Because we do not know how long we will live, we must make presumptions about our life expectancy when we set lifetime goals for ourselves.
At the age of 18, I set a lifetime goal for myself: to understand what the Bible has to say about economics. I was not certain how long I would live, but I knew that the general estimate that Moses offers in Psalm 90:10 is 70 years. Anything beyond 70 years is gravy. Anything beyond 70 years in which an individual still has his wits and strength about him is something of a miracle.
I think it is wise for anyone who sets a lifetime goal to use age 75 as the outside limit. Beyond age 80, most people do not have the strength, mental state, an opportunity to pursue a lifetime goal. Occasionally, people over age 82 achieve remarkable things. But, in general, if you are realistic, you would be wise to use age 75 as your limit area you must then schedule your achievements to meet this goal.
Because we cannot presume upon God to give us 75 years, we should break down our lifetime goal into a series of preliminary goals. These preliminary goals should be valuable as stand-alone achievements. If we are not productive beyond age 75, or if something intervenes in our lives that makes it impossible for us to achieve our primary lifetime goal, we still leave a good legacy behind in the form of intermediate goals which we have achieved on our pathway to our primary lifetime goal.
Let me give an example from my own life. At age 18, I began to study the Bible as best I could in terms of economic issues. I really did not achieve the first stage of my goal until age 31. In 1973, my book was published, An Introduction to Christian Economics. That book was a preliminary attempt to begin to think through some of the issues that the Bible raises about economics.
In that same year, I began a project which is not yet completed. I began a verse-by-verse study of every verse in the Bible that relates to economics. I began with Genesis. As of April 2009, 22 volumes were in print. I still had three or four volumes left to right. Nevertheless, the bulk of my preliminary efforts was behind me. Some of them are hardbacks; some of them are paperbacks; and some of them are in PDF files posted on the World Wide Web (Capitalism and the Bible). But anyone who wants to get this information can download these materials free of charge. I have done this work primarily for myself. I needed to know what the Bible says about economics.
I set age 70 as my finished date when I began the second phase of this project in 1977. I spend 10 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, in working on the economic commentaries on the Bible. At age 70, I always planned to take whatever I had written and write a detailed, large book on Christian economics. By then, I thought I would have most of my exegetical work completed. On the whole, I seem to be on target for this deadline.
If I were to die tomorrow, a successor could put together a competent summary of what I have already published. He could read my materials and write a large book on Christian economics based on these materials. This is what I mean by intermediate goals. Each of the Bible commentaries on biblical economics stands by itself. It is a completed project. I did this because I always wanted to leave something behind, even if I did not live long enough to complete my lifetime project: a comprehensive theory of Christian economics, one that is based on detailed exegetical work on every verse in the Bible that relates in some way to economics.
You are in a position to set a lifetime goal for yourself. This project should be related to your calling: the most important thing you can do in which you would be most difficult to replace. To do this wisely, you should have a long-term plan, but the plan must have intermediate steps. These intermediate steps should be stand-alone projects.
If you have not yet sat down with paper and pencil confirm in writing to yourself that you will achieve a particular lifetime goal by age 75, then you are cheating yourself. There is something you can leave behind that will be of great value, but if you do not pursue a systematic plan, you are unlikely to achieve this goal. Furthermore, if your plan does not call for success indicators along the way to tell you that you are being successful in pursuing your lifetime plan, you are unlikely to be successful. Each of these success indicators should be valuable to other people.
Most people have never sat down with a piece of paper and pencil to go through this exercise. They do not have a long-term lifetime goal. They do not have success indicators that would serve as stand-alone stepping stones along the way to the achievement of their lifetime goal. Most people do not systematically prepared to leave a legacy behind.
This may seem difficult to you if you are deeply in debt. You may think that your primary goal is to get out of debt. But this is shortsighted. In order to stick with the debt-elimination program, you need to have a lifetime goal, as well as preliminary intermediate goals, that will motivate you to stay on your program to get out of debt.
Getting out of debt is an excellent intermediate goal. It is valuable in itself. It will give you a sense of achievement. It should be regarded as a stepping stone. You should see it as a preliminary step in the lifetime achievement of something that you regard as both important and unique to your abilities and circumstances. If you have this lifetime goal in front of you, and if the intermediate goals are best achieved when you are out of debt, you then have strong motivation to get out of debt and stay out of debt.