Is modern business wisdom destroying Christian spirituality? Oswald Chambers once asked, “[Do we consider ourselves] so amazingly important that we really wonder what God Almighty does before we wake up in the morning?”
Contemporary sages tell us to apply business models to our spiritual work. They admonish us to make S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. They teach us that the closer we follow these instructions, the more effective our lives will be.
But natural insight doesn’t translate into spiritual wisdom. It’s not even a dialect.
The author Oswald Chambers was mostly unknown during his lifetime. Before he died (at the age of forty-three) only the tiniest circles of believers had even heard of him. And at the time of his death, he had only glimpsed a proof of the manuscript of his first book. If he leaned on S.M.A.R.T goals, how would he have evaluated his life on the day of his death?
But since his death, his words have influenced tens of millions, and his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, is one of top selling books of all time. Instead of leaning into worldly wisdom, Paul encourages us:
“Judge nothing before its time; wait for the Lord. He will bring to light what is hidden and he will expose the motives of the heart.
“At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5 emphasis added).
The world tells us to measure our results. God says the only result that matters is found in a personal connection with him. In that connection, he takes the broken bread-crumbs of our lives and feeds thousands.
How many of our S.M.A.R.T. goals are measured to make ourselves the hero of our own little mini-series?
It’s Not That S.M.A.R.T. Goals Are Dumb
Jesus commends our natural understanding; he just questions our spiritual understanding: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:56).
There are all kinds of personal intentions that will be aided by S.M.A.R.T. goals. You might say:
- I plan to lose ten pounds in ten months by eating only 1600 calories a day and running three miles three times a week; or
- We want strengthen our marriage by improving our communication; we will attend a Love Language conference, spend twenty minutes a day listening to each other, and have a date night once a week for the next year.
I don’t mean we should abandon natural goals. It’s just that the deepest legacy of our lives will be accomplished only–only!–through God’s hidden work in us. When we die to ourselves and let him live.
As Jesus once said to Peter: “What I am doing now you do not understand, but later on you will” (John 13:7). And then Jesus washed his feet.
Which made absolutely no sense to the SMART-goal driven Peter. But later on, it did.
We Just Don’t Know
We are the worst judges in the world when it comes to interpreting spiritual reality. Two sad stragglers on the way home to Emmaus told a stranger that they were despairing because:
“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, but our chief priests and rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and crucified him.
“But we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:19-21)
They hoped Jesus would save Israel, but instead he was killed. The irony was: the only way he could save Israel was to be killed! They saw life from the wrong side of the grave.
As long as we continue to deify natural common sense we will strangle supernatural sense. The way up is down. Peter said “I will lay down my life for you;” then he abandoned Jesus. His natural strength was useless until he let it die in humiliation and was raised by the supernatural love of Jesus.
We worry too much about the wrong stuff. There is only one way to Get SMART, and that is to join Agent 86 and humbly admit: “Sorry about that Chief … would you believe … I missed it by that much.”