Should Christians make New Year resolutions?
Matt Perman in his excellent leadership blog, What’s Best Next, makes a great point when he writes ‘a well lived life doesn’t just happen’.
Perman takes us to the writings of Jonathan Edwards to showcase a great example of why and how resolutions can play a part in the Christian life:
Edwards is a good example not just of a life that is lived well, but also of the “practical side” of how to actually build that intentionality into our lives, rather than just letting it remain a vague wish that never takes deep root and makes a real difference.
Jonathan Edwards the greatest theologian America (or arguably British theologian as during his lifetime the US was part of the British Empire) was a man who made resolutions.
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
What’s noticeable about Edwards resolutions over and against modern-day new year resolutions are their focus on the development not of the outer-man (going to the gym, losing weight, finding a new job) but instead the inner-man (spiritual development, character, godliness).
Perman helpfully categorises them into Overall Life mission, Good Works, Time Management, Relationships, Suffering, Character, Spiritual Development.
So taking time to reflect on life and resolve to live life for him (with God’s help) is certainly a godly thing to do. There certainly seems to be an intentionality about Paul’s Christian life. Take for example, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Should we make such resolutions public?
There’s no doubt that involving others in making and keeping resolutions can help us in keeping them.
We might be tempted to mock the public nature of resolutions. Why resolve things at New Year? Why tell people? Precisely for the same reason that we tend to go in for public marriage: because it can be useful to back up our own resolve with the pressure that stems from the expectation of others. It is often not bad enough to let ourselves down, so in addition, we need the fear of letting lots of people down to keep us on track. By being declared in public, a resolution gains confirmation and amplification.
If, as Christians, we only think about making changes at new year that certainly leaves us open to the charge that we’re simply adding a Christian veneer to a secular idea. But if like Edwards we are willing to regularly take stock, take note and by God’s grace seek change then new year is as good a time as any.
There is the opportunity that a holiday time provides for reflection and a focus that the ‘new year, new start, new you’ opportunity provides.
De Botton rightly says:
We can use the energy that surrounds the birth of a new year to lend our own inner change some impetus.
The most common and desperate question I have receivedover the last three decades is: What can I do? How can I become the kindof person the Bible is calling me to be?
In effect Christians say to Piper:
I want this [life].But I fear I don’t have it. In fact, as far as I can see, it is outside my power to obtain. How do you get a desire that you don’t have and you can’t create? Or how do you turn the spark into a ﬂame so that you can besure it is pure ﬁre?
When I don’t desire God is John Piper’s response.
You must download the book by 31st Decemeber to get if for free. You can also access and print out a free pdf version of the book at the Desiring God website.
Stephen Kelly, in an article entitled Does Dr. Who feature a god for our times assesses how a country that has turned its back on its God(s) resorts to making up new ones.
The article concludes
And that’s just it, isn’t it? In the absence of an interventionist God, people simply make their own. After all, when presented with such an abyss, you fill it with whatever you can. Even if that does happen to mean someone who now thinks bow-ties are cool.
As GK Chesterton once said
For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.
The problem with atheism is that as ideas go it’s a perennial underachiever – the Tim Henman, if you will, in the world of ideas. Wherever it has been tried it has been found wanting, not least because as a ‘negative’ philosophy it is unliveable and unloveable. The absence of belief in a transcendent reality finally collapses into a celebration of nothingness.
So what is an atheist to do? Alain de Botton has hit on an idea – why not should steal all the good ideas from the world of religious belief and pass them off as your own.
De Botton, author of soon to be published Religion For Atheists, has written a piece for the Guardian in which he comments that ‘Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone‘ and that therefore ‘the wisdom of the faiths belongs to all of mankind, even the most rational among us, and deserves to be selectively reabsorbed.’
It doesn’t take much by way of intelligence to recognise that there is nothing particularly rational about such a statement. After all ethical ideals depend upon reasonable foundations for believing them and compelling reasons for protecting them. Atheism is a denial that any such foundations exist and so any morality or virtue is so to speak built on sand and so easily swept away. Unlike de Botton, the New Atheists recognise that religious ideas cannot simply be stuck on.
