So many of us resolve to do new things in the New Year. So few of us see those resolutions through to completion. Why? How can we be so certain about the things we need and want to change, and yet be so unsuccessful in our follow-through?
I’m not pointing any fingers. I’ve made the same lofty promises to myself about how many miles I would run in the new year, how often I would fast and what from, how many hand-written letters I would write to loved ones each month, as so on. In fact, I can only think of one – just one – New Year’s resolution I made and actually kept all the way through to December 31. About three years ago, I determined to read the whole Bible through in a year, and with God’s help, I did it. It was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding personal challenges I have ever given myself (and my lone successful New Year’s resolution!).
Most years, I don’t even set any New Year’s resolutions, partly because I know how unsuccessful I am with them. I do set personal growth goals at other times of year, with far greater success (such as at Lent, or over the summer months, or at the beginning of a new semester).
So back to my original question: why are we so bad at New Year’s resolutions? Or stated more positively, what makes a goal reachable? What makes a personal growth objective truly attainable? Specifically, as Christ-followers, how do we achieve positive forward momentum in our spiritual growth?
First, we must own this fact: we cannot will ourselves to holiness. Sheer effort alone cannot produce godliness. We can incrementally improve ourselves and our states of being (our health, our weight, our schedule, our habits, etc.). But if any one of our New Year’s resolutions has anything to do with our spiritual formation as followers of Jesus, our own will power is not going to be sufficient. Effort and striving do not a disciple of Jesus make!
The cornerstones of spiritual growth are trust and obedience. And inherent in both of these is the discipline of listening.
What if, rather than just setting our own personal growth goals for the New Year, we took that task to God, and asked Him to set our goals? What if we sat quietly before the Lord, with a blank sheet of paper and an uncapped pen, said, “Lord Jesus, what are Your goals for me this new year?”, and then waited in stillness and silence for Him to give us His list for us?
Maybe He would say nothing at all. And the discipline of sitting with Jesus and listening to what He would say would be the thing you resolve to do more often this year. To press on in listening until He speaks. Some of the sweetest moments with Jesus are the ones where nothing is said at all. (These can be some of the most therapeutic as well – especially if life circumstances have you feeling anxious or overwhelmed.)
Maybe He would only give you ONE clear objective. Fantastic!
- Write that on a note card and keep it in your pocket, purse, or wallet all this year.
- Laminate it and stick it to your bathroom mirror or car’s dashboard.
- Type it out and save it as your computer screen-saver or iPad background.
- And then make it a matter of daily prayer, trusting God for growth and direction in that area, and obeying what further instruction He may give you as the year goes by.
Maybe He would give you a whole list of things, in which case, I encourage you to press into God and ask Him to help you prioritize that list. To rank each item in order. “Lord, which of these items is most important to You? Which of these resolutions that You have given me should get my first attention this year?”
As a follower of Jesus, spiritual growth is a gift of grace. It is not something you can force. You can’t strain yourself really really hard to become holy – to reach maturity as Christ’s disciple. Discipleship is something you participate in, cooperate with, and receive. It is not something you obtain through effort and will power.
Resolve to change one thing this new year, and commit it to God, relying on His strength to accomplish your goal. Better yet, resolve to ask God what His resolution is for you in this new year; then listen to what He says, and resolve to do that!