Happy New Year! Or should I rather have said, “New Year, New You”?
It is a New Year and that means for many of us, it is a time when we are forced to review our lives and try to change things that we know aren’t working, or start to do new things that we know will improve our lives. This is especially important for us Christians who live in light of eternity and know that our time is short, and we must be living to the glory of God in all we do.
Does making New Year Resolutions help us to live a better Christian life? The topic of resolutions is like marmite, people either love the idea or hate it absolutely. I am not a strong advocate for resolutions, but I do think there are good things about the urge to try and change the course of our lives every new year rather than allow the inertia of doing the same old things we have always done.
However, the dirty secret about resolutions is that research has shown that for most of us, only about half of New Year’s resolutions are likely to make it out of January, much less last a lifetime. Hence, the most important question we should be asking ourselves is how do we make resolutions that we will actually keep?
I have 5 suggestions to help you and I make and keep some resolutions this year.
1. Keep the end goal in mind
Let’s say one of your resolutions is to read the Bible every day. Why do you want to do that? Usually, it would be because you want to know God better. If you are not sure why you are making any of your resolutions, please take the time to think things through carefully until you have a clear and strong reason for every resolution you have in mind.
Why is this practice important? It is because there will be times when your motivation will drop, times when you will consider quitting. For example, by the time you get to Leviticus in the Bible reading plan, you may want to stop, but then you remember that your goal is to know God more and God is the giver of the book of Leviticus, surely that is reason enough to press on.
2. Keep the resolutions as actionable as possible
Don’t resolve “I aim to read the Bible more this year” but resolve that “Every day, I will read 1 chapter of the Bible”. These are both objectives, but the 2nd one is easier to understand and easier to measure. For every objective, you want to set targets that you can actually meet regularly without a massive exertion of will and effort.
Keeping the resolutions actionable helps you to check quickly whether it is something you can achieve. If for example you say you want to read 10 chapters of the Bible every day and you calculate that would take 2 hours, you will quickly see that while you may have that time on some days, it would be hard to meet that target every day.
3. Make your resolutions in community
God has put us in the Christian community for a reason. It is because God knows we need the support and encouragement of other Christians on our faith journey. Using the example of Bible reading, you could aim for example to form a group of like-minded believers who will follow the same Bible reading plan.
This way, when you wake up in the morning and do not feel like reading the Bible, you would know there are other brothers and sisters whom you do not want to let down and you will have another reason to try. At times when you get discouraged, you would be encouraged by others in your group to continue. Finally, when you achieve the goal, it is so much sweeter because there are many other people for you to celebrate and rejoice with.
4. You may fall, but always get back up
It was the prophet Micah who said, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise” (Micah 7:8). This is because he had a realistic understanding of human nature and that is almost certain in the Christian race that we would have periods where we would fall. This also holds true of whatever resolutions you make this year, there may be periods where you would fail to meet up.
The key question then is, what would you do when you miss a target? That is the critical question. It is important not to consider a single failure as a catastrophe and reason to give up. Rather, you should see it as a reason to repent, recommit yourself to the goal, pray to God for renewed strength and start the race again.
5. Create an enabling environment to succeed
Our intentions are only as strong as the environment that we create for them. Using the same example of a Bible reading plan: Do you have a time you have set aside to read the Bible every day? Are you sure that you would not have any distractions at that period? Do you know where your Bible is?
For example, many people plan to read their Bible first thing in the morning. Now if you have little children, this means you must wake up before they do otherwise you will not have the space to read. Creating an enabling environment could mean going to bed 1 hour earlier than you usually do, so you can get up early enough to read. It takes a bit of work and effort at the beginning, but once you get things going, the pattern itself becomes automatic.
These then are some steps to encourage us all to start afresh in being deliberate about our Christian growth. They are not magic words that would open up things miraculously, but wisdom that we can use to make our paths easier. Let us close with some inspiration from the psalmist:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:4-5)