Ever notice how New Year’s Resolutions are often about how we wish we were different? Lose weight. Lower golf handicap. Watch less TV. Quit smoking. Quit drinking. Quit less-than-useful habit du jour. Get out of debt. Off-load stuff accumulating in the basement, the attic, the garage.
The moral of the story is that a lot of us want to improve ourselves and our lives, or at least our general condition. But we have this problem called the human predicament. As Pogo famously said years ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It’s not family nor friends. Not our environment. Not even the economy that keeps us from fulfilling our dreams. It’s us.
But still, the better angels of our nature want more. We aspire to be better than we are. So we make resolutions.
Resolutions are an interesting part of our culture. Some people have fun with the exercise and make resolutions that are silly or superficial. But others take this annual ceremony quite seriously. They make resolutions that are sincere and possibly significant.
From a Christian perspective I can find nothing wrong with making New Year’s resolutions. Having served as “an academic” for three decades I tended to make resolutions (set goals), sometimes at New Years, but often in the fall at the beginning of each school year. It was fun and gave me a focus. I set both public and private goals. The public ones eventually saw the light of day, but the private ones often never did, things like lose fifteen pounds, write a book, or more personal, spiritual considerations involving my walk with the Lord. I even saved them in a text file. Actually, I still have that file dating back at least ten years. Reading my old goals now is like a documentary on what I did or didn’t accomplish, which either way is humbling: gratitude to the Lord for his blessing or regret for my own short-comings.
Making resolutions, whether in the form of goals or simply promises to oneself implies we believe we can change—or at least we hope we can. And biblically speaking, it’s true, God made us what philosophers call “free moral agents.” We’re not robots. The details of our lives are not pre-determined in the primordial past. God placed each of us on this earth for an appointed period of time, gave us the capacity to reason—to choose—and then expects us to do so. While we’re ultimately accountable to him for how we use our God-given time, talent, and treasure, God gives us an enormous amount of freedom to decide what the “be” and the “do” looks like in our lives.
Beyond this, the Christian life is supposed to be an experience of change. It’s called the sanctification process. Once a person accepts Christ as Savior, becoming a Christ-follower or “Christian,” than he or she begins to learn what it means to affirm Christ as Lord of life. That is, over time, the new Christian is supposed to “grow in Christ,” becoming more like him, more holy, more sanctified. This means change. Through the Spirit’s work in our lives, grumpiness should give way to grace. Temper to longsuffering. Narcissism, the defining characteristic of contemporary Western culture, should give way to compassion, or what might be called “others orientation.” God summarized it for us in a sound bite: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
These examples reference the “be” of our lives—our character, who we are. Character is the issue in this past year’s stories of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Nevada Senator John Ensign, and most recently, Tiger Woods. We recognize these individuals’ talent and accomplishments, we know what they can do, but who are they, really?
It’s also possible to reference the “do” of our lives—our contributions or body of work, what we are about. Not everyone is an Energizer Bunny, but God wants us to use our time and talent for good. In the Old Testament human beings were given the task (work is a good thing) to develop the world and culture, i.e. our ways of life. In the New Testament we’re told to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We’re commanded to “Watch,” “Be ready,” and otherwise “Not become weary in doing good.” God expects us to be proactive stewards. He wants us to think ahead and to find fulfillment in doing something for ourselves, for others, and for him. So we establish plans, set goals, or make resolutions that identify a better tomorrow.
Moses reluctantly lead, but he got the job done in what’s still history’s greatest leadership story. Nehemiah built a wall, but his legacy is a story of faith in action. Esther used her royal position “for such a time as this.” Paul conducted missionary journeys in the face of virtually every opposition possible in his day, finally giving his life for the cause.
Doing something for God matters. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). What would American Christianity be like today if John Wesley had not tirelessly traveled the frontier? Or Billy Graham not left hearth and home countless times to traverse the world? The Greatest Generation answered the call and we are all direct beneficiaries today of their sacrifice.
This year, God blessed me with an Iranian Christian friend, a smart, talented woman with a compelling story of God’s grace in her life. She speaks her native Farsi as well as English and holds a master’s degree in communications. But she uses one English phrase that brings smiles all around. When asked how she is doing, she’ll say, “I am more better.”
I like New Year’s Resolutions because they speak to hope in action. They allow us to resolve to be or to do “more better.” By God’s grace and enablement, we can, with desire, commitment, and work ethic, experience Gods’ more better. I think one of my New Year’s Resolutions will be to resolve (with the Spirit’s help) to become more better at expressing the joy of the Christian faith.
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