We are fast approaching the season in which people begin to focus on making New Year’s Resolutions. Many of us are currently thinking through our plans and goals for 2018, drafting up resolutions for how we are going to live better, more productive, more fruitful lives in the new year, and all the while we are forgetting one thing:
Positive change does not come from within ourselves.
As Christians, we should know better than to act as if growth, lasting change, and the refining of our ways is within our own power to bring about. And yet we are acting as if this is the case as we follow in the footsteps of the world in this tradition of making “New Year’s Resolutions”. There is nothing wrong, of course, with resolving to make changes and improvements in our lives. In fact, it ought to be our unending goal in life to continually be growing in various areas of our lives day by day, month by month, and year by year. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, however, when we look to ourselves for the power required to make these changes rather than fixing our eyes upon Christ, from whom comes our strength.
Research has shown that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the time February rolls around. That means that, in the span of only one short month, we manage to stick to all of about 20% of the resolutions we make at the beginning of the year. Is it any wonder then that many people are giving up altogether on making any resolutions at all? After all, what’s the point if we’re only going to fail?
What we as Christians have to remember is that there is a better way. There is a better way than striving to improve ourselves, only to give up in despair less than a month out of the gate. There are numerous reasons why our New Year’s resolutions “fail”, and most of them have little to do with a lack of strength or dedication on our part. What they are actually a result of is faulty theology.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail (And What to do About It!)
When I was writing Lies Moms Believe (And How the Gospel Refutes Them), it was so encouraging to discover just how relevant and applicable the truths and implications of the gospel really are for our everyday lives. I saw this again when writing about Advent practices and the mommy guilt sometimes associated with them. Now, today, as we turn to the topic of New Year’s resolutions, we are about to see yet again how helpful right theology and Gospel-centered thinking truly is. I find that there are four main reasons why we so easily fail in our resolutions, each of which can be successfully combatted with the truths of the gospel:
- We are looking to ourselves and relying on our own strength.
New Year’s resolutions are just that – resolutions that we have about how we are going to be better and do better in our lives. Did you catch the emphasis there? In our effort to live a more fruitful life in the new year, we tend to look to ourselves, thinking we will be able to make (and stick to!) the necessary changes through sheer willpower alone. That doesn’t work. In order to stick to any good and right resolution, we are going to have to employ the strength of Christ and rely upon His help. It is then and only then when we will able to see our resolutions through to the end.
- We are not seeking God’s wisdom, insight, and direction on the outset.
Another reason why we so often find ourselves failing in our New Year’s resolutions is because we failed to seek the Lord’s will when drafting them in the first place. We looked within, to our own wisdom or desires as to how we might live better lives in the new year, forgetting all the while to look to the Lord, who is the only one who sees the big picture and knows what is ultimately best for us. The result is that we draft resolutions which may sound good but are not ultimately best for us. As in all other areas of life, we would do well to seek God’s face in the area of making New Year’s resolutions, as well. If we ask Him for wisdom, we can rest in the promise that He will bestow it (see James 1:5).
- We are taking on too much, too soon.
As we saw above, our tendency is to run full speed ahead with whatever we think we ought to be doing in a new year. As a result, we add far more to our plates than what is able for us to actually accomplish. We need to remember that our God is gentle with us. I love the words of Isaiah 40:11 and how our God is described here:
He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.
While we tend towards being rough taskmasters with ourselves, our Heavenly Father is oh so gentle with us. This is something we would grasp far more often than we do if we would but slow down and seek His face as to what our priorities ought to be. The truth is that He has far fewer balls for us to juggle than we give ourselves!
- Our chosen resolutions aren’t actually that important to us.
heart-change is required first, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit alone. Again, we cannot produce in ourselves the positive changes we want to see. We have to walk by the Spirit, and it is only then when we will begin to put to death the deeds of the flesh.
- We aren’t living with eternity in mind.
Sometimes the problem is simply that we are not living in light of eternity. Perhaps we have drafted the worthwhile goals of getting up before our kids to spend time in the Word, work out three times a week in order to strengthen our bodies for service to the Lord and others, and play with our children everyday. If we are not living with eternity in mind, however, it is far more likely that we will hit the snooze button, give up on the idea of working out, and allow our household to-do lists to crowed out intentional time spent with our kids. What we focus on matters. We need to make sure our focus is on eternity, and then we will find ourselves sticking to worthwhile resolutions far more often than not.
To Sum it All Up
Here’s the thing, friends – it’s wonderful to draft resolutions and seek to stick to them. It’s great to want to live 2018 in a more fruitful, productive way than you did 2017. It’s important to redeem the time you have been given. But none of this is going to happen apart from Christ. None of this is going to happen if you keep your eyes fixed primarily on yourself or if you rely on your own strength and the sheer willpower you can muster up. You have to turn to the Lord, from Whom comes your help. Because the truth is that you simply are not enough on your own. This is why we need the gospel! This is why Christ came – to do in us what we could not do for ourselves.
And on those days when you don’t stick to your new resolutions? The gospel presents us with grace. The good news tells us that our worth and our acceptance before God is not based on what we do, but on what Christ has already done. Our identity then is safe, for our identity is not in what we do, but in Whose we are.
So, as you embark upon a new year here in just a few short weeks, take joy! Rejoice knowing that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Lift your spirits with the truth that the gospel even applies to your resolutions and your keeping of them – you are both strengthened to endure and showered with grace when you don’t. Because, friends, if you look to the Lord as you prepare for a new year full of new resolutions, you can’t go wrong!