New Year’s Reflection (Not Resolutions)
A few days before the turn of the calendar to 2015, I was asked a question by a barista where I was grabbing a coffee: “do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?” He didn’t seem to know what to do with my answer: “I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions.” He quickly changed the subject to something else.
Please understand, I’m not against New Year’s Resolutions per se. In many ways, they speak volumes to a God given desire for abundant life. However, quite often, resolutions address that desire in ineffective ways and in ways that deny deep theological truth.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul talks about how unhappy we can be with our lot in our life. We get frustrated that we don’t have this gift or that gift. We compare ourselves to others and wish that our lives were like theirs. The conversation transitions when Paul writes: “You earnestly desire the higher gifts, but I will show you a still more excellent way.” What is that more excellent way? In the following verses, we find this beautiful prose:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
How often do we desire what is not ours when our true desire is to love others? Love is fundamentally not about us. It is about listening to the heart of God and seeking to express that heart in word and deed to others. Love is about self-sacrifice, not self-realization. Love is about making ourselves vulnerable, not self-protection or self-promotion. The risky thing about this kind of love is that it is counter intuitive. We have an innate sense that we need to take care of ourselves. Jesus ties into this desire when He says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:24-25) As we think about what is best for us in life, it is to let go of self. The irony is that we find our deepest, truest sense of self when we stop making life about us. We find ourselves when we let love be our deepest motivation. As we think about resolutions, are they about loving others or protecting our sense of self?
Another element that can be defeating about New Year’s Resolutions is that we can subtly believe that the changing of the calendar has some “magical powers” associated with it. We probably aren’t thinking that on the conscious level but we do read and hear things like: “we get a blank slate” or “we are offered a second chance.” The truth is that January 1 is just a day. Another deeper truth is that “His mercies are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23). In fact, His steadfast love (forgiving love) never ceases. It is unstoppable. When we make resolutions, we might just be forgetting that God is always at work … on March 22 as well as October 3 or January 1. Every moment of every day, He is at work in us … desiring to fulfill His loving purposes in us and through us. As we think about resolutions, do we recognize that He is lovingly active and present in our lives all the time?
Finally, resolutions can be dependent upon our will power and effort. Whether we are successful or not is generally dependent upon how disciplined we are which is frequently a function of temperament or family upbringing or other factors. The problem with will power and effort is not that we might not be successful. The problem is two-fold: first, we end up gaining our sense of self from our efforts or lack thereof (we are prideful or depressed based on our success); second, everything begins and ends with us.
So, we do well to remember that God encourages us over and over again that we are not what we do. We are beloved by God and have an identity in Him as a child of God, adopted into His family. Adoption is about the loving choice of a parent, not the performance of the child (cf. Gal. 4:6-7). Falling into the trap that our worth and significance is based on how good we look or how much money we have or how successful we are is often an unintended consequence of resolutions.
And then, we are challenged in Galatians 3 with the question: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Making goals for the New Year (or any time during the year) is a beautiful thing. But, how are we making those “goals?” One of the temptations as we make any sort of goals or resolutions is to make them without a time of prayerful reflection in which we are dependent upon the Spirit. Equally tempting can be to make “resolutions” that are more rooted in self than in God’s heart for us. Proverbs 19:21 says: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” How rooted are we in God’s purposes for our lives?
Oswald Chambers talks about the role of prayer in our lives:
“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.”
Instead of seeking “immediate results,” wait on the Lord by listening to His voice. As a simple way to reflectively move into the New Year, try this prayer exercise:
Begin by quieting your heart before God.“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Psalm 62:1
After a few moments of quiet, acknowledge that He alone is your shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
Ask God to bring to mind one aspect of the previous year that He’d like for you to notice. As something is brought to your attention, hold it before God – asking Him what is significant about that aspect of your year. Respond prayerfully with thanksgiving, confession, or praise.
Next, ask God to give you an image or word that encapsulates His heart for you in the coming year. Sit quietly and listen to what He brings to your heart/mind.
As you move into the New Year, carry those two items with you. Bring them back to your prayer and let God shape your heart on His terms. The good news is that His heart for us is always better than our dreams. Make this coming year about listening to God and letting Him direct your steps. Let goals and resolutions emerge, slowly, from this posture of the heart rather than comparison or guilt or a perceived need to achieve.
*Note: I wrote this for me more than anything because of how much I need to remember to let Him direct my steps, my goals, my aspirations. The abundant life (the life I so deeply desire) is found only in Him.