I have a love/hate relationship with New Year's Resolutions. On the one hand, taking the time to reflect on the past year and think about what you want to do differently/better in the year ahead can be a very helpful exercise. On the other hand, too often New Year's Resolutions become an opportunity for guilt (when we fail) or pride (when we succeed). So, as a follower of Christ, how should we think about New Year's resolutions? Are they a waste or worth the effort? I think the answer is, "It depends!" Now you certainly don't need to wait to the new year to 'resolve' to do/be better in some way - Jonathan Edwards had a list of 70 Resolutions that he revisited once a week! You can click HERE for the full list. But, if you decide to make some New Year's Resolutions, here are 6 Tips To Help You Make Meaningful and Lasting Resolutions this year!
Begin With Reflection & Prayer - We too often jump into our 'resolutions' without giving sufficient time to think and reflect on how we're doing now. Taking some time to prayerfully reflect on your life in light of God's Word, his law, his promises - invites God in his grace to cast light on blind spots and help us redirect our attention to areas where we need to grow. And if you are brave enough and have someone you respect and trust, why not ask them, "Where do you see sin, foolishness, or immaturity in my life?" Remember, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." As painful as this might be, it's worth it! As Socrates famously said, "An unexamined life, is not worth living."
Aim at the Eternal - One of the most common mistakes I see Christians make is that their resolutions are entirely focused on the temporal (ie. this world). The Christian's resolutions should not be indistinguishable from our unbelieving co-workers or neighbors. So many people make a resolve to "exercise more" after the holiday feasts. And certainly exercise and physical fitness are good things, but Paul reminds us, "for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." In other words, exercise is a good thing, but one day this body will pass away - so invest in what will never pass away! Sure, eat healthy and exercise, but don't prioritize that over seeking the spiritual good and growth of your soul and the souls of those you love!
Focus on Faithfulness over Fruitfulness - It's easy to fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on the 'fruit' - (ie. outcomes) like getting a raise, advancing in your job, leading someone to the Lord, etc. over steady faithfulness. It's not as if any of these things are bad - they just aren't something we control. God calls us to leave these in his hands and focus instead on what we can control - ourselves. And with a rubric that is not defined by the world, but by what brings HIM pleasure. Just like the servants in the parable of Matthew 25, we should make it our great aim to hear from our Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little, I will set you over much."
Cultivate Concrete Habits - This is something I learned the hard way - when we keep our goals 'out there' and somewhat vague - "I'm going to lose weight", "I'm going to read the Bible more", "I'm going to pray more", "I'm going to be a better friend", "I'm going to be a better husband, Father, etc." - then must be ready to translate those goals into practical, concrete & regular habits. There has been much discussion and writing recently on the power of habits. But suffice it to say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first steps and all growth and change begins with small, seemingly insignificant decisions we make day in and day out. In other words, no goals will be achieved, without a change in habits!
Commit with Accountability - Have you ever tried to read through the bible...or a difficult book...or memorize scripture on your own. I have. And failed. Many times. One of the most helpful things I ever did was commit to doing some of these things with a group of guys to do it with me and hold me accountable. This regular accountability and encouragement has been a game-changer for my spiritual disciplines! And we all need this! So, don't make resolutions in isolation, but in community!
Remember Your Weakness - What?!? Shouldn't I be saying at this point something like, "Now, just believe in yourself" or "Now, Just Do Your Best." Interestingly, Jesus, in some of his final words to his disciples did just the opposite. He said, "...without me you can do nothing." He wanted them to see that nothing of eternal value or spiritual significance can be accomplished in their strength, but only through active dependence on Him. You see, when we come face to face with our weakness, we learn the secret of tapping into the strength of Christ. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". So, don't "resolve" in your strength, but in His - so that when you succeed, HE gets the glory!