measured by how many times I explode in anger, and purity can be measured by the number of lustful thoughts I have. Measurable goals are goals that allow you to track progress. Don’t think of a lower measure as the goal, the ability to measure is simply a way to track effectiveness. It may be tempting to aim to reduce the number of instances of sinful thought or action, but in sanctification our goal is to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Col 3:5), not merely to injure it, so aim for total elimination of specific sins, and use their occurrence as a measure.
Our goal is to put to death the deeds of the flesh, not merely to injure it.If we have a measurable goal, we have a clear outcome to aim for and a way to track progress toward that outcome. If we have an established outcome, we can pray and ask for the Lord’s help to attain that end.
AchievableSetting achievable goals is important since it is far too easy to try and do too much at once. If you’re like most people, when you look honestly and carefully at your sin, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed (if you don’t, you can ask yourself this set of questions). Often this feeling of being overwhelmed immobilizes us and prevents us from moving forward with any sanctification. A better way is to take the biggest or most fundamental of the list of sins we see in ourselves and set ourselves a goal of resolving just that one sin biblically before the Lord. If you’re setting a growth goal, don’t take on too much. For example, if you want to read the Bible right through, but you’ve never read more than one chapter each day, setting a goal of four or five chapters each day will probably be too hard. Instead, figure out roughly how long you spend reading your Bible now, and add perhaps 5 minutes to it. In a month or two, you can increase it again until you’re reading through more of the Bible every day. If you can fit 4-5 chapters into that time, great! But you will be more successful if you focus on incremental change than if you try to set a big goal you can’t achieve. In this case, you may end up with two goals, ultimately to read the Bible right through in a year, but then you may need smaller goals to make it there. Small success is better than big failure.
You will be more successful if you focus on incremental change than if you try to set a big goal you can’t achieve.The principle for setting achievable goals is to simplify our goal down to the one element that we can achieve that will be most effective.
RelevantFor a goal to be meaningful and motivating, it has to be relevant. Set a goal that will be beneficial to you personally. One obvious and perhaps the most relevant goal you can set is to focus on areas of sin to overcome. We’ve considered already how to overcome sin in your quiet time. When we do this we align our goals with God’s goal for us. What could be more relevant than doing what God wants me specifically to do? Beyond identifying sin, we could all do with a better understanding of God and His purposes, so this kind of general approach is also relevant, though it still has to be specific. We looked at these two types of goals earlier, and we’ll consider this again next time.
Time-boundGoals should be time bound, which means they have a limit to how long you will be focused on it. Start out with a goal that lasts for a week or two, then move on 1-2 month goals as you become consistent. Eventually, you will easily set and achieve goals that span multiple months, or even years. Having clear time boundaries means that if you set a goal that is tough, but short, you can remind yourself that it is only for a short time and push through it. When you’re done, then you can set a goal that is less intense.
ConclusionUsing SMART goals can help us think through our goals with more detail and care. In our quiet times, this will help us become consistent which will help us grow in Christ. If like me, you’ve struggled to set and keep goals in the past, it may be because the goal hasn’t been specific enough, or it’s been irrelevant or just not achievable. These are things that I often stumble over if I’m not careful. If you are currently struggling with a goal, perhaps it’s one of these that has been tripping you up?
Has your quiet time suffered due to the lack of one of these elements?