5 Areas for Purposeful Goal-Setting

If we aim at nothing, we always hit it. But if we want to accomplish anything worthwhile, we need specific targets. I want to outline five particular areas of life where a clear sense of purpose will yield substantial dividends. These are our spiritual life, our family life, our vocational life, our church life, and our social life.

Spiritual Life

What is your spiritual purpose? Do you know what you want to achieve in your spiritual life? Are there graces you want to cultivate or sins you want to conquer? Do you want to grow in knowledge of Christian doctrine, or do you want to improve in sanctification? Is there a Christian grace or gift that you want to develop?

Maybe, like many Christians, you’ve never thought about these questions. You’ve just drifted along hoping for the best, but you’ve never actually clarified in your own mind where you are going or what it would look like to arrive.

That’s why I recommend praying and thinking about specific areas in which you want to grow. You could pick a doctrine to learn, such as justification, and find some good books and sermons to teach and challenge you. Or focus on a grace such as joy and find ways to cultivate and exhibit it. Maybe tell a friend or a family member what you are doing and ask them to challenge and encourage you when necessary. There are so many possibilities, but without picking one or two spiritual aims, we will either go round in circles or make a millimeter of progress in a thousand different directions.

Family Life

For those of us who are mothers, our greatest family aim is the salvation of our children. We are to raise them for the Lord (Eph. 6:4). We don’t just want a few short years on this earth with them; we want to spend eternity in heaven with them.

If we have that purpose at the forefront of our minds, it will help us to reduce the weight of secular and cultural expectations, which often take over our lives and theirs. They’re expected to excel at school, be accomplished musicians, win MVP at every sport, and get a scholarship for college. They must get a high-paying job and definitely marry someone who has a college degree and a good job.

The result? We (and they) all end up with stress-filled days (and empty bank accounts), striving and sweating to ensure they achieve these things. But what’s the point if, along the way, we lose sight of our children’s souls and why they or we are even on this earth?

Our kids need our love, they need family stability, they need the evening supper table, they need Sunday for mental, spiritual, and bodily rest, and so do we. The more we expect of our kids, the more we expect of ourselves, and vice versa. Let’s not pick up the impossible weight of cultural and secular expectation and drop the most important weight of all—the spiritual, emotional, and relational nurturing of our kids, which can only be done when we have time to be together and talk with one another without time pressure.

Vocational Life

I’m a mom of five children: three boys, age twenty, eighteen, and three; and two girls, age fourteen and thirteen. I also happen to be a homeschooler, and I’ve been a pastor’s wife at different points in my life. I’ve also worked as a doctor for a number of years.

Which of these realms does God mean for me to be operating in at the moment? Clearly not all of them. Let me share how I’ve thought through my choices in order to help you do the same, whatever your present calling—homemaker, business employee, or student.

Homemaker. I believe, on the basis of Scripture (Titus 2:5), that my present circumstances require me to prioritize homemaking at this stage in my life. That means I’m an organizer, delegator, operations manager, administrator-in-chief, supplies manager, head chef, cleaning supervisor, cab driver, counselor, shoulder to cry on, and chief hugger. If you are a homemaker, I am sure you can add a few more to your homemaking list, but that’s a start.

But now you feel the pressure to be a perfect homemaker with a perfect home. Here’s the question that’s helped me to reduce this overwhelming weight: “Is my aim a perfect house characterized by cold sterility or a happy home filled with love and the presence of God?” We need a measure of order and discipline in our homes, but unless we accept a more realistic standard, we will quickly become fretting Marthas rather than peaceful Marys.

Educator. Again, on the basis of Scripture (Deut. 11:18–20), I believe parents are responsible for the education of their children with the aim of preparing them for a happy eternity and for usefulness on this earth—in that order. Both purposes are important, but the first must have precedence. Having these clear aims helps me to decide where and how to educate them in the light of changing family circumstances, limited finances, the needs of each individual child, and the impact of educational choices on others in the family. All of these factors have to be weighed when considering how to achieve our aims.

Wife of a pastor. This role comes after my responsibilities as a homemaker and educator of my children. However, at times I’ve taken on responsibilities in that role that I’ve regretted accepting because of the negative impact on me and my family. By remembering my vocational priorities—homemaker first, home educator second, and wife of a pastor third—I am much freer to say “no” to church demands when I can see that it will damage our family life or my kids’ schooling. But I do look forward to the season in life when I can be much more involved again.

Doctor. When I practiced medicine in the U.K., there was so much work available that I could have practiced medicine full-time. So how did I decide what to take on and what to say “no” to?

First, I kept my spiritual and family purposes in view and in order. Vocationally, I was first a homemaker, then an educator. Doctor came third in my vocational priorities. Second, I asked myself these two questions:

  1. Is material gain beyond what we need the main motive for my working?
  2. Does it hinder our family because I am always worn out?

If working outside the home damages our spiritual life or undermines our family responsibilities, we need to reconsider our decisions. Whether married or single, discerning and purifying our motives will go a long way to helping us decide what career path to follow, what positions to accept, what hours to work, and how we work.

Church Life

There’s no shortage of opportunities to serve in your church, attend various Bible studies, and go to midweek meetings. The question is, apart from attending church on Sunday, what else should we be doing in our church, what events should we go to, and what hospitality should we offer?

Our answer depends on a number of factors. First, consider your season of life. If you are a mother in a busy household, a business owner, a full-time student, or a high-pressured employee, it’s unlikely that you’ll have much more than an hour or two a week for church life apart from Sunday services.

Second, ask yourself why you are participating. When I’ve asked myself that question, I’ve often realized that I was going to activities, ministries, and events not for the Lord but to please other people and meet what I perceived to be their expectations of me. Just because one person is doing lots of evangelism or service projects doesn’t mean that you should. Remember, you are already serving God in your own spiritual life, in your family life, and in your vocational life. That’s a lot already.

Social Life

The opportunities to socialize are endless, and others’ expectations for your socializing are endless. Whether it’s church circles, work circles, school circles, or community circles, if you have a must-do mentality or a default-yes mindset every time you are asked to do something or invited to go somewhere, you may feel totally swamped.

By identifying life purposes in our social choices, we can better decide our capacity for socializing and friendships. Intentionality and clarity in our purposes and humble honesty about our limitations will not only make our decisions easier but will also help to quiet our accusing conscience that always demands more. We may decide to cultivate a limited number of friendships. Or we may decide on no more than two to three social occasions a week. We cannot be friends with everyone, and we cannot meet everyone’s expectations. Bear in mind that our social purposes will change, as will all our other purposes, as we transition through different seasons in life.

In all these areas, our prayer must be “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).

PS: If you’re feeling like you’ve made great priorities, but still can’t keep up . . . come back tomorrow to hear from our own Stacy Reaoch. She’ll be answering the question many of us ask: “What do I do when my resolutions fly out the window?”

About the Author

Shona Murray

Shona Murray

Shona Murray is a mother of five children and has homeschooled for fifteen years. She is a medical doctor and worked as a family practitioner in Scotland until she moved to the United States with her husband, David. She is … read more …

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