making progress as a christian

The Personal Progress Obsession

As I looked over my freshly minted list of goals for the new year, I noticed myself feeling a little bit deflated. I wondered whether my goals were “ambitious” enough. 

Was I “dreaming big” enough? 

Compared with some of the huge dreams other people have (like writing a book, starting a new job, or moving across the country) my modest goals (tidy the kitchen every night before bed, create a homeschool morning routine, wake up at 6am every day, etc.) seemed a little pathetic. And yes, comparison might be part of the problem there, but I was also looking back on my own goals of previous years. Weren’t they a little less, well, boring?

In a world where we’re privy to the achievements of friends, family, and total strangers 24/7 via a live newsfeed, I wonder if we’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of always needing to make progress and personal growth. 

You can see this obsession in statements like:

  • “If you’re not moving forwards, you’re going backwards.”
  • “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.”
  • “Strive for progress, not perfection.”

But what about when we don’t make progress? What about when it feels like things are going backwards instead of forwards? 

Whether it be due to chronic illness, disability, or sudden trauma making survival, rather than progress, the highest priority.

Or, like a mother who feels the satisfaction of getting the kitchen completely cleaned up only to discover the kids have topsy-turvy’d the playroom, we conquer one area of personal discipline, only to turn around and see a brand new sin has taken hold in another. 

Longing for Change

At heart, I believe our craving for progress is a result of living in a world where things aren’t perfect. We sense that things are not meant to be like this. We know something is wrong when we face struggles within our hearts and outside ourselves. 

And so we make our goals and dream our dreams, and we pin our hopes on the belief that we can change and make things better, first in our private world, and then the world at large. 

The problem is that we can’t do this, at least not consistently. Because of sin’s corrupting influence on the world and in our hearts, trying to push forward and make progress all the time is doomed to fail. 

The good news is that our desire to see things get better (which is, ultimately, a longing for heaven) is satisfied in Jesus. He promised to make all things new, and He will do it. One day, sin and it’s ripples will be forever removed from the heavens and the earth. We will no longer struggle with sin inwardly, or suffer under its oppressive effects externally. 

Christian Progress

Where does that leave us for now?

While some of us (me included!) might find it helpful to set goals and make action plans, all Christians are called to walk in obedience to God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Christian personal progress looks like:

  • Pressing on towards the goal of eternal life. (Philippians 3:8-14)
  • Growing in our love and knowledge of God. (Philippians 1:9)
  • Growing in our love for other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)
  • Listening to and doing what God tells us to in His word. (James 1:22)
  • Persevering in doing good. (Galatians 6:9
  • “Mak[ing] every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-10)

So while we may well choose to make goals around our personal health, business ventures, time management, hobbies, etc. the most important progress to pursue is growing in Christlikeness. And far from being small or insignificant, this is the kind of progress that will last into eternity.

Related reading:

Setting Goals to the Glory of God

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