All my life, I have longed for power, order, beauty. I have wanted to be better, plan better, look better.

Every morning, I fashion new promises. And most nights, I make my bed among the broken pieces.

I blame circumstances, I blame others, I blame myself.

Stop regarding man
in whose nostrils is breath,
for of what account is he?
For behold, the Lord God of hosts
is taking (it all) away…  (Isaiah 2:24, Isaiah 3:1)

In Isaiah 3, God has had enough. The people of Jerusalem and Judah have brought evil on themselves with their sin (Isaiah 3:9).

And so the Lord God of Hosts is coming to remove power —

taking away…the mighty man and the soldier,
the judge and the prophet,
the diviner and the elder (Isaiah 3:1-2)

and order

And I will make boys their princes,
and infants shall rule over them…(Isaiah 3:4).

and beauty

Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
and branding instead of beauty (Isaiah 3:24).

Strength and control and loveliness are not just the magazine-cover goals of our generation. They are the cry of eternity,  our destiny. We were made for them — this image of God in us.

So the sin that leads to their loss, like that of the people of Israel, is never power, order, and beauty themselves. The sin is craving and enjoying them apart from the Person and ways of the One who created them — the God whose holiness and existence they are meant to reflect.

Their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence (Isaiah 3:9, emphasis mine).

When we pursue power, order, or beauty — or anything else — for its own sake, we believe that keeping rules and crossing off checklists is our road to righteousness. We think that earthly systems can achieve heaven-satisfying results.

We turn God’s blessings into our goals instead of His gifts.

O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths (Isaiah 3:12).

There are day-to-day differences between treating longings as your goals vs. God’s gifts —

  • Achieving a goal depends on me; receiving a gift depends on God.
  • Achieving a goal is fueled by dissatisfaction; receiving a gift deepens my gratitude.
  • Achieving a goal leads to heavy labor; receiving a gift leads to prayer and rest.
  • Achieving a goal increases anxiety; receiving a gift takes trust and patience.
  • Achieving a goal brings glory to me; receiving a gift brings glory to God.

So, how do we turn our goals back into into gifts? We bookend all our efforts and obedience with two important steps:

Before all things, we pray and acknowledge God in our desires, recognizing them as His blessings to give and His prerogatives to order. We commit to work with Him, not against Him, even if that means exchanging our most cherished goals for something else.

Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds (Isaiah 3:10).

After all things, we trust. If we’ve made our longings a matter of prayer and obedience, and we’re not seeing progress, we can rest in the fact that God has different priorities for this day. He shines glory through the holes of our weakness, pours grace on flaws when we cannot, and is looking to show us His face in another place.

For, above all, God’s greatest gift to us is more of Himself, and He knows best how to give it.

five hidden dangers of setting goals. Isaiah 3