As a teen, I loved writing down New Year’s resolutions. Like Jesus in Luke 2:52, I wanted to grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man,” so I set goals for each area — mental, physical, spiritual and social. To this day, I still plan to some extent, but there’s a part of me that hates to put resolutions on paper and map them all out. To be honest, if I do make them, I rarely tell anyone else. I keep it quiet.
Take my weight chart for last year. I resolved to lose 20 pounds so that I could be healthier, happier and more active with less injury. I had a fantasy that I would one day fit in some of my hip clothing again. I started the year off at 196 pounds —heavier than I have ever been. I had some decent early-year progress down into the 180s. By the time the year-end holidays were over, I stepped on the scale, and it mocked me — 196!
I hate New Year’s resolutions because I’m scared. I’m afraid I’ll disappoint myself again. History repeats itself, and I have a history with good intentions. Over and over again, I have intended to do good. I’ve made promises to my wife, God and myself to begin again and do things in a new way. Over and over again, I have succeeded for a few hours or days, but rarely have I “kept the weight off.”
I suspect that you may be like me. You are probably quite disciplined in some areas of your life and don’t really feel the need for change. In other areas, you have good intentions but lousy outcomes.
Should we simply stop planning, preparing and mapping out any further changes? Shall we resign ourselves to remaining as we are, accepting that God isn’t going to zap us and “fix” it and that we don’t have enough willpower, energy or support to see anything new happen?
Lord, save us from thinking like this. It’s depressing but real. I confess I feel like that many times. So if this is my story, and if this in some way resonates with your story, what does God’s story have to say about this struggle to change?
Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4–5 that we are looking forward to some amazing things. We are, in fact, longing for the eternal. We are wired to be unsettled at some deep level this side of heaven, but we have been given the Holy Spirit as a deposit of what is to come. We make it our goal to please God and try to persuade others, even if they think we are out of our minds.
Christ’s love compels us to try and persuade others that Christ died for all and that we should live for Him. If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come, and the old has gone. All this is from God who gave us the message of reconciliation after reconciling us to God through Christ. God is reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them. Wow.
That’s good news! God has drawn us back through Christ into right relationship. As theologian James Choung puts it, we are a new creation made from an old creation that was designed for good, but damaged by evil, subsequently restored for better and sent together to heal.
So here’s the thing with New Year’s resolutions. If God says there’s good stuff we can long for in the future and we can be a part of in the present, if God says in this text that His love compels and implores us and that we have a goal of pleasing God and persuading people, then it seems like it is worth it to live our lives purposefully and intentionally with an anointed plan for pocketbook, calendar, health, energy and relationships. It is easy to float through life with no real vision, fixed resolve, focused passion, idea of what God’s will is day to day, sensitivity to the Spirit’s promptings, stretching relationships, or new learning or skills — nothing outside the comfort zone stuff to which we are accustomed.
Maybe, like me, you are a high S on the DiSC Profile (discprofile.com) — Steadiness. You love to be a creature of habit. You loathe change. You want it the way you want it. You order what you know you already like on the menu every time. But I think God is inviting us to stretch.
Here are three suggestions to help you respond to God’s invitation to explore some new kingdom-minded, God-honoring, risk-demanding and community-building ambitions:
Pray: Lord, thanks for being with me in my mess. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me (Psalm 51:10). Where shall we start? Open me up in 2016 and take me, make me, use me and fill me for your new plans in my home, church and neighborhood. Prompt me as I live for you each day.
Train and Rest
As we respond to the Spirit’s promptings to stretch and train with purpose, we also revel and rest in God’s grace, truth, perfect work and timing. We are wired to work punctuated by healthy rhythms of listening and rejuvenation. It is not just about gritting your teeth and trying harder; that ends up being counterproductive. Instead we find the inhale and exhale of service and play.
Invite a Friend
We can’t do this stretching adventure on our own. Let’s go out two by two, embarking on a fresh adventure of learning and loving.
So go in peace. Volunteer. Hold each other accountable. Balance the budget. Learn from someone unexpected. Link shields. Pray. Eat. Listen. Love. Maybe even dare to write it down.
Marvin Earl Gray serves as the associate pastor for outreach and youth at Aldersgate Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis and as the business sales associate for Light + Life Communications1