“A New Year, A New Beginning”
The old year ends, a new begins
With pages clean and new;
And what is written on each page
will now depend on you.
You can't relive the year that's past,
Erasing every wrong;
For once a year - or day - is spent,
It is forever gone.
But don't give up in dark despair
If you have failed some test;
Seek God's forgiveness and resolve
Henceforth to do your best.
Resolve each precious day to do
Things good and kind and pure;
Though days and years may pass away,
These things shall still endure.
You know not where your path may lead
Nor what's beyond the hill;
But know that God walks at your side,
If you will do His will.
All things are possible with God,
Though days be bright or dim;
So do your best and know that you
Can leave the rest to Him.
- Author Unknown
One Year Closer To…
There is always a lot of talk this time of year about resolving to improve ourselves. Some want to lose weight, stem the tide of hair loss, get plastic surgery, bring their cholesterol down, eat less red meat, as well as countless other superficialities. Others want to make their marriages stronger, their relationship with their children more healthy, or their spiritual lives more fulfilling. In any case, big or small, a New Year’s resolution is an opportunity to change. But there are some lessons we need to consider before running along with the rest of the world in its mad rush for self improvement and enhancement. There is an unfortunate danger and a number of pitfalls associated with this tradition, beginning with the fact that it is most often a short term answer to a long term problem. New Year’s resolutions often focus on fixing something superficial – just enough that we feel better about ourselves without actually making significant spiritual changes:
· Giving up chocolate, for example, may make some feel pretty good, but how does the rest of one’s diet look?
· In the same way, does drinking less make that much of a difference in a person’s life? Does getting drunk only once a week instead of three times a week mean much if that person still gets killed while driving intoxicated?
· Losing weight is often a major goal for people, yet most people lack the effort to go through with a major change in appearance, health, diet, or activity level.
One benefit to placing so much emphasis on the New Year is that it helps us remember a few things about time. First, every January that comes our way is just one more year closer to the day of our death. With that kind of perspective, we really need to stop and consider just what we have done with the past 365 days that we have been blessed with by God (Ephesians 5:16, James 4:14). Every January brings us one year closer to the day the Lord returns (2 Peter 3:8-12). It also brings us closer to the day we will stand before God in judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Excuse For Poor Service
One gets the impression from many people that New Year’s resolutions are a way to bargain with God. Instead of actually changing or giving of ourselves to God, many of us use our resolutions as a way to sneak around obedience. Almost like a child trying to get out of cleaning his room, eating his vegetables, or finishing his homework, we tell God, “Okay, let’s make a deal: I’ll read two chapters a day out of the Bible, but I’m still not coming to church every Sunday.” Or we promise to spend more time with our kids, using that as an excuse for taking a vacation that forces us to miss the assembly. Perhaps it is the other way – if we go to church more, we feel like we have to pray less, read less, and evangelize less. Not only that, but we may want to make a tangible promise to God, and upon completion of said promise we stop working. “I’ll invite ten people to church this year,” we might say. But when we finish that resolution by February, does that mean we no longer have to invite people to church?
One of the biggest problems that we have in making New Year’s resolutions is keeping them for more than two or three weeks. This comes as a result of deficit thinking, which is just another way of saying that we focus too heavily on what we do not do well. Instead of always making resolutions that target the talents you do not have, make resolutions that emphasize what you can do. “Deficit thinking is an ingrained habit of focusing on gaps and weaknesses (the deficit) instead of what’s working (and can be made to work still better). It’s focusing on what you can’t do, not what you can. Instead of your dreams and ambitions propelling you forward, you let the gap between your current state and your desires become a source of frustration and depression. It’s the old business of seeing the glass as half empty” (“New Year’s Resolutions and Deficit Thinking”, Adrian Savage, www.lifehack.org). When we spend so much time thinking about all of the things we cannot do – often becoming fixated on those who have talents we desire – we lose sight of the uniqueness with which we have been imbued by God. Paul discusses this very problem in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. He notes that the body is made up of many members, all with different talents and abilities. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body… And if they were all one member, where would the body be?” He also states similar thoughts in Ephesians 4:16.
Perhaps a poor New Year’s resolution for some of us is to lead songs more, preach more often, teach a Bible class at church, etc. Instead, we need to resolve to attend more often and participate in ways that we can. We cannot look at someone else’s talents and envy them, for God did not intend that everybody would do every job. Deficit thinking makes us look at our shortcomings instead of our strengths:
· One way we can avoid this is to make resolutions that focus on improving what we are already good at.
· Resolve to try new things. Instead of envying someone else’s talents, or focusing on things you have already tried and failed at, attempt something totally different. Volunteer to take on a new task, a new job, explore your options, and come to a realization about how you fit into the body of Christ.
· Make yourself available to others. If you have always felt useless, then it might only be because people do not know how good you are at a certain task.
· No more wallowing in self pity. Everybody is good at something – although it seems like some people are only good at complaining.
Is it just better not to make a resolution?
Is making a New Year’s resolution really such a good idea when we consider how quickly most of us give up on them? “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no , no; so that you may not fall into judgment” (James 5:12). Similarly, Matthew 5:37 says, “Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond this is of evil.” When we make a promise to do something, it is only of evil when we fail to come through, especially when the promise has been made to God. The Lord hates those who despise promises and fail to live up to their words. A good example of this, of course, would be the parable of the two sons who said different things but acted in very different ways in Matthew 21:28-32. “A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.” This first son had a rebellious streak in him, being unwilling at first to obey his father’s request. Indeed, the command was not unreasonable, for we can all see that if a young man is going to live under the roof of his father, then it is only fair for that father to expect the son to carry his load of daily chores. Being a contemplative person, though, this son regrets his former rudeness and chooses to obey the father without saying a word.
“The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sire’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:30). The second son was one who only appeared to be obedient on the outside. He said the right things and made himself verbally obligated to go to the work. However, in the end he chose to disregard both the command of the father and his own acceptance of responsibility. And which of these two actually ended up being obedient?
· Do not make big promises about personal evangelism, because we do not know how unbelievers will respond to the Gospel. We might not convert anybody in a lifetime!
· Do not promise the world to God, and deliver little.
· Do not use grandiose language in prayer (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7).
· If you promise to go to church more often, read your Bible, etc., than do it!
· God would rather have you make no New Year’s resolution at all than make one and fail to keep it (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
There is nothing wrong with promising to make your life better for the Lord. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, diet, exercise more, etc. But is New Year’s really the best way to accomplish these things. The real question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we really need a new year to come along to find an excuse to make our lives better? What is so different about January of this year that sets it apart from December of last year? Why the transition? Does the passing of a New Year absolve each of us of the misdeeds and sins of the previous year? Surely, the Lord calls us to a life of daily renewal and resolution. We need to change ourselves constantly, allowing our souls to be transformed by the power of Christ.
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today’, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin… Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:13,15). One resolution that we all need to make is to live for Christ. And that is something you can do today. Weight loss is not so important as dropping sins from our lives. Learning a new skill is not as important as learning patience, obedience, and righteousness. Spending more time relaxing is not as essential to our salvation as spending more time in prayer, meditation, and peaceful recollection of the Word of God.