Resolved: Glorifying God in the New Year
“Men should pledge themselves to nothing! For, reflection makes a liar of their resolution.”
–Sophocles (on losing weight in the new-year)
Everyone is making resolutions for the new year. Well, maybe not dejected philosophers like Sophocles who famously said, “Men should pledge themselves to nothing! For, reflection makes a liar of their resolution.” Perhaps Sophocles had a hard time losing weight, getting to the gym, or whatever he failed to do. A more piercing word came through Benjamin Franklin, “How few are those men who own their faults enough to change them.” This smacks of the Psalmist’s words, “Who can discern his error?” Psalm 19:12. The Psalmist meant that we don’t like to stand face to face with our faults. What’s worse still is that we know that the sin nature still hangs onto us until the day we enter glory. Let’s compound the problem a little more. A new year’s resolution holds the potential to become a perverted idol of one’s own glory. For example, many resolutions could be based around worship of one’s body. In our culture one’s self-worth is often measured by the degree of physical beauty he/she has. “Body image” is the new buzz word that attracts people more than any other in marketing. It mixes two words together everybody wants to be associated with- “body” and “image.” People don’t want to be who they are; they want to be something awesome in the eyes of others. Many of our New Year’s resolutions fall in line to serve that end. With this in mind, Sophocles’ angst and assertion becomes more attractive.
Nevertheless, I believe in resolutions. The problem with everything excogitated above is our resolutions miss the mark on what the larger goal of all life is. They miss God! The chief and highest end of man is to glorify and enjoy him forever. Do you hold your resolutions up to this light? Do you weigh them on this scale? Ask your resolutions, “Do you glorify God or me?” When you do this you will find they either serve you or God. They cannot serve both. My point in all this is to encourage you to make resolutions, but also to make them in the right way and for the right goal, the glory of God, the good of the church, and your Christian growth.
As one more preliminary note, keep in mind that there are two obstacles to resolutions. First, they must be right resolutions. They must glorify God; which we just saw. Resolutions involve putting off bad behavior, putting on good behavior, or tasks or goals to take on. Second, they are difficult to accomplish! Most resolutions are abandoned quickly. So, one problem with resolutions is making the right ones, the other is keeping them. I hope you make God glorifying resolutions, and I hope you keep them.
Let’s look at the second obstacle more closely. Resolutions are hard to keep. Sophocles, again rings true. We fail and make ourselves liars. The problem is that Sophocles and we take on resolutions the wrong way.
Self-help gurus have watered down the definition of resolution by simplifying them into attainable goals. Most self-help books will tell you to set goals for yourself. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem is we treat resolutions like goals. But they are not the same thing. We usually make a goal, plan to reach that goal, and then execute the plan. The problem is, once we reach the goal (though usually we never do) we have seemed to arrive. Real resolutions don’t have a terminal point. They never end. They must be real change, permanent change, turning away never to return. Otherwise they are not really resolutions at all, they are just games that end when the task is finished. That is our problem- definition. We never define resolutions. We simply assume they mean goals. Resolution is not a goal. Being resolved means to head in a direction, to lean somewhere, to put the hand to the plow and not look back! To make you face like flint and press on the way.
Not that’s starting to sound a little more biblical. Resolution Biblically is the same thing as repentance. It is a change of direction never to return. It is a change of mind, view, behavior, attitude, or virtue. Real change means what the Psalmist said, Finding out “secret sins” and then turning from them. He would dig through his heart by pouring over the word of God to unearth his secret sins, and then resolve to turn from them! As sinners we may turn back to it, but we need to always press on to fight those sins. We must resolve to keep after God, growth, the good of our fellow man, and the church of the Lord Jesus.
With that definition in mind, we now turn to making resolutions to stick with, rather than goals which inevitably fail. A great term, which I love to use whenever I get chance, is plausibility structure. This refers to a structure that is in place that makes it more plausible that the thing will come about. This means setting yourself up to succeed rather than fail because there are structures in place that come alongside and support your resolution.
The reason goals fail is because they contradict actually being resolved. A goal says to you, “Make a goal. Make a plan. Get after it. Don’t fail. If you fail, you lose. If you succeed you win.” Resolution says, “Resolve to stop this behavior,” “Do this neglected duty,” or “Take up this work.” A goal is a future thing. You set you mind, pen, and calendar to planning. You may even begin to execute the plan. When you fail to keep a step along the way you are done. The goal you desire is never satisfied. Then the darkness of frustration sets in. If everything is left to planning, the doing never gets done. Therefore, goals are doomed to failure from the get go.
