Recovering Resolutions

2011-year-resolution-400x400I want to talk about resolutions.

This is the time of year when we typically make all sorts of decisions to change something in our lives. And in many ways, that’s fine. Resolutions can be good things. I’m all for change. I’m not characteristically conservative. I get bored of the same old, same old. But there’s more to say about resolutions than that.

The Bible, of course, allows us a lot of leeway on resolutions. We’re free to make them. And we’re free not to make them. There’s no obligation either way. On the whole though I think resolutions are a good thing. After all, Jonathan Edwards the great American Puritan Theologian made an absolute shed load of them. And it’s a brave man that wants to prove him wrong. And more importantly, the Apostle Paul wasn’t averse to making his own resolutions. In 1 Corinthians 2 he reminds his readers of his evangelistic strategy whilst he was among them. He wrote, ‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’. At some point then it seems reasonable to assume that Paul made a resolution to prioritise the message of the cross in his gospel ministry. As Christina Fox in her Gospel Coalition blog post from a few days back said,

‘it’s a good thing to set goals and work toward them. We ought to be purposeful, intentional, and determined in the way we live. We don’t want to waste a second of the brief time God grants us on this earth’.

So, on the whole I’m positive about resolutions. But. And there was always going to be a ‘but’. I have with resolutions. That has to do what we resolve to change, when we resolve to change, how we resolve to change and ultimately why we resolve to change. Let’s examine each of those in turn.

What we resolve to change is so often little more than vacuous triviality. I’m overstating it, of course. But the value of our resolutions are often marred by their superficiality. They’re lightweight. Deciding to give up chocolate is not entirely unimportant I’ll happily concede. Especially if weight is an issue. But really? Is that the single most significant thing about our life that needs attention? So let’s go for the big things. The substantial things. The things that we really do need to address if we’re going to make any progress in personal godliness. I’m talking about our personal private habits that no one ever sees. The good stuff that we pretend happens but doesn’t. And the bad stuff that we pretend doesn’t happen but does. Let’s deal with those things.

When we resolve to change irritates me as well. We do it annually. Around and about January 1st. I appreciate the stimulus to change that a New Year presents. But I don’t have annual issues. I have daily issues. My life doesn’t need a once a year check-up like an MOT. It needs ongoing monitoring. I’m guessing you’re the same. So let’s go for continual progress not annual readjustment. Apparently Jonathan Edwards used his 70 resolutions as an ongoing benchmark by which to calibrate his Christian life. Now, it’s possible to be overly introspective. Too much self-examination creates paralysis. But deciding on what we want to be the main things in our lives and then keeping the main things main will at least keep us focussed not merely on the minutiae but the significant things of the Christian life. And we can review our progress as often as we need to. We don’t have to wait till the start of the year.

How we propose to change is revealing also. I tend to think of change as an independent project shaped by the exercise of my will. I decide to do something different and change will come. But I’ve lost count the number of times that I’ve resolved to cultivate a good habit or try to eradicate a damaging one. It would appear that I am unable, by myself, to defeat the slavery to my sinful flesh that holds me in its captivity. I need a redeemer. No amount of resolve, no matter how good my intentions will actually accomplish anything. We need to pray. Any change in our lives is ultimately God’s work. I’m sure that we know this. We readily acknowledge that God effects transformation in our lives by employing means. But one of the principle means by which He effects change is prayer. And so, any resolution to change without the accompanying habit of prayer is likely to whither on the vine. It’s dead in the water. Jonathan Edwards knew this to be true and wrote,

‘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’.

Well said young man (as he was when he said it). Albeit in a somewhat inaccessible seventeenth century vernacular.

Why we want to change shows what the bottom line is. Usually I want to change something about myself that I don’t like. I’m too chubby round the middle. I’m staying up too late catching up on old episodes of the West Wing. I need to stop being ratty with the kids and actually spend some time with them. None of those is necessarily bad. But what have any of them got to do with the glory of God? As the Westminster Shorter Catechism so helpfully reminds us, our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Our motivation is one of the key things that will sustain our resolve. Why we’re doing what we’re doing. So let’s make sure that it’s not just my enjoyment of my life but instead my pursuit of God’s glory that underpins our resolutions.

I’d like to resolve to be different this year. But I’d like to do more than that. I’d like to change. And I suspect you would to. Because we know we’re not the finished article. We’re a work in progress. And when we’re honest there’s a whole heap of progress to be made. So let’s take these things to heart. And maybe, just perhaps, make some resolutions.

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