It was Christmas Day yesterday, which means we have a week to out what we want to achieve or become over the next year. I have grown to appreciate what they stand for, but it has been a long road. Here’s a summary of my thinking.
James 4:13 warns us about thinking too much about doing such and such tomorrow. Jesus also tells us that tomorrow has enough concerns of themselves.
I also did not like the idea of having a list of accomplishments for accomplishment’s sake. To me, an accomplishment must come accompanied with something else. Medium-long term travel to a foreign land should be coupled with volunteering somewhere; a big running event should come with a fundraiser. Personal challenges seemed so selfish.
And, when looking for inspiration no-one had anything more coherent than “be more healthy.” What does that really mean? In January I would learn that it meant dieting or starting a new exercise regime, to be continued until march if you were well determined or February if you were lucky.
And self-improvement felt so secular. It is God that changes us, right? He does it naturally as we live our lives and read the bible and pray. No need to naval gaze.
That sounds good, but it is wonky thinking. My understanding of James neglected the next verse – and that verse is about boasting about tomorrow. I took this to mean “don’t plan” The passage is a reminder that it is important to make plans, but doing so with the humility of knowing that our plans can go awry because God’s plans supersede ours.
Accomplishments can in themselves be a good thing. What, afterall, is wrong with electing to decide you will try to eat your Wagamama totally with chopsticks? Nothing – and the process will make your thumb stronger.
The inspiration is good, but what is wrong is the resulting goals. The are too vague. That is not the fault of the idea to change but the understanding of how change occurs.
Self-improvement as a concept recognises that there is something wrong with our lives. If we make a resolution we are saying we need to change. Surely this is at the core of the gospel!
But then, you may think, the gospel also holds that we cannot save ourselves, so the answer is not found in resolutions.
I would agree. The resolutions come because of the salvation found in Jesus, whose birth we celebrated yesterday.
it is out of love for what God has given, and the relationship Jesus gave me to God, and the Holy Spirit, that I must resolve to live a better life – a life as He intended.
That last bit is almost as vague as saying “be healthy.” The bible gives some astonishing specific guidance in certain circumstances, and more general principles to which to apply it. It is up to each one of us to examine our hearts, see what needs to be changed, resolve to live as God intends us to live.
This is a complicated process, and takes time. However at this time of year we have time to do some form of thinking. A while back I wrote a series of resolutions, with a similar mindset to Jonathon Edwards writing his 70. It started with homework my psychologist gave me. I had to place a numerical value on different aspects of my life, regardless of how my life reflected that number; I then had to write practical steps to redress the disconnect between the ones I valued but didn’t show.
The exercise is insanely practical, and I would encourage you to do similar: It helps you narrow what you want to become and how or why, and keeps us steady. My resolutions are not the gospel and do not save me, but God has used them to saved me from certain sins, as well as helping me seek forgiveness quicker than if I were just wandering.
As an example, here are some of the first few:
I will soak myself in his grace, by praying daily at least once, and reading his word. I will diligently make effort to take time to do this, for if I do not, I will find other things to do. As Jesus said, “seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you”. Listening to sermons and reading other devotions or texts will be secondary to this, to supplement what God teaches me in His Word and in my prayers. I shall not rest in the fact that I have read or that I am praying, for there-in lies the way to pride, but I shall seek God as revealed in the text, and rest in Him.
When I realise a sin, I will repent through praying to God my father, and asking his forgiveness and asking him to accept Jesus as my propitiation, and turning back from my sin, appropriating his grace, mercy and Spirit; and living out a life as an adopted Son of Him. This is the pattern laid down in Leviticus: “and when they become aware of their sin”; and also Luther’s first of ninety-five thesis: “all of life is repentence”.
I will do all the work that God has set before me, regardless of whether I enjoy it, knowing that he is pleased in my efforts, and that results are his business.
When I begin to struggle, be that in work, or thoughts, or in handling emotions, or temptations, I will pray and meditate on scripture.
I will keep healthy, as God commands that I am a temple, which he dwells in through His Spirit. Healthy means making time to exercise, be that cardio or strength – preferably both throughout the week, making time to read his word and pray, and ensuring a balanced diet – limiting foods high in sugar, salt or fat.
I wonder what you think of resolutions. Do you make them? Do you feel forced to make them, secretly resenting the knowledge that in February you will have forgotten about them? I haven’t added any new ones to my list, but I do have a renewed vigour for them!