As January 1st has been fast approaching, I’ve been mulling over the idea of resolutions, wondering if there is something Biblical about all this talk of fresh starts. I think it is written into our souls. We are born broken and sinful, desperate for approval, fully aware that something is missing, yet we cling to gifts, unable to desire the Giver. We long to be made new. And God in His infinite grace delivers:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
The idea of a fresh start makes me want to weep – but not at the new year ahead of me, though it is drenched in hope and possibility – I weep at the reality of grace – knowing that I failed yesterday, that I have failed today, and that I will fail tomorrow, and yet in Christ, I am a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come! And still even more new is coming:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:3-5 ESV)
I’m a bit cynical of New Year’s resolutions. Partially because we all know that they’ll be forgotten come February, or – if we’re a little more disciplined – April. And partially because among Christian circles, New Year’s resolutions are filled with Scripture taken from its precious context, touted as little inspirational sayings that will give us the resolve to make all our dreams come true. Take one sermon I heard years ago (not from my church, just to be clear) where the preacher took Isaiah 40:3 (“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'”) and made it about setting goals. (Again, just to be clear: it’s not about setting goals.)
New Year’s resolutions tend to be our attempt at the bigger and better life. A renewed resolve to follow our dreams. To step over those who might stand in our way. To fight for success and meaning and purpose. To finally be recognized as the noteworthy people we know we are. It’s up to us: Do! Become! Live!
The Housewife Theologian wrote a beautiful post about resolutions. She looked at the resolve of the Israelites upon receiving the law from Moses at Mount Sinai: “All this we will do.” It does sound rather familiar: This year, Lord. This year, I will do all of the things I know I ought to do. But we know how the story goes. And just as resolutions are soon forgotten, so the Israelites quickly lost their way. But then Aimee writes:
That brings me to the glorious grace of Sunday. The Lord knows our tendency to fall away. Sunday is an amazing gift for the believer. At the first day of every week, we are called together in a covenant renewal ceremony. Only this is not the covenant of works that Moses mediated. Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant. He fully fulfilled the covenant of works on our behalf. He is righteousness. The law points to Christ, the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King. Through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments, we are evaluated and stripped by the law, and gloriously clothed in Christ! Instead of saying “All this we will do”, we hear “All this Jesus Christ has done”. Hallelujah!
Paul Tripp also wrote a great article on the subject. While we all set goals for the bigger and better life, the humbling reality is this: “We live in the utterly mundane.”
Most of us won’t be written up in history books. Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember the events of our lives. You and I live in little moments, and if God doesn’t rule our little moments and doesn’t work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that’s where you and I live.
(Both articles are really worth reading in their entirety.)
That said, are New Year’s resolutions a complete waste? It’s the question where my thoughts have landed. Is it so bad to mark the new year with new aspirations? To set goals and make plans? I don’t think so?? (Those are intentional question marks.) But here are the conclusions I’ve reached for guiding my own resolution-making this year. And whether they are helpful to you or not, writing them here will at least help me remember them come February:
1. Jesus called me to take up my cross and follow Him. (Luke 9:23)
I was given a gospel for years that told me that Jesus wants me to follow my dreams. But the reality is, in order to follow my “dreams,” a lot of people would have to be trampled. It’s not exactly my “dream” to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve never thought it would be my life’s ambition to serve my family in the daily mundane. There is no glory here. But Jesus didn’t demonstrate the glorious life in the way we imagine glory. He was about His Father’s glory. And in the process, He gave up His very life. So while I do have a list of things I want to accomplish (my “someday” list), and I’m enjoying reviewing and adding it to it this New Year’s day, (like right now, I’m enjoying a little “me time” while Jordan is on a date with Hadley and Adrienne is napping.) I want to be mindful that my calling is not to follow my dreams – the calling to which I’ve been called is one of humility and gentleness (Eph. 4:1-2). And I can lay down my life for my family in faith, knowing that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)
2. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
It’s easy for me to fall into thinking, “If I would do this [tangible thing], then this [spiritual fruit] would happen.” The one that pretty much sums it up for me is this: “If I would just follow this particular diet, then I would be more loving, joyful, gentle, patient, kind, (you get the idea).” The thing is, it’s likely true. Sugar and caffeine and yeast and whatever other culprits out there likely contribute to my irritability and poor sleep and low energy. A better diet could result in a happier Dahl family. I’m in favor of that. But I want to walk in step with the Spirit, trusting Him to change and equip me, glorifying God that He would extend His grace and allow this fruit to be manifested in me, even if a new diet is the means that He would use. I struggle with these kinds of resolutions because, well, I want to be skinny and energetic and happy. But I also think the beauty that Scripture exalts is holiness, and I want to long for and fight for holiness far above any physical reality.
3. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
If I achieve everything on my list, I have earned no favor before God. I have all of His favor, extended to me by grace in Christ. I am a beloved child of God. And when resolutions are failed and forgotten, I have all of His favor, extended to me by grace in Christ. I am a beloved child of God. Resolutions are good as long as they fix our eyes on Christ, forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead (Phil 3). But as soon as we begin to think that our righteous acts earn us standing before God, we have lost sight of grace.
4. “The heart of man plans His way, but the Lord establishes His steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
Even our best-laid plans are subject to the sovereignty of God. And if I could summarize the lesson I think God has been teaching me over. and over. and over again in 2012, it is to dig my nails in and cling with faith to God’s wisdom. He is working. I may not know what He’s doing. His plans may not be my plans. But praise God, His ways are higher than my ways.
Happy New Year.