Set Short-Term Goals

Gary North

Let’s review the five points of the biblical covenant model:

1. God’s sovereignty
2. Man’s delegated authority
3. God’s law
4. God’s sanctions (positive and negative)
5. Inheritance in history

This is understood in terms of five questions.

1. Who’s in charge here?
2. To whom do I report?
3. What are the rules?
4. What do I get if I obey? Disobey?
5. Does this outfit have a future?

These five points are inescapable in economics.

1. God’s original ownership
2. Man’s stewardship
3. God’s kingdom: “seek first”
4. God’s blessings: “all these things”
5. The inheritance: “the meek shall inherit the earth”

Making Other Plans

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that (James 4:13-15).

Years ago, an American folk singer named Gamble Rogers wrote a lyric: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” The Beatle, John Lennon, made the line famous. He once admitted that it was Rogers’ line.

Rogers learned how true this was when he went into the ocean in Florida to rescue a man from drowning. The man survived. Rogers drowned. That was in 1991. The state of Florida named Gamble Rogers State Park for him as a tribute.

Think of Lennon, who autographed a record album for a man, and who was shot dead by that man five hours later. Lennon had twice asked him, as he signed the album, “Is that all you want?” The man wanted far more.

If our plans are easily overturned by events, then why make plans? Because planning allows us to focus our attention on the costs of everything we do. Jesus warned:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply [it happen], after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish (Luke 14:28-30).

This is why we need long-term goals, medium-term plans, and short-term plans. They enable us to estimate the costs and benefits of our actions. They let us think more clearly about what we are doing with our lives, and why.

The unpredictability of life can overwhelm us at any time. We are less likely to be permanently sidetracked when we have a plan. We can get back to it after the interruption. We can modify it because our costs are either lower or higher in our new circumstances.

A bad plan is better than no plan, because we can modify a bad plan when we get new information, opportunities, or capital.

In the Book of Acts, there is the story of a man with a lifetime goal: living as a cripple until he died. It was not much of a goal. His plan to achieve this goal was the same every day: to sit and beg at the entrance to the temple. Then, one day, his plans changed.

And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ancle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:2-8).

Because of his daily plan, he was in the right place at the right time. This completely changed his lifetime goal. He had hoped to survive as a cripple. God delivered him from his affliction. This story is not a case against planning. It is a case for plan modification.

Short-Run Plans Should Fit into Medium-Term Plans

This is the hard part. To make your short-term plans effective, you must take care to fit them into your medium-term plans.

In 1973, I began to write a monthly column. It was part of a lifetime project: An Economic Commentary on the Bible. In 1977, I increased my commitment two ten hours a week, 50 weeks a year. I have stuck with that schedule ever since. I am close to completing the first draft of the project. It is now in the range of 25 volumes, with over 400 pages per volume. Tools of Dominion, a commentary on Exodus 21-23, is over 1,300 pages.

If God wills it, I will finish the first draft, re-write it to make it agree internally — Genesis to Revelation — pay to have it re-typeset,, re-index it (I hate to index), and publish it on-line and in print-on-demand. This could easily take two years. At age 70 — my 1977 target date to complete the project — I should be finished. Maybe this project will turn out to be an example of C. Northcote Parkinson’s most famous law: “Work expands in order to fill the time allotted for its completion.”

This will enable me to complete my life’s work, which I identified at age 18 in 1960, of writing a book on Christian economics. This will be the first such book that is based on verse-by-verse exegesis of the entire Bible: every verse that deals with economics.

I did not know how to achieve my life’s goal in 1960. My wife suggested that I write an economic commentary in 1973. It has taken me over 35 years to get close to the end of the first draft of the commentary. But if I had not begun the commentary in 1973, I know my book on Christian economics would have been inaccurate.

I set a long-term goal at age 18. I adopted a month-by-month plan in 1973. I adopted a week-by-week plan in 1977. Sticking to that plan has enabled me to be in a position to complete my long-term goal. Without the 1973 plan, I could not have done a really good job on my life’s goal. Had I not accelerated the plan in 1977, I would be nowhere near completion.

