It is trendy and somewhat humorous for people to belittle the practice of making New Year's resolutions.
The reason is obvious. Many (if not most) of us have a long list of improvements that we intended to or actually tried to implement in 1995, or 2000, or 2020, & once again in 2021, etc. But, it didn't last, did it?
"This year I'm going to eat healthy."
"This year I'm going to read through my Bible."
"This year I'm going to make my bed every day."
But, then Valentines Day chocolates happened; Leviticus happened; and you woke up late that Monday morning... and the single failure discouraged you; so you gave up.
Perhaps you didn't really like doing it anyway? Perhaps you didn't really believe that it mattered after all? Or maybe you bit off more than you could chew? Were you trying too hard but actually being unrealistic? Why did you fail? Why are you and I habitual failures?
The reasons are many. Or, the excuses.
So is the right answer really to abandon New Year's resolutions altogether?
Let me share a little success story with you.
When God saved me I was going into 6th grade. I was a church kid; a preacher's kid. My family read the Bible together 5 nights a week. But I had never read the Bible for myself (except when my oldest sister forced me to read from the family's giant print Bible when I was learning to read, or when I was reading along with the preacher in the church assembly, or when it was my turn to read in family devotions. I was not the best reader, so I'm sure that was quite painful for my family).
But when Jesus came into my heart, I got hungry. I got spiritually hungry. I wanted to do what was right and I knew enough to know that reading the Bible was the right thing to do. So I started out... in Matthew. I don't remember why I started there instead of in Genesis, but I did. And it was new and alive to me. It was interesting. It made sense. It felt natural to read it. I couldn't stop. It didn't take me long to read all the way to the end. As a 12 year old boy, I read the whole New Testament.
But then something happened. Well, lots of somethings happened, but the most important thing was that I stopped reading. Or, I didn't start over.
Perhaps my natural tendency to congratulate myself stepped in and I commended me for finishing. I don't remember. That is usually my habit. One of Satan's biggest lies is to tell us that we have done well, but that what we have done is enough.
It's never enough.
That's the whole point. New Year's resolutions are ultimately useless because they are insufficient.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm all for improving self; increasing self-discipline and self-control. Certainly we should learn new things, build better habits, and give up the vices that are slowing us down. But our imagined iteration of ourselves that we see somewhere in the future is truly always illusive. Why? Because WE are never enough. I am never enough. Contrary to popular motivational slogans, YOU will never be enough.
Look, it's 2022 and I have covenanted with myself once again to be nice, to eat less, to pray daily, to sacrifice more, to prioritize my time more wisely, to avoid distractions, etc. But the truth is I already know that I will fail. I'm human. There is a reason we all know the phrase, "To err is human." But if I'm truly going to be a new me, then I can't quit just because I fail once, or twice, or thrice, or a hundred times.
In Proverbs 24:16 we read Solomon's words, "A just man falls seven times, and rises up again: but the wicked falls into mischief."
"Resolutions" shouldn't just be for New Year's Day. It should be every day that we lay our lives out before God and admit where we are weak and flailing. And this admission must not be the end. It must be the beginning. We can't stop with confessing our guilt, although that is definitely the right place to start. We must also confess our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. This was true at the crisis moment of our soul's salvation, and is true every moment afterward—if we are to grow in grace and sanctification.
Here's the thing. We have to be hungrier for Jesus than we are for anything else. This and this alone will make the difference. And only God's grace and our surrender can produce this great virtue in our depraved spirits.
I could type out a list of things that I do routinely that I didn't use to do. Some of my good habits and routines are a few weeks old. Some are months old. And some are years old.
For example: reading my Bible is a practice that took years to "succeed" at, but it has become a lifelong pursuit.
It was 3 or 4 times that I purposed to read through the whole Bible in one year, only to get bogged down in Leviticus. But do you know something, those failures "counted" too. Not as merit in God's eyes, but as exercise that gave me a taste for spiritual things. Eventually I did succeed in reading the whole Bible, and I have read it many times since. But those early failures were monumental in the development of my faith. One of the things that I was reminded of in my failures was that it wasn't about me and what I could do. Because clearly I was incapable of sufficient faithfulness. It was and is only and always only about God and what He can do.
Vern Tuttle once pointed out that if you miss a day reading your Bible, don't get frustrated, or exasperated, or discouraged. Just pick your Bible up again today and read it some more. The point is not to prove that you are faithful, but to discover that God is faithful. By definition faithfulness must be absolutely perfect to actually be faithfulness. Only God has that.
I'm not trying to minimize our failures as if they don't matter. They matter. But if we will just hand our broken pieces to the Lord, we will discover that He can (and will) always do something amazing with us. He will do it.
The new me; the new you did not arrive January 1, 2022. And next January will not provide the necessary magic either.
The new me showed up August 13, 1985 when I repented of my sin and placed my faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit moved in. I partook of the divine nature that day. And that part of me has never lacked since that moment. I have not always allowed Christ in me to shine through, but He is always in there. He is always ready, willing, and able to shine through.
My problem is that the old me is also still in there. The old me is lazy, belligerent, hateful, selfish, ambitious, jealous, mean, etc., etc., etc. And Christian friend, that old you will always be in there too. We have to do what Paul taught us to do. We have to repeatedly die to self; to put off the old nature and put on the new. Every day! Many times a day! And that practice is the ONLY way the new you can become the you that everyone sees and knows and expects. But if you do begin to succeed, don't ever lose sight of the fact that it isn't to your credit. It is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
"God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him." (Philippians 2:13 NLT)
In fact, let me shock you. It would be better for you to always fail at EVERY good and noble endeavor than for you to imagine that any one success is your own. God's glory doesn't wear well on us. We are meant to reflect His glory, not to receive it.
So, it is a new year. And there is a new you. But the newness is not due to the calendar changing, nor is it to be accredited to your personal fortitude or strong character. Your great determination is useless unless it is God's work in you. God doesn't need your righteousness. He is not improved by your better habits or mine. BUT, if you and I will yield to the Christ who is in us, HIS righteousness will shine forth repeatedly in all kinds of ways large and small. We can indeed leave the old ways behind, but only inasmuch as we humbly yield moment by moment to the Holy Spirit of God (who is in every one of us who are believers).
Embrace the new you today. Embrace Christ in you, the hope of glory. Embrace Him today, and again tonight, and tomorrow, etc. until your earthly journey is complete.