Goals vs. Desires

Dec 21, 2017 / Comments (0) / Written by Natalie Wylie

We live in an age of doers, movers, and shakers. Self-help books line each bookshelf in our homes and each book is lined with highlights throughout: those things that we need to remember in order to achieve success. We even search Scripture for the right "formulas" for living, thinking that if we can just "figure it all out," we will find success. There is little dependence upon the Spirit because we rely on academia and our to-do lists to feel a sense of achievement. And yet, our culture of entrepreneurs and planet-shakers is one of the most stressed and depressed of all.


We have to stop defining our success by the achievement of our goals.

Neil Anderson made an important distinction between goals and desires which is extremely helpful to reference as we seek to live a godly life: "A godly goal is any specific orientation that reflects God's purpose for your life and is not dependent upon people or circumstances beyond your ability or right to control…. A godly desire is any specific result that depends on the cooperation of other people—the success of events or favorable circumstances you have no right or ability to control" (emphasis added).[1]


 Wait, wait, wait. All of our books tell us that the key to success is to make a five-year plan and then break it down into yearly, monthly, weekly, and even daily goals, and you're telling me I actually don't have control over many of those goals? No wonder we are so frustrated in our pursuits!


 So, if I can't control many of my goals, what can I control? Only the goals that do not require any cooperation from outside people or circumstances. With the help of the living Spirit within us, we only have control over ourselves, so we have to take that list of goals that we've been intimidated by and rename most of them as desires.


One goal you may have for yourself and your family is to grow in your knowledge of the Word of God and thereby develop your character. The process of you spending time in the Word can remain a goal because only you have control over whether or not you set aside time to study God's truths. Your family’s growth in the Word? That is now a desire because, as much as you may think otherwise, you cannot force them to spend time in Scripture and grow in character.


Do you have a dream to write and publish a book? Well, the writing process can remain a goal, but the editing, publishing, and distribution of that book will to switch to a desire if you are relying upon other people to help with that part of the process.


As long as you base your sense of satisfaction and fulfillment upon desires (no matter how godly) that require the cooperation of other people or circumstances, you will find yourself constantly unfulfilled, frustrated, and feeling like a failure.


But as soon as you take charge of the godly goals God has placed in you and release everything else as desires—which may or may not ultimately be fulfilled, you will find a sense of freedom you have never known before.


Our ultimate goal in life should be to know God and His direction for us. Scripture tells us in Mark 12 that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…. The second, like it, is this: ‘You love your neighbor as yourself’” (vv. 30-31). So as you seek to live a godly life, here are a few questions you can ask to keep yourself in line with God's desires for you:


Do you know the character of God and His love for you? Do you, in turn, love Him?

  • Are you actively loving those around you?
  • What are some of your goals that need to be redefined as desires?


As you answer the first two questions, you may find yourself at a loss when it comes to understanding how to fulfill those commandments. Do a word search in the Bible for the word love and study the areas of Scripture where Jesus focused on that theme. Notice how He treats the people He interacted with in Scripture and seek to do the same.


As you begin to redefine your goals and desires, simply divide a piece of paper into two columns with those two headings. Go through your list of current goals and ask yourself the following question for every single one: "Does this require the cooperation of other people or circumstances?" If so, write that under the desires column. For everything else that only depends upon you and the Spirit within you to fulfill it, place it under the goals column.


As you continue to move forward, revisit your list. Create smaller goals in order to achieve your new list of goals. And for your desires, do whatever you have control over in order to achieve them and then live in freedom knowing that whether or not someone or something else holds up their end of the deal does not define your measure of success or worth.


Ultimately, live free in the desires God has for you and know that regardless of what you do or do not accomplish, your worth is set in who Jesus is and what He has done for you. Live loved.




[1] Anderson, Neil. 1990. Victory Over the Darkness: Realize the Power of Your Identity in Christ. Baker Books,131-132.

Natalie Wylie


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