When I was a college pastor, I used to define success for our student leaders every year. I had three goals for them to focus on: love God, love your people, multiply leaders. That was it. I provided those goals for them because I knew that it was easy to lose focus, to shift their attention to auxiliary issues rather than primary ones. “Do I have the biggest group?” “Is my group the most fun and popular?” “Do we finish every question in the study packet each week?” While those indicators might mean something, they don’t necessarily indicate that the group was effective. So I told them this: If you’ve been faithful to love God, love your people, and multiply leaders for the future, then your group is a smashing success. Even if you only have 2 people left in the group in May. Don’t get sidetracked. Focus on what is central.

Similarly, I think we often approach the New Year with a list of wonderful goals, but we haven’t really defined success. We want to lose weight, read the Bible, and take charge of our finances. We’re going to repair the broken sink, make sure our toddlers know how to read in three languages, and get an ‘A’ in differential equations. All wonderful ideas, but we fail to ask, “Why?” Why are we doing any of this?

This year, try asking yourself this question: “What primary value(s) will drive my goals, thoughts, and actions this year?” Don’t write down a list of 27 values. Keep it to no more than three. You can easily remember three, and you can quickly check each of your goals against those values.

So your values might be: love God, love my spouse, and love my kids. Or love God, make friends, and grow in courage. The values will vary from person to person, and yours will vary from year to year, but they will keep you focused.

So when you decide to lose weight, for example, you can check it against your values. Will losing weight help me to know God better? Perhaps, if physical laziness and poor health robs me of the energy I need to pray and to serve. Will saving more money help me to love my family? Quite likely, since you can better provide for them if you’re not buried in debt and overwhelmed by expenses.

Your goals might not dramatically change, but they will be more focused. I’m guessing, also, that they will be fewer. Finally, you’ll know why you’re committing to change. Nobody grows or changes without strong motivation to do so. That’s the reason most of our resolutions fail: We feel we should resolve to do “better,” but we don’t really know why or what “better” even means.

What primary values will drive your goals, thoughts, and actions this year? Write the question down, determine your values, and move from there. Nobody can tackle every problem at once. Finding the simple center of your life will help you make your resolutions and ambitions realistic. It will also inform your prayer, as you seek God’s strength and wisdom to live out your values, to grow in godliness while still very much a sinner.

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