Still Going Strong?
How are your New Year's resolutions going? Still going strong? Or is your resolve beginning to waver? Have some of those fine ideals already fallen by the wayside?
What are we to do with our failed New Year's resolutions?
Here’s my good news: they probably don’t matter. Your failure to keep going might be a sign that what seemed so important in December is not actually that important after all. Still not read War and Peace? Finding there’s never enough time to go to the gym? Maybe that’s because you’re already doing more important things.
Here’s the test: will your New Year's resolution make you more like Jesus? We can have all sorts of aspirations and expectations for ourselves. But this is God’s plan: that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).
But this is God’s plan: that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).
Even some noble-sounding resolutions might not fit this agenda. After all, there were times when Jesus chose not to heal the sick. As a human being, he lived with limited time and so he focused on what was really important. And in Mark 1:35–39, that meant preaching the message of the kingdom rather than healing the sick. We all have twenty-four hours in each day and no amount of resolve will add an extra hour (Luke 12:25).
So ask yourself some hard questions about the motives that drove your resolutions. Was that resolution to read War and Peace actually driven by a fear of being poorly read? Did your resolve to go to the gym each day actually reflect a desire for the admiration of others? Then maybe it’s not a bad thing that you gave up so soon.
Your Resolve and God’s
But what about those resolutions that were genuinely (or even partly—for our motives are normally mixed and confused) driven by a desire to be like Christ?
Here’s where the good news gets even better. The triune God is more committed to that agenda than you are. The Father has designed all the circumstances of your life with that goal in mind. The Son gave his life to set you free from the power of sin. The Spirit is giving you new desires and new power for change.
Your Christ-centered resolutions might need a little adjustment to their form. Maybe getting up at 5 a.m. to pray wasn’t such a good idea after all. But don’t give up on the substance. Accept the grace that is ours in Christ. And then start again.
And then think about what you’re turning from and what you’re turning to. "Turning" is simply another word for repentance. We repent of sin and turn back to God. So think about the behavior you want to change. What does it offer you? What’s its false promise? And then think about what God offers you. What’s the promise of the gospel?
Suppose you resolved to pray more. What you’re turning from is the lie that you can cope on your own. What you’re turning to is the promise that God is a Father who delights to hear his children and respond with his blessing. Now the challenge is not so much to get up at 5 a.m. every day—that makes it all about you and your "heroic" efforts. Instead, the challenge is to have faith in the fatherly compassion of God—to recognize your need and his generosity. This creates behavior change that is driven by faith in the gospel. The focus has shifted away from you and towards God’s grace and glory.
God designed you with the capacity to pause and ponder. He means for you not just to hear him, but to reflect on what he says.
For many of us, the "spiritual disciplines" are little more than a list of things we aren't doing but feel like we should be doing.
The problem with all of our desires to change is that they’re not ambitious enough.