I had a good goal in 1960. I did attempt to adopt a medium-term plan educationally, but I was sidetracked many times. So was my career: how I would earn a living. My calling has never changed: to write the book on Christian economics.

My long-term goal required medium-term goals: writing individual economic commentaries. These required short-term goals: ten hours per week, 50 weeks a year. They fit together. They were part of a systematic plan.

I can measure progress weekly by inputs: hours worked. The output of this work is problematical. I pay no attention. I can assess the progress of my work by completed books.

I combine input (hours worked) with output: books completed. I assess the quality of my work as I write the chapters. There is feedback at each stage: hours invested, identifying a biblical book’s main economic theme, writing exegetical chapters, editing these chapters for consistency and readability, fitting them into a consistent book, proofreading the book, and indexing the book. Some books have taken me less than three months to write. Two books took me five years each to write: Tools of Dominion and Boundaries and Dominion, a four-volume commentary on Leviticus. Genesis took from 1973 to 1982. Appendix A took a year.

You can see the results — typeset volumes — here: Capitalism and the Bible.

I wrote one book in two weeks in 1987: Inherit the Earth: Biblical Blueprints for Economics. That book provides an overall outline of what I have discovered about Christian economics. If I die before I complete my main book, that preliminary book can guide other Christian economists. They will also have my economic commentary on the Bible.

Do not presume that you will be given all the time you need to finish. Complete medium-term steps in order to serve as your legacy in case you die before you reach your goal.

My one-week plan is numerical: hours spent. I have no quality component. There is visible progress, chapter by chapter.

I do not have to review my goals quarterly or annually. The goals are finished products, so I do not require a quality assessment. My work as a writer, editor, and proofreader serves that function. It’s easier for a writer or an artist to assess his work, project by project, than it is for someone whose output is not a completed project.

I have never set financial goals. I always have assumed that money would take care of itself. It always has. That was because I always tithed and because I have pursued a lifetime goal systematically.

I have been in debt only for my first car (1971-73) and my subscription-fulfillment costs, now cut to one year, maximum, and mostly monthly. I can pay off my one-year subscribers for under $3,500.

If you are in debt, if you have not tithed, and if you have not systematically pursued a lifetime goal, you will have to pay close attention to identifying your calling (lifetime legacy) and your financial goals (the means to achieve your legacy). In your case, money will not take care of itself. You have lots of obligations and few reserves.

The process of selecting short-term goals and medium-term goals is like selecting a path to a final destination. The road map is incomplete. The time available is uncertain. The destination may have to be altered at some point because of circumstances, especially a terminal disease. But you must begin somewhere. You are being pushed from behind: the ticking clock. You only have so many ticks. You must move forward. You might as well move forward according to a plan. This plan is made up of a series of goals.

Homework Assignment

Look over your medium-term goals. Use these as guidelines for your short-term goals. Try to break down these goals into these:


Daily goals should be set the night before. Select three or four things that you must accomplish before the end of the next day. If you miss one, put it at the top of the list for the day after tomorrow.

Expect to be interrupted. Try to have an open hour each day for finishing your daily goals, despite the interruptions.

With respect to each time frame’s goals, use numerical indicators and descriptive or quality indicators. Write them down on a 5×8 card or in a place where you can review your progress. Then be sure to review it.

Make modifications in your plan when you see that your schedule is not working out as planned. You may make more rapid progress than you imagined. Or you may move ahead slower than you planned. Find out what you must do, faster or slower, to move forward toward your lifetime goal.

You may safely modify your short-term goals. It is less safe to modify your five-year plan. It is dangerous to modify your lifetime plan. It defines you more than anything else. If you do not have one, then your lack of a lifetime goal defines you. If you modify it, this re-defines you.

You want to hear these words some day:

Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matt. 25:21)

Well done at what? On what? For how long? Decide now.

For guidelines, go here:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s