I left Pacific Telephone in 1978 to attend SCSE, a school of biblical studies in So. California. I did so with every expectation of returning to work. I saw a need for better equipped Bible class teachers in the church, but I never expected to preach for a living. Nevertheless, it is the case that I would not be preaching today if I had not set as my goal taking a leave of absence to learn how to study and teach the Bible. So, a funny thing happened on my way to becoming a better teacher.
Have you ever set a goal you never reached—at least not yet, but had you not set that goal, you would have never experienced something, or gone somewhere, or been trained for a skill if you had not set that initial goal?
Some scholars have argued that the reason Paul wrote his letter to the saints in Rome was to ask for their support for his trip to Spain. Some were making slanderous charges against him (Rom. 3:8), so he writes this letter spelling out his beliefs surrounding the Gospel, in part, to set the record straight. Paul never made it to Spain, which means this magnificent letter may have never been written if he had never planned to visit Spain in the first place.
Dante’s Divine Comedy is heralded by some literature professors as the greatest epic poem ever written. Charles Grosvenor Osgood describes Dante as “…encyclopedic, inexhaustible, a true humanist, a singer, a breeder of poetry in others, and a thorough master of his craft” (p. 32, Poetry as a Means of Grace). Scholars of the three-part Comedy say that Aligieri’s motive for writing this masterpiece was the hope of being honored in his hometown of Florence, from which he had been banished for political reasons. Unfortunately for him, he was never honored in his home town in his lifetime. He died September 14, 1321 in Ravenna and was buried there as well. If it had not been for the personal honor he sought from his home town, one of the world’s greatest epic poems would have never been written.
One more example: J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Lord of the Rings (LOTR) would have never been written if C. S. Lewis had not pestered him to write the story. Tolkien and Lewis were good friends and discussed their work with one another along with other members of the Inklings. Tolkien was a philologist by profession. Creating Middle-earth and an enflin language were hobbies. Inventing a history for the elves, dwarfs, and halflings was a pastime he had no intention of ever writing in the form we have today. And yet, Tolkien was dubbed “author of the century” in the late 1990s in two independent surveys. Some read Tolkien’s trilogy every year. One woman said she reads them annually because they make her feel “clean.” And yet, this masterpiece of literature may have never been written if it had not been to get “Jack” Lewis off Tolkien’s back.
Compared with the last three examples, leaving the phone company pales in significance, but the parallel in all four cases is that a clearly defined goal led to a work that would have never been engaged in if it had not been for the never-reached goal.
We may have goals that will never be fulfilled, but in striving after the goal, something or things may be accomplished that would have never been accomplished apart from the goal, and the blessing will be found in the accomplishment—not the goal.
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).