I am Resolved

This is a followup to last week’s article about New Year’s resolutions.

The old practice of setting New Year’s resolutions receives a lot of ridicule every January. They are something of a joke, a fool’s errand, because about 90% of them will be laid to rest before the end of winter. If you have set goals for yourself this year or are thinking about goals for the year, take a moment to consider what the Christian faith has to teach about the matter. This is not an encouragement to “hang tough” and “follow through” on your resolutions. Many of them deserve to be laid to rest. Rather, this is an encouragement to honor God with your life this year.

Half of the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are usually some form of “self improvement,” which is a made-up idol. No one does anything for the sake of “self improvement” any more than one does anything for the sake of “the economy.” Inasmuch as “self improvement” means anything at all, it is a euphemism for self-centeredness. “I’m going to start working out for self improvement” means “I’m going to try to satisfy my own vanity by lifting weights and running, and I’m going to stop doing those things once I sense that my vanity’s not being satisfied.” “I’m going to start reading more for self improvement” means, “I have no definite plan or purpose for reading, but I’m pretty sure being well-read, whatever that means, will be very satisfying to my ego.” The resolutions that we hang on “self improvement” fail when our selfish desires realize that they’re not getting anything out of the behaviors we’ve prescribed for ourselves. Such poor results shouldn’t surprise us; the self has always been the most demanding and least gratifying of the pantheon of false gods.

That is not to say that resolutions are inherently futile, nor is it to say that becoming physically and mentally fit are irrelevant to the kingdom of God. What we mean is that we must take care in the way we frame our behavior and our desires to change our behavior.

We recently considered the idea from Romans 14 that we are accountable before the Lord for all of our behavior, including the choices that the Scriptures put us at liberty to make for ourselves. “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God…. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14.6, 10). Jesus tells us that we will give account for every word we say (Matt 12.33-37). The Scriptures teach that there is not one square inch of this universe and not a single corner of our minds that the Lord does not claim as His own. He is sovereign over all of it. This means that we are to honor Him with all of it. And that is where a proper understanding of resolutions begins.

Consider your resolutions, if you have set any. Whom do they honor? Was the honor of God even a consideration in the goals you set? Choosing to honor God with your life—to present your body as a living sacrifice (Rom 12.1)—will change the way you look at your priorities.

The other half of the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are often vague, general, and abstract. This is related to the first problem; how can the content of your resolution be anything definite, specific, or concrete if the object of your resolution (“self improvement”) is mush?

You are going to “be more holy?” That is an admirable goal; what do you mean? Where are you lacking? Is it a failure to fast? A failure to pray? A failure to give to the poor? Do you hate your neighbor? Are you giving in to greed, lust, or pride? What is the biblical alternative to your unholiness? Remember the parable of the man who was cleansed of a demon and did nothing to fill himself with good (Luke 11.24-26). You need to discern what specifically you need to work on.

You are going to “pray more?” Good; but again, what does that mean? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you merely seeking to assuage your own conscience by increasing the number of times you pray? Or are you looking to honor God and grow in your service to Him through the discipline of prayer? How will you do it? Resolve to do concrete things. “I will pray the Lord’s Prayer each morning when I first wake up” is definite, specific, and concrete.

As you shift your priorities to honor God rather than yourself, and as you make concrete changes in your life that reflect those priorities, you will find that new avenues of devotion are opened to you. To continue with the example of the Lord’s Prayer, a constant practice of praying it may make you more aware of how richly the Lord has blessed you, or it may make you more aware of grievances that you have against others which you need to forgive.

May the Lord bless you with fruitful service this year.