Yet atheists who have experienced and benefited from the values they have inherited from Christianity find it so hard to let them go.
Roger Scrutton in An Intellegent Person’s Guide to Philosophy admits;
The ethical vision of our nature gives sense to our lives. But it is demanding. It asks us to stand up to judgement. We must be fully human, while breathing the air of angels; natural and supernatural at once.
A community that has survived its gods has three options. It can find some secular path to the ethical life. Or it can fake the higher emotions, while living without them. Or it can give up pretending, and so collapse, as Burke put it, into the ‘dust and powder of individuality’. These are the stark choices that confront us, and the rest of this book defends the first of them – the way of high culture, which teaches us to live as if our lives mattered eternally.
As yet, I offer no philosophical justification for taking this apparently objectivist stance. For the moment, it is enough that, in practice, it seems to work.
One hopes, as a Christian, that such thinkers who find the fence they sit on so uncomfortable will land safely on the side of the God who alone makes life liveable.
Words then and now on the indescribable mystery of God made man.
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s breast.
He is both great in the nature of God,
and small in the form of a servant.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD)
Fraser Nelson writes in the Spectator of the growing threat to Christians in the Middle East.
Many of us will spend more time with non-Christian family and friends this Christmas time than perhaps at any other time of the year. Some of us are looking forward to finding an opportunity to share our faith but most of us find it an intimidating thought.
My top tips for this Christmas
1. Plan in advance and plan in particular to pray. Decide that God can and might use you in a surprising way this Christmas time. You may doubt that anyone in your family could be interested in the gospel but don’t doubt what God can do.
2. Be wise in how you seek an opportunity to speak. For example it’s often easier to chat 1 to 1 rather than around a meal table as a group. Look to spend a little quality time with different members of family over the time you’re together.
3. Be a consistent witness. Don’t drink or eat too much. Be eager to serve and be helpful.
4. Make church on Christmas day a priority. Unless you’re in a log cabin in the wilderness plan to get to church.
5. Find someone from your church who might be in a similar situation so that you can agree to pray for one another over the festive season and maybe call or text each other a couple of times to encourage and support each other.
6. Give an appropriate evangelistic Christmas book.
7. When speaking think what Christmas means to you as a Christian and try and say something about your own attitudes to Christmas time and what it is that you are choosing to celebrate. Sharing your own experience often opens up conversation as does asking open-ended questions. The question might be different for different members of the family.
Here are a few questions or comments I think could work:
To parents, in-laws, Grand-parents…
- How has Christmas changed since you were growing up?
- What was Christmas day like when you were a child? Did you have any family traditions? Did you go as a family to church?
- A recent news item might be a good topic eg. Did you hear that David Cameron called Britain a Christian country. I’m not sure I understood what he meant by that do you?
- What was Christmas like for you growing up? Would you want to do it differently if you had kids? (have in mind how as a Christian you would want to do things differently eg. how you might try and engage with commercialism etc.)
To younger children
- Did you do a school ‘nativity’ this year for Christmas? What did you do in it? Do you know what the story was all about?
If you want to think more about witnessing to family and friends then help is at hand in the form of Randy Newman and his book Bringing the Gospel Home.
Randy has given a great interview on some of the themes in the book
For 10 tips on making the most of this Christmas time check out Ten Ways to Bring the Gospel Home This Christmas .
In an interview with Christopher Hitchens in the Christmas Double Edition of the New Statesman, guest editor, Richard Dawkins, speculates as to what would happen if he and the new atheists succeed in ‘destroying Christianity‘.
Well it certainly looks as if he’s got some way to go in his attempts. The Pew Forum’s recent Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population shows that as of 2010 Christianity is the world’s largest religion (2.18 billion)and accounts for one third of the global population. A proportion that has remained unchanged despite 100 years of secularisation and oppression of Christianity in communist countries.
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