• Natalie Maxwell

Chasing New: 4 Things To Consider When Pursuing Your Goals

All year long our lives and legacies are being built by the choices we make, but most of us are too busy to take time to regularly reflect on the story that our life is writing.

New Years is the one time of year when our culture unites in a time of reflection. There is just something about the passing of a year, and the starting of a new one, that makes most people stop and imagine what it would be like to embark on a new path or set bigger goals for themselves. I know a lot of people think all of the hype around New Years and resolutions is overrated. We all know that resolutions rarely last, and for a lot of people New Years is little more than a reminder that they didn't meet their goals from last year and that they need to "try harder".

I personally love that the holiday following the celebration of the coming of our Savior, is one of turning a new chapter. I believe that as Christians we should never grow tired of "new". I'm not talking chasing after the next shiny new possession or even the next "new" goal necessarily, I'm talking about the kind of "new" that Scripture talks of when it urges us to "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19) Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17) Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2).

Transformation is in our spiritual DNA and it should embody every area of our lives, but what does this transformation and newness look like for Christ followers and how do we practically walk this out?

In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to really unpack for you what living with an eternity perspective means. I'm going to share with you what it looks like to live mission minded in your marriage, motherhood, and in managing your money. This is the time of year when Ryan and I sit down and pray and discuss our goals for all of those areas so that we can live with intention and clarity throughout the year. But before we get into all of that, I wanted to take a moment and share 4 things I've learned about making and pursuing goals.

First you should probably know a little about me, I'm a recovering overachiever, perfectionist, legalist, and people pleaser. My love language is list making and goal setting and I'm only semi joking. Few things light my heart on fire more than a good challenge. I'm a dreamer and a chronic optimist and I've spent the past 10 years really trying to figure out what parts of the above statements are my God given personality and giftings and which parts get in the way of my freedom.

Here what I've learned:

1. Perfection is not my friend.

Even as a child, I had this belief that if I didn't complete something perfectly than I had to start over from the beginning. For example, I would start a book series, get a few books read and then lose interest and allow time to pass, eventually I would desire to read the series again, but instead of picking up where I left off I would feel the need to start all over from the first word in the first chapter in the first book. Book 4 of the Boxcar Children or Nancy Drew series could have been the best one, but I wouldn't know because I never allowed myself to get there.

I still fight this tendency. Whether it's waiting to start exercising again until the next Monday rolls around or not returning to a group Bible study because I missed a week or didn't get my homework done. If every time you mess up you feel the need to start over or just give up all together than my guess is you struggle with perfectionism too. I used to embrace this label as a part of my identity, and I know I'm not alone in that. I used to see it as simply having high standards for myself, but now I've learned to call it out for what it is. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress and transformation. The truth is we will never do things perfectly and that's okay. There is such freedom in accepting this and realizing that it's in our shortcomings and our weaknesses that God can truly use us. With any goal you are going to stumble, but what builds character is not perfectionism, it's perseverance and humility.

2. Goals are only good if held in open hands.

I am grateful God made me the way I am. That's pretty huge for me to say, as most of my life I have felt like I am too much for people. Too passionate, too deep, too convicted, too driven, too disciplined etc. I have often wondered where my big dreams and ambitions fit into the body of Christ and I've often toned them down for fear of looking prideful or just not fitting in.

I've learned through the years that false humility (belittling and disrespecting yourself) is just another form of pride (thinking too highly of yourself) and the road God has for us is a narrow one right in between the two. I haven't walked this road perfectly and I've been sucked into the pits on both sides, but I've learned that my steps land on steady ground only when I am living for an audience of One. There is a verse in the Bible that says: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) That verse should put some holy fear into all of us who claim to follow Christ. We need to constantly to evaluating our hearts and our motives (Psalm 139:23-24 is a great one to pray).

It's when we truly surrender our goals and dreams to God that we realize that we are not entitled to their outcome. Please hear me because I say this as someone who prays and pursues HUGE dreams and I believe God is the giver of our dreams and passions, but I know how tempting and easy it is for us to clench our fist around our dreams. When we do so, even the best God given dream, turns into us worshiping our own will.

When we adopted our eldest son we actually committed to adopted another little 6 year old boy as well. It was a leap of faith and God had given us the peace and courage to jump. Miraculously we were approved to adopt two children and confirmation after confirmation brought us to our knees in worship. It was a crazy dream, but we knew it was from God and every door He opened we walked through... until we got to Ukraine and every door slammed in our faces. We were told that one of the boys we had named and prayed over and prepared for was unable to be adopted. My heart just couldn't accept it. There had to be a reason for this and I was determined one way or another we would still bring home two children, I mean why would God not want us to get another child out of this dark place? So we pursued two more children and both times the door slammed in our faces and left our minds disoriented and our hearts shattered. After our third failed attempt, I remember Ryan telling me that we had to stop pushing and trust that God had a plan in this. That night in a tiny apartment in Kiev, Ukraine I said some choice words to my husband, kicked a doll (we had bought for the third child we were hoping to meet) across the room and then broke down in tears because I knew he was right. I knew to push anymore would be going outside of God's will and an adoption outside of His will was not an option for us. I have never felt more misled by God. I felt as though he placed a dream in our hearts only to dangle it like a carrot until we got close enough to touch it and then pulled it away forever.

