Motivation behind our goal-setting; the empty promise of self-improvement vs. growth for the purpose of blessing others

It’s February, so maybe the talk of goals and new-year-new-you has died down a bit, but the self-imposed pressure can still linger, right? Those who are successful are sharing about their victories in their goals of weight loss, new habits, new learned skills, etc., and the temptation to do something and do it well is ever lingering.

Choosing to grow and improve is not a bad thing.

But our motivation behind it, like always, absolutely matters.

That’s what I’ve been challenged to consider recently in one of my favorite podcasts, What Have You. I’ve been chewing on this thought lately and wanted to similarly encourage others to walk forward in it as well. Why? Because it’s biblical.

Here’s the challenge: as you’re considering how to grow and improve in various areas in this new year, don’t just focus on self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake. Our ultimate goal should never be just ourselves.

Yeah, I said it. I know, I know. Our culture tells us differently. “You can’t really love others until you love yourself. Put your needs first and then you can better serve others. Don’t do anything for others, do it for yourself!”

The problem with this advice, for the Christ-follower, is that it simply is not biblical. It’s popular, and it sounds good, but you won’t find it in the Bible, which means we should run the other direction.

So what does scripture say? Let’s look.

Throughout the gospels, we see that Jesus presents a counter-cultural way of living. It’s the opposite of what everyone expected, and it seemed backwards. It still can. But if Christ said it, we better listen. Here are some examples:

“‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:15-16, English Standard Version).

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

If even Christ, who was fully God, came to earth and served others, washing even the dirty feet of his friends, then would we not do well to follow in his footsteps and seek to serve those around us?

At iGo Global, where I have served on staff since 2009, we teach a biblical understanding and theology of missions. The first core value that we teach is called Bottom Line, which is just a phrase to help us remember that this matters above all else – it’s the idea that God blesses us so that we can bless others and most importantly glorify him. It’s not a blessing that ends with us.

We see this in Genesis when the Lord calls Abram.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Blessed to be a blessing. Blessed so that others will come to know and worship God. This truth appears on every page of scripture if we look for it. Why do we often miss it? Well, because we often just look for the parts that speak to us. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, except that we can’t stay there. The blessings of God aren’t meant for us to just sit back in leisure and enjoy our ticket to heaven. They are meant to cause us to move, to share, to do our God-given duties, and be faithful with what we’ve been given in order that we could make God famous.

May this be the motivation that drives our goals this new year. Yes, let’s set the goals and seek to grow! But why? What’s our motivation? To bless the people around us so that we can put taste, touch, smell, and sight to the goodness of God. Let’s glorify him and point others to him in our discipline with our health goals. Let’s glorify him and point others to his provision through learning to cook or bake or garden or cultivate. Let’s glorify him and point others to his creativity through learning new skills like watercolor, painting, drawing, sewing, hand lettering or graphic design. Let’s glorify him through growing intellectually in the books we read and consider and discuss.

The possibilities are endless. And whatever goals we set this year likely differ from last year. What goals I need to set and pursue will look differently from what you need to do. So don’t look sideways for too long. Consider the people God has given you, whether you’re single or mothering a houseful of children, an empty nester or widowed. Look around. How is God blessing you through your goals? Who can you bless? How can you glorify him?

I assure you…the fulfillment that comes from mere self-improvement is shallow and empty compared to the much deeper fulfillment that comes from living how God has commanded us. Let’s bless others with our goals, and glorify our God. It’s why we were created.

I’d love to know: what are your goals for 2022, and how are you using them to bless others around you?

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