MAKING RESOLUTIONS WORK
By Paul Anderson
Most of us feel a need for some changes. If you don’t, check your pulse. And New Year’s seems like a good time for resolve. We are throwing away the old calendar, and we’d like to toss out some old habits just as easily. Something noble rises within us: “I am going to change.” Not a bad way to think, and there’s biblical precedent for doing it on New Year’s and on other special times, like…
Daily. The day started for the Hebrew the night before: “There was evening and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:5). I carry in my Bible questions to help review my day. Here are three of the six: Did I live for others today? Did I miss any God-appointed opportunities to help someone? Is God pleased with me or do I need to ask forgiveness? That one sometimes stumps me, and I need to confess to a family member before retiring. Paul counseled the Ephesians not to go to bed with negative emotions (Ephesians 4:26). Let’s resolve to start the day right—as we hit the sack!
Weekly. Each Sabbath brought a new opportunity for a Hebrew. A day of rest meant more time for reflection. Worshipping Christians find an opportunity for self-evaluation in Holy Communion: “Let a man examine himself before he eats…” (I Cor. 11:28). Let’s start off new weeks right!
Monthly. Hebrews built their calendar around the moon. The new moon brought a fresh month. The thin crescent visible at sunset set the day apart as holy. Time slowed down and work ceased, bringing a chance for rest and review. Some of my friends take a day a month for reflection. Not bad for a marriage, a family, a business, a church.
Yearly. The Hebrew agrarian society harmonized with nature. Key seasons came at springtime and harvest, and with it the early and latter rains. Spring brought fresh beginnings, as did bringing in the crops. Calendars were especially important for Jews because of the celebrations attached to them. All the major feasts of the children of Israel cluster around spring (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost) and fall (Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles). Feasts were holy days, marked by worship, celebration, and reflection. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated in the fall. It gave them (and still does) a time of serious introspection, confession, and resolve.
The God who says, “Behold! I make all things new,” gives us the desire to make some changes as well. Businesses take inventories. Not a bad idea for human beings to do the same. And Paul did write that “each one should test his own actions” (Gal. 6:4). A new day or a new year can be an appropriate time to team up with heaven. Evaluating where we are at different seasons in life and initiating necessary changes make good sense. Nature and faith provide us with those seasons. But we must consider one liability—
We cannot change. Resolutions will fail if founded upon our ability to make them happen. Paul had to acknowledge that will power alone did not get the job done: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:15,18). He discovered that desire failed—every time. Resolutions, then, should perhaps start with the confession: “I can’t.”
God changes us through the Holy Spirit. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, not good advice. Jesus came because we couldn’t change. If we could, we would not have needed the cross. God works from the inside out, not by grit but by the Holy Spirit. He brings the changes we all want, like love, joy, peace, and self-control! And we would do well to remember that we become what we behold. The more we look at Jesus, the more we look like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). So if we simply concentrate on all those negatives that need to be reverse, we’re just digging the hole deeper.
You might want to state your resolutions as an invitation rather than as a challenge. Instead of saying, “I am going to exercise more,” try saying: “God, I am trusting you in this New Year to work in me self-control. And by your grace I am going to exercise two times a week.” That puts the focus on a faithful God rather than on introspective me. I do not change by becoming more self-conscious but by becoming more Christ-conscious.
Most resolutions center around physical and spiritual health. Add what people want to quit, like smoking or worry, and we have 90% of all resolutions. But less is more. When we expect more and get less, we grow discouraged and quit. If we catch the rhythm of change throughout the year, we don’t have to put all our marbles in the New Year’s basket. Otherwise we cave in by Valentine’s Day and give it a shot ten months later.
The Bible provides ample testimony of people whose resolutions changed their lives—and others. “Daniel resolved not to defile himself…” (Daniel 1:8) The KJV says that he “purposed in his heart.” Solomon purposed to build a temple to the Lord (I Kings 5:5), and he followed through. The psalmist purposed not to sin with his mouth (Psalm 17:3). We are to give of our financial resources as we purpose in our minds (2 Cor. 9:7). So resolutions can work—if we work them properly, if we do them under the guidance and power of the Spirit. The calendar provides us with a rhythm for resolution. We can be walking in a routine throughout the year. Then the New Year’s goals have a foundation for incremental change that makes them realistic. Resolutions can work!
One final word about change: who we are determines what we do. Conduct follows creed. Those who only focus on the imperative, “I must change,” or “I’ve got to start exercising,” don’t usually get the results that they want. The indicative leads to the imperative. The Christian life is more about receiving than doing. It is more a matter of finding out what God has done for us to make us who we are than asking how we are supposed to live. If we know that we are princes and princesses, how we live follows from that identity in Christ. We don’t live by shoulds and oughts as much as by ams and ises. We live by the work of Christ within us. Parents who focus only on behavior with their children will not see the kind of behavior they are looking for. But those who through love and affirmation give their children a healthy identity find that they live at that level. When we get the indicative down (who we are), the imperative (how we’re commanded to be) comes more as an invitation than as difficult standard. Identity drives behavior.