The other day while I was at work, a co-worker mentioned that she was reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. She told me that one of the habits listed in the book was that with every goal, a person should begin with the end in mind, and work backwards in order to identify the steps needed to reach it.
I immediately nodded my head in agreement because I have found that to be true in many aspects of my life, and in the lives of others. When we begin a diet, or start an exercise routine, we envision what we want to look like in the future and begin to make the changes necessary in order to align our actions with our goal. We may not have every little detail planned out, but we do at least create a basic outline of what is going to help us get to our goal. Rarely do we ever accidentally reach some new height without some sort of plan in the process.
As a matter of fact, Stephen R. Covey (the author of the book), did not come up with something entirely new when he wrote about that concept. It is something that is innate to all of us. We have been practicing that method to achieve goals ever since we can remember.
For example, if you are hungry, you know that what will satisfy your desire is food. You then might think, “What do I want to eat?”. At this point, certain foods may come to mind that would bring you more pleasure than others (for me, a sandwich or chocolate usually does the trick). Suppose you decided on a sandwich. You have now created a goal: Eat a sandwich. What do you think happens next? Well, you will begin to identify the steps needed to reach this goal. You may prepare a sandwich using the ingredients available to you in your home, or you may drive to the store to purchase one, or you may find some other way to get one into your hands. Whatever the steps may be, you know intuitively that this is how you reach goals that you have the power to achieve.
So if this is something that we all understand, why did Steven R. Covey have to re-emphasize this point in his book? I believe the reason is because we don’t always apply it towards all of our goals, all of the time. Sometimes we only apply it towards the goals that are comfortable or easy for us to accomplish, or the ones that we regard as important. Sometimes we get so bogged down with everything that life may bring our way, that we forget there are other goals that are more important.
As pondered this concept, I remembered the ultimate goal that God has in mind for us, namely, our attainment of eternal life. Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?“ Have you ever pondered this question? In other words, what is the ultimate end? What is the ultimate goal of our lives? Is it to become rich? Famous perhaps? To find the perfect spouse or career? We should always ask ourselves the question, “Are these things worth more than living forever?”
I believe that if you are reading this, you think that your life, however bad it may be in your eyes, is still better than not being alive. If I am right, then wouldn’t eternal life, which the Scriptures promise would bring true satisfaction and joy in our hearts, be even better than living a mere 70 or so troublesome, weary, and sometimes painful, years on this planet?
I am perplexed sometimes as to how little those who claim to be Christians, align their lives with the goal that Jesus re-emphasized over and over to us during his earthly years. As a matter of fact, Jesus was so emphatic about the importance of thinking with an eternal end in mind, that he would sometimes address the questions that were embedded in a secular/earthly context directly with an answer that was in a strictly eternal context, with no apology or explanation as to why.
Take for instance the passage found in Luke 13 where Jesus is told about the way that some people had died. Those who told him about this were perhaps implicitly highlighting their belief that the dreadfulness of someone’s death depends on the degree of the sins they committed before their death. Jesus then responds, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
It is clear that everyone who lives on this earth will die, regardless of whether they repent of their sins or not. But what is interesting is that when Jesus says the word “perish” in this context, he is referring to the eternal death, not the physical death that we all must endure. Jesus responds to their questions with answers that draw their attention to the eternal consequences of their own decisions, instead of answers that entertain their unfruitful pursuits.
Sometimes we can become so committed to having a perfect earthly life that we completely forget that this is simply a phase in our eternal state of being. I remember hearing a sermon once by a pastor who gave the illustration of this life’s pursuits through the playing of a board game. He talked about how whenever he would play a particular board game with his sister, he would get very angry whenever things didn’t go his way. Not only that, but he would almost always lose! Whenever she won the game, she would say the phrase, “now it all goes back in the box.” Meaning, that the game is over, and now it is time to turn our attention back to real life, the matters that we need to pay more attention to.
Do we spend too much time and effort trying to attain earthly pleasures without ensuring that they are part of the eternal goal? Do we view the goals in our life as ends in and of themselves, or as steps that will help us achieve our supreme goal of eternal life? Do we often try to trade that which lasts forever for that which is only temporary?
I believe that if we remind ourselves daily that our eternal life, and secondly the eternal life of others, is what is most important to us, then we will make decisions that will lead to an accomplishment that surpasses anything that this world and life can offer. And with that reward will come the greatest accolade that one could ever receive: “Well done, good and faithful servant“.
Remember, whenever you want to achieve something, start with the end in mind and work backwards.
What is your end in mind?
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” – John 17:3