I recently found a note from my past. It was a single sheet of paper, covered in my childish handwriting — notes hurriedly scribbled in pencil as midnight approached. It was dated December 31, 1996. I was 10 years old. And the 50 bullets listed were my New Year’s resolutions.
I was committing to doing absolutely everything good I could think of, from spending more time with the family dog, to reading the Bible more, to being nicer to my big sister. It was cute…mostly. But all these many years later, the thing that struck me about it – that nearly bowled me over – was how desperately I was trying in my own power to be better.
We’re all familiar with New Year’s resolutions. “I want to lose 20 pounds.” “This year I’m going to try harder in school.” Etc. It’s a good thing to desire improvement. But as followers of Christ, could there be something we’re missing about how we’re coming to our resolutions?
I can think of at least three ways we can err on the side of approaching resolutions from a godless worldview. In these ways, I have been guilty many a time of practical atheism – of living as if God didn’t exist.
- Control. Are we approaching our resolutions out of an inflated sense of what is within our control? Are we trying to will our way into being better people, to strategize and plan our path to personal success and wellbeing? I certainly was age 10, and many years since. But aren’t we called to something greater than just being good people? The gospel story invites us to repent and seek transformation, to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).
- Self-focus. Who stands to benefit from our resolutions? Are they mostly self-focused agendas about losing weight, gaining popularity, respect, and ultimately being more loved? So many of the things on my 10-year-old resolution list were focused on myself. But what if, instead, we sought to serve our community around us? What would it look like to resolve to love our neighbor more (Mark 12:31), to seek others’ good above our own (1 Cor. 10:24), and to care about things that move the heart of God – like “acting justly” and “loving mercy” (Micah 6:8)?
- Relationship. Are we trying to do everything on our own, and putting our relationship with Christ on the backburner of our lives? Are we more concerned with our own accomplishments than relationship? As a child, I knew I wanted to know God more, but only knew enough to resolve to read His word more and try to be good…rather than to invite him into my very longing for betterment and love. God desires to walk alongside us in the process of growth. Are we inviting him into our deepest hopes and longings?
Rather than making resolutions, which are often characterized by mustering up the will to “be the best you” (and then typically falling flat on our faces by February…if not before!), may we seek the renewal of our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. It is He who makes us new (Rev. 21:5). He who gives us the gift of forgiveness. He who desires to journey with us through this life.
Most of us know the beginning of Ephesians 4:15, “speaking the truth in love….” But today the end might be more apropos: “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
May we be resolved to come to look more like Jesus in 2016 than we did in 2015.
This article originally appeared in the Summit Alumni Network RE:SOURCE email newsletter. To receive the RE:SOURCE, sign up at http://www.summitalumninetwork.org/.