That experience was one of the most grievous times of my life, but it taught me to hold my dreams with open hands.

When it comes to our lives and our purposes in this life we must get the point where we realize that success is measured not by accomplishments, but by God's presence through our obedience. So friend, grab onto those dreams that God is laying out for you, but hold them with open hands knowing you are just playing one role in a much bigger story (this is also where an eternity perspective is vital, but we will get into that later).

3. Consistency In The Middle

Now I have always been kind of obsessed with starting lines. I love the anticipation, and energy they bring. The excitement of a new notebook or journal or planner has always filled me with glee. I love blank crisp pages and dreaming of what words and stories and prayers will fill them.

You may have realized this already, but new doesn't last. Eventually the blank pages get marked up with messy handwriting, the pages get bent and the beautiful cover soaks in the imprint of the bottom of my coffee mug, but that is life.

Right now we're all excited about the possibilities that this New Year will hold, but eventually March will arrive and the excitement we feel right now will have likely waned. I think of March and April as Leviticus. Anyone ever try to do a read through the Bible in a year plan (I attempt to every year)? It starts out great. You're determined, it looks so achievable from the printed out form and your excited for the satisfaction you will feel as you check off the boxes for each passage read (anyone else obsessed with checking boxes??). The year starts off great. Your waking up early or staying up a little later so you can spend time in God's word, but then you get to Leviticus and the words seem to run together and you don't feel inspired or motivated by learning about defiling molds so you begin to lose interest and before you know it you're a month behind and well, I guess you'll just try again next year.

This can be the case for any of our goals. The idea of change always sounds exciting in the beginning, but the journey of getting to that change is the hard part because it takes something that many of us struggle with... consistency.

Consistency is found in the messy part where the journal no longer feels or smells new and you realize that your new planner actually didn't posses any magical power to suddenly make your life more organized.

Nobody likes the process of being in the middle. The middle is where you lose sight of the motivation you had in the beginning and you are still a long ways away from being able to see your destination (met goal).

Hear me on this, the middle is the most important part of your journey. No transformation worth having happens overnight, it takes time and that is what makes the finish line worth it.

I used to run marathons. From each of my races, I have vivid memories of the starting and finish line, but very few memories of the actual race. Sure I can remember what it felt like to hit the wall around mile 23, some conversations I had early on with other racers, and a few mental snapshots here and there, but overall I don't remember much of the journey. Here's the thing though, even though I don't remember much about the millions of steps it took me to get to finish line doesn't mean that they didn't matter. The truth is each of them were necessary in getting me to my destination.

Goals and dreams are like marathons in that way. Every little choice you make may seem so small and insignificant when you're in the middle, but every little step made consistently over time moves you closer to the finish line.

4. God given dreams can't be rushed

For as far back as I can remember, I have always dreamed of writing a book. It's always been something I've just known I would do someday. It's always been one of those dreams that I would occasionally ask God about and I always got a sense in my heart that it wasn't yet time. I've had people tell me I should write a book and my response was always, "someday, but for now I have to live our story first." Then as we were nearing the end of 2018 I was a part of a challenge group to set goals and end the year strong and one of the goals on my heart was to begin writing a book. It's hard to explain, but I just knew it was the right time. In the next 90 days I wrote half a book. Sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night with words just bubbling out of me and I would hammer the keys on my laptop effortlessly for hours.

I told my friends that I couldn't imagine not finishing my book because I was in such a season of inspiration and passion. It was exciting and exhilarating and I knew that it was God and I was just the vessel He was using. I took a break from writing as we visited family that Christmas and as I prayed and sought the Lord for direction on how to begin the New Year, I sensed Him asking me to take a break from writing and spend some time in stillness with Him. So I devoted the first 90 days of 2019 to prayer. I fully thought after those days were up I would finish my book, but a year later and I again carry this peace that right now I am living and learning the truths that will one day be read by others.

I ended 2018 on such a high Summit with God, but 2019 had it's fair share of valleys. It was a year of struggle and stretching. A year of laying down goals and dreams and learning to trust God with the outcome. It was a year of weakness and insecurity and through it I dove to a deeper understanding of the source of strength and refuge. It's a new year now and although some of the struggles that 2019 brought are still very much present, I am not who I was a year ago. You know what, I wouldn't trade last year with it's struggles and hardships for the New York Times best seller list.

Our world will tell us that we need to strive, strive, strive towards our goals and dreams, but that is not how God's people should function. When you follow Jesus you surrender your life to a God who declares that His power is made perfect in your weakness so you can delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties and declare that when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I believe that we all want a message and a story to share, but very few of us desire to go through the struggle, the conflict, and the stretching that great stories require.

Take the story of Noah for example, we know the story as God asks Noah to build an ark, Noah obeys and builds the ark, rains flood the Earth, etc. but what about the estimated 55-75 years it took Noah to build that bad boy? Can you imagine? Do you think he ever had doubts? Do you think he ever got tired of working towards something he didn't have all the answers to? Could God have helped Noah build faster and the rains come sooner? Of course he could have, but I think we have to take a moment and acknowledge how God was preparing Noah during those years of building and waiting.

Whether you find yourself in a season of hustle or a season of stillness with the Lord, I think we must always remember that God's priorities are not wrapped up in what we do for him, but rather who we are becoming in Him.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do and He will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3

Happy New Year, my friends!!

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