Every year around this time, people look back on the previous year and evaluate the perceived successes and