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.
My only resolution this year? To make time to ask myself these 10 questions at the beginning of each month in 2011.
Five questions to help me look back over the previous month
What has surprised me? What have I rediscovered?
Is it something of the character of God or the person and work of Christ or the promises of the gospel that I need to ensure I hold on to and even share?
2) Change: Is there anything I need to repent of?
An ungodly attitude? Pride, greed, self-sufficiency, prayerlessness, discontent, doubt,..
A wrong behaviour? A loose tongue, lustful thoughts, lazy hands
Something in my life that is functioning as an idol – work, a relationship, a hobby?
How am I going to apply the gospel in prayerful belief that God can change me? Who might God
3) Thanksgiving: What have I to be thankful to God for?
How has God blessed me, provided for me, protected me, directed me in this last month?
4) Others to me: Who has God used in my life for good and have I thanked them as well as thanked God for them?
The thoughtfulness of a friend? The support of a spouse? The consideration of a work colleague? The preaching of my pastor?…
5) Me to others: How have I influenced the lives of others- for good or bad? What must I learn? Who do i need to say sorry to?…
Five questions to help me prepare for the month ahead
6) Church family: How can I better serve Christ’s body, the church, in this coming month?
Do I need to be encouraging a brother, ministry area leader, pastor in some way? Do I need to discover or develop my gifts? Do I need to be more deliberate in my attendance and participation at church?
7) Planning: What priorities do I need to reorder?
Do I need to make more time for God, for family, for my non-Christian friends?
Do I need to spend less time pursuing….
8) Missional: How can I be more intentional in spreading the good news of the gospel?
Am I praying for non-believers by name? Am I seeking opportunity to talk of Christ and am I praying for them? Am I using the glory of the gospel to motivate my desires rather than the guilt of a self-justifying heart?
9) Investing: Which three people in particular do I need to invest in this month? Who might I need to encourage to look out for another?
10) Perspective: How can I keep the hope of heaven more real this month than last?
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