Realign the Trajectory of Your Life by Writing a Christian Life Plan
Life Planning is like a stick of dynamite. It's undeniably useful if used in the right way, but horrifically dangerous if played around with hastily. For this reason books by life coaching gurus like Michael Hyatt and David Allen ought to include a warning label. Unless drained through a spiritual colander they easily lead to an achievement based, self-centered lifestyle. More than one Christian man has left the straight and narrow due to having some life coach affirm the favorite lie of Satan - that the center of the universe is me.
But the good news is that we get to keep the baby even if we discard the bathwater. Personally, I would label any Christian as reckless who does not have something akin to a life plan filed away near his Bible. After all, how can I avoid conforming to the world if I do not have a sense of the shape God wants me to attain? How can I anchor myself against the current of culture if I do not know where God wants me to be? How can I invest my life in the mission of God if I do not know what my basic job description is? How can I be ready to stand before the judgment seat of Christ if I do not know what Christ wants from me right now?
I feel strongly enough on this point that I consider life planning (done properly) a spiritual discipline closely connected with prayer and Bible reading. The more I learn about God, and the more I relate personally with Him, the clearer my sense ought to be of having a particular calling in this world. Life planning, for Christians, is nothing other than this: figuring out my vocation within the grand mission of God.
But HOw do I do This?
We are going to break the process down into four assignments over four weeks. If you are faithful to complete each assignment, a month from now you will have a clearer sense of how God wants to use you for his kingdom.
Week 1: we will look at the view of your life from 20,000 ft. At this level you will be thinking about the overall purpose and mission of your life.
Week 2: we will drop down to the 5,000 ft. level. You will think about the non-negotiable roles and responsibilities already present in your life. You will ask the question, what would it look like for me to steward faithfully each area of life?
Week 3: we will drop down to 500 ft. The goal here will be realignment. You will ask the question, what needs to change right now so that in 6 months I am moving toward, not away from, where God wants me.
Week 4: we will stand at ground level. To achieve long term goals nothing is more vital than good, daily habits. The assignment will be write out a 'rule of life', a simple but achievable daily/weekly routine that makes time for what is most important.
Take Ownership over the Roles and Responsibilities of Your Life by Writing a Spiritual Job Description
Last week you looked at life from 20,000 ft. You asked the vertigo-inducing question, 'What has God called me to do, to be?' In asking this question the goal was to get a sense of final destination. Why am I here? Why did God make me? Why did He redeem me? What does it mean to fulfill Col. 1:10?
This week we are going to drop down in elevation. The aim is to write a job description for yourself so that you have a concrete sense of how to serve God right now, not in the life you covet, but in the life you already have.
How to Write a Spiritual Job Description
Step 1: read through Jesus' parables regarding stewardship. See Matt. 25:14-30 and Luke 12:35-48 in particular.
Step 2: make a list of the non-negotiable roles and responsibilities of your life. For most of us, these will include things like the following: marriage, children, finances, time, attention (i.e. what you pay attention to), work, church, friendship, health, hobbies, relationship with God, and so on. Once you have a list, whittle it down to the 6-8 roles/areas of responsibility that you believe are most important. Prioritizing is essential here. For example, health is important, but not as important as marriage or relationship with God. Don't sweat your waistline until you are walking closely with God and loving the most important people in your life.
Step 3: pray through each of these vital areas that you have identified. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how you can better steward a particular area. Be sure to have a notepad and pen next to you. Capture any thoughts that occur to you by writing them down. The purpose of this exercise is productive change. Such change begins by being attentive to the Spirit's direction.
Step 4: Take the thoughts that you have gathered and write a job description for yourself. Think of Christ as your employer, and you, His employee. Better yet, think of Christ as your lord, and you, His bond-servant. Be clear, but concise. Remember that complexity kills motivation. Explore what it would look like for you to serve Christ well in each vital area of life.
The goal of this assignment is that you have a one-page document that you can periodically refer back to and edit in order to evaluate your service to Christ.
Using Your Life Vision and Your Job Description, Nail Down Some Goals to Realign Your Life over the Next 12 Months
The last two weeks have been about sharpening your vision. Who is the man I ultimately need to become? What are the talents that I need to be stewarding right now?
The objective this week is to shift from vision to action, to take a map and turn it into an itinerary, to take a mission and transform it into a strategy.
How do you do this? Here is my advice: sit down with a cup of coffee and pull out the documents you have been working on over the last two weeks, your life vision and your job description. Use these documents to come up with some SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely).
Here is an example. Let's say that your marriage needs an oil change. Work has been busy, you have been training for a half marathon, and there is tension in the relationship because, truth be told, you have paid more attention to your fantasy football team than your wife. Make it a goal to get away on a date night twice a month. Or, a different example, let's say that you are not spending regular time with God. You clip your toenails more frequently than you pick up your Bible. Make it a goal to listen to the conversation I recorded with Rod Olps (see below) and then make plans for a regular quiet time.
Success this week looks like having a short list of 8-12 goals that would help you realign your life to the priorities of God. For more on goal setting, see this link from Vince Miller.
Work Out a Daily Routine to Ensure that the Most Important Stuff Gets Done
If you have ever been on a long hike, you will appreciate how useful it can be to get some elevation to see the wider landscape. Once a couple of landmarks are identified, it's much easier to figure out where to go next.
The focus of the last three weeks has been to get a sense of direction. We have looked out from various heights to try to orient ourselves spiritually. 'What is my purpose?', 'What is my job description?', 'What are my goals over the next year?' - these are the kinds of questions that we have been answering.
What we want to do this week is to think about the rhythm of movement - the step-by-step, repeated motions - that will enable us to make progress. In other words, we want to nail down this week a daily/weekly routine. Our question is this: 'What actions do I need to make habits in order to advance God's call on my life?'
Here are a few tips on working out an effective routine:
Don't attempt too much. For this task priorities are vital; simplicity is key. If you have 25 daily goals that you are trying to squeeze into a 12 hr. routine you will mentally, emotionally, and physically exhaust yourself. Go back to Jesus' exhortation that 'one thing is needed' (Lk. 10:42). Ask yourself, 'What can't not be done?' and, having answered that question, start there.
Think daily and weekly. A Monday is always going to be a Monday. It will never be a great day to try to invest a lot of extra energy in spiritual activities. Inevitably, your mind will be caught up with the pressures of a new work week. Yet, by God's grace, the modern world is structured around a work week and a weekend. Use this to your advantage. Take Saturdays and invest them in your family. Take Sundays and spend extra energy on spiritual activities that don't fit into the regular work cycle. Have a Monday-Friday daily routine and a weekly routine that balances work with family, worship, and, yes, fun.
Create an energizing rhythm for each day. A musical track gets boring if there is no variation in the bass. The same is true of labor. Focus differently during different parts of your day. And know your body. Only a fool would try to get his most demanding mental work done in the afternoon. A dad with young kids is all but guaranteed to fail if he tries to do a Bible study late at night. Heed commonsense if you want improvement to be common.