It's January, which means it's time for another burst of short-lived enthusiasm. While most of the world is busy trying to refashion their physical figures with the latest fad diets, health gadgets and workout routines, those in the Christian community tend to look to their spiritual figures.
Perhaps we'll find a new Bible reading plan or devotional series. Maybe we'll get more involved in our churches or increase our giving. Some of us might even rearrange our homes to accommodate a quiet space devoted to only us and God. And by February, that devotional will have grown dusty, our giving suffocated by the economy and that quiet space overgrown with junk mail and unwashed coffee mugs.
According to a recent article at Ministry Matters, "nearly half of Americans make resolutions, but sadly only 8 percent are successful in keeping them." It would seem that, much as our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs, our intentions are usually grander than our determination.
Like any other resolution, spiritual resolutions are made to fix perceived problems. The Bible reading plan was chosen because we're tired of embarrassing ourselves at our small group. The church involvement was likely inspired by a phone call from our pastor or elder. We want to be better because it's painfully obvious that we need to be. So we make resolutions because everyone can see our spiritual fat.
Religion doesn’t get more man-made than when we try to resolve our own problems.
Yet religion doesn’t get more man-made than when we try to resolve our own problems. That’s why Christ came: because we are hopelessly incapable of helping ourselves. We know this well enough as it regards our salvation, but we can be forgetful where sanctification is involved. Suddenly, our spiritual lives are no longer just between us and God, especially when judging eyes may be watching.
So we should ask ourselves: why are we making these resolutions? Are we resolving to pray more in the coming year for God’s glory or our own? Jesus has some choice words for those who do the latter. As does Oswald Chambers: “We have no right in Christian service to be guided by our own interests and desires. In fact, this is one of the greatest tests of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The delight of sacrifice is that I lay down my life for my Friend, Jesus.”
The Christian life is not one where we resolve to do better, but one where we sacrifice to be more like Jesus. It’s a posture that recognizes from where our help truly comes, by focusing less on effort and more on letting go.
If we must do them, that’s what New Year’s resolutions should be. Not adding one more thing to our already congested lives, but taking things off. A new year is an opportunity to do less rather than more. It might not impress our spiritual peanut gallery, but our heavenly Father will be glad to see a schedule clear enough for Him to do His sanctifying work.