Well, here we are in the fourth week of the new year, and undoubtedly the majority of New Year’s resolutions have gone the way of the Sony Walkman. A recent US News and World Report cites an 80% New Year’s resolution failure rate. If you made some, how are you doing?
I’ve never been big on the practice, and now, for two reasons, I never even start down that road.
1. Many New Year’s resolutions are made with little thought
I was guilty of a parallel transgression as a first year Cru/Campus Crusade for Christ staff member. We were getting ready for our annual student Christmas Conference, and my monthly communication with my support team was due. Naturally, I discussed the conference and asked for their prayers. I had just heard a talk about praying specifically, so I yanked some figures out of the air regarding the number of students attending, the number of people we would get to share Christ with during the conference, etc. But, . . . I had devoted almost no thought and even less prayer to the numbers. I don’t even remember praying particularly diligently for these requests myself. That’s how many people formulate New Year’s resolutions.
Meaningful change comes with thoughtful planning and realistic (i.e., reasonable and modest) expectations. Yet many people haphazardly generate lists of a dozen or more poorly-thought-through resolutions, and they – predictably – fail. Few people succeed at going from zero to sixty in four seconds.
2. The most profound changes usually come when God teaches me something I didn’t even realize I needed to learn
I’m all for planning and personal goals. But over the years, I’ve learned some of my most significant lessons unexpectedly when God painfully spotlighted one of my shortcomings. A few years ago, I got into an argument with a beloved family member and pushed and pushed my point much further than I should have, damaging the relationship. Although we had gotten into scuffles before and I knew in my head I should have backed off, I didn’t. Subsequently, God made it painfully obvious how badly I had messed up. I deeply regretted my folly, and I vowed never to travel that path again.
Guess what? This is a great picture of what true repentance is. In a recent sermon, our youth pastor Troy Gambrell referenced Charles Spurgeon’s three elements of repentance:
· Discovering your shortcoming
· Mourning your sin
· Resolving to never repeat it
Troy pointed out that, although repentance has gotten a terrible reputation in our culture, we should embrace it as the means and message of good news that follows the bad news about our sin. If our goal is merely to stop bad behavior, we start down the dark road of legalism, judgmentalism, and self-condemnation. But if our goal is spiritual transformation, we should see repentance as a vital tool God employs in our upward calling in Christ (Phil 3:14).
So, I’m happy to keep planning and setting goals, but I’m (eventually) delighted after God reveals a major flaw and provides the grace that helps further conform me to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Hebrews 1 - 7explains how Jesus is superior to the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, and the Old Testament priesthood. In the same vein, I would suggest that repentance is superior to New Year’s resolutions.