In contrast, resolution immediately hits the pavement running, stumbles and falls, picks itself up, and hurries along the same way. Resolution assumes failure- learning on the fly. It is constantly and resolutely headed in one direction.
It is a fun and popular fact that constant little drops of liquid water can wear away solid rock. Resolution is not goal-setting, it is that water which wears away the rock. Molecule by molecule we see the rock wear away. It is the constant doing of what is right which leads to graces and blessing greater than goals could ever imagine. Resolutions shouldn’t be treated like goals. Goals are only little victories (I want to avoid the phrase “baby steps” because then Dr. Leo Marvin will haunt me where I will not be able to defend myself, in my dreams…). If Resolution could be compared to other terms in the Bible they would be discipline and repentance. Repentance has to do with the change of direction, and discipline with continuing after that direction.
Resolutions heave great fringe benefits/blessings. Let’s say you resolve to “Hide [God’s] word in your heart that you might not sin against him.” Psalm 119:11. This goes beyond just memorizing scripture. It also puts you into a position to do and teach others. It sticks with you when you need it in the moment. The greatest benefit though is what the Psalmist himself says, “That [you] might not sin against [God]!” That is the sort of thing you miss with goals. Goals get one thing, but resolution as a disciplined seeking after God and his glory gains infinitely more blessing in this life and the next.
Let’s take education at another example. If your goal in getting a degree is to get the degree, you will never benefit from the degree other than having the piece of paper. If you resolve yourself to master a field of study, know it in your bones, remain obsessively interested in it, make it part of your life, love and enjoy it, then you will benefit from really mastering the field of study! Apply this to your Bible study habits. Is your goal to read through the Bible in a year so that you will be able to say “I did it!”? Don’t do it! Instead resolve to know God more, love God more, trust Christ more, pray earnestly for his help in conforming your to the image of Christ through the Bible reading. That may mean that you take less text on, and may mean you cannot check the box. The point is not to meet goals, it’s to get God, glorify Him, and grow!
Consider church planting. We have been at the work of planting a church for about a year and a half. The process required some planning and goals, but those were really placeholders. I always resist goal-setting because it seems to tempt God by saying what James warned us not to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this town, spend a year there, and do business…” (Jas 4:13). In James 4:15 he tells us to say, “If the lord wills…” But we still use that term when we lay our mortal plans. We’re inconsistent. We speak of God in control, but then we set goals as if he is not! Resolution should replace goals in church planting. This fits better with our theology. God is in control! It also frames the issue of our labor around us being devoted, faithful, and resolved to God’s will. This lets God be God, and us be us. We are not magisterial, but ministerial in our work as a church plant. So, we may need goals as placeholders, but the work itself must also pan out. Frankly, God is the only one who can make that come about. We must be resolved to the work, but remember that our goals will not happen as we plan, but as the Lord wills.
Here are some resolutions we might make: Resolve to do family worship daily, to read a book on theology every month, to pray daily, to read the Bible this year, to serve in some capacity at church, to know one family each quarter by spending time with them. Those are some visible resolutions attained by simple checking of boxes. They are good. Do them. But they still smack of goals. I want to encourage you to resolve to larger resolutions like knowing God more, loving neighbor as Christ loves you, cultivating zeal in your heart for the mission of the church, repenting of dirty and evil attitudes, endeavoring to fellowship with the saints, pursuing holiness, trusting the Gospel more. In all of these the doing of the thing is the goal itself. The journey is its own blessing.
Resolution is repentance. That means you put something off, put something on, or take something up. It is instant, not future. And then you keep after it, little by little, line upon line, drop by drop. Resolution is for God’s glory: seek the goal- the glory of God, the good of the church, and your Christian growth. As you choose you resolutions for this year, consider these things- but remember, that resolution is work, patience, and continuing in a single direction, not goals.
Are you content with seeing a goal in a few months or years? Or, do you actually want to get started now? Repentance and discipline does not start tomorrow. It begins when the Word of God pricks your heart. Why would we then put it off until months and years from now? It has been my experience that planning rarely becomes doing. Taking action with the possibility of failure always brings about something. In fact, the greatest blessings in my life have been by pursuing God in new areas, not by reaching goals! Take up the good work of resolution. Resolve yourself to glorify God, grow, and not set goals, which are doomed to fail.