Why is it important to identify specific financial objectives? How does this fit in with what Jesus said about letting tomorrow "worry about itself" (Matthew 6:34)? If I make plans and set monetary goals of my own, doesn't this rule out the necessity of trusting God on a day-by-day basis?
Not necessarily. Everything depends on how you look at it. It's a question of balancing two equally valid but apparently contradictory spiritual truths. You can see similar paradoxes in nearly all of the really important areas of biblical faith and Christian living. For example, we are saved by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8, 9), yet faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Believers are called to "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), but this is only possible because God is working within them (Philippians 2:13). Strength, in God's economy, is weakness and weakness is strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so it goes.
In the same way, Scripture tells us that "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the Lord's counsel – that will stand" (Proverbs 19:21). Does this mean that human goals and plans are worthless? From a certain perspective, yes. After all, God is sovereign, and we are utterly dependent upon His will (Isaiah 46:9, 10; Matthew 10:30). But from another angle it's obvious that this doesn't necessarily entail complete passivity on our part. Consider the apostle Paul. He had many plans, and he wasn't shy about setting them forth in great detail when the situation seemed to call for it (Romans 15:22-33). At the same time, Paul knew by experience that the Lord could change those plans at any time (Acts 16:6, 7). The point, as James explains, is not to stop making plans. It's to keep our goals in perspective and hold them lightly, maintaining the attitude that "if the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:13-17). In the final analysis, God is always in charge.
How do we apply these thoughts to the practical problem of financial plans and goals? We can begin by recalling that biblical stewardship is a matter of using God-given gifts and resources (time, talent, treasure, truth, relationships) for the accomplishment of God-given goals and objectives. The most important part of this formula, of course, is the modifier God-given. When you're convinced that God has given you a goal, there is an element of faith involved in pursuing it. A faith goal is an objective toward which I move because I believe that God has directed me to do so.
This is not a question of having "all your ducks in row." Instead, it's about stepping out. The late Henrietta Mears used to tell her students that "God can't steer a parked car." If I set a faith goal and move in that direction, God can intervene and change the goal in time. The important thing is to get moving. Many people have no stated financial goals, and they usually suffer for it. As Yogi Berra is reported to have said, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going because you might not get there."
Bear in mind that goal-setting is dynamic. Write your goals in sand, not concrete. A financial goal is not truly a goal until you can put it on paper in a specific, measurable way, but it won't be a realistic goal unless you can keep it flexible. We suggest that you spend some serious time in prayer asking the Lord what He wants you to do with your time, money and talents. Then write down your impressions, making them as measurable as possible. After that, take action, casting your cares and burdens on the Lord. Preface your objectives with the qualifier, "I believe God would have me _____."
Once you've reached this point in the process, you can begin to make your objectives more specific. Write out a list of five to ten goals related to and drawn from the following catalogue of topics: savings, debt, lifestyle, marriage, children, education, vacations, investments, insurance, taxes, and, of course, giving. Make sure that they're well defined and try to quantify them wherever possible. For example, "We'd like to set aside $____ toward a down payment on a house by next January," or "We plan to give $______ to our church within the next twelve months." When your list is complete, review it carefully and break it down into short-term and long-term objectives.
For additional help and information on this topic, we'd encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don't hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.
Why Set Financial Goals?: Ron Blue offers four reasons for setting financial goals.
Family & Personal Finances (resource list)
Money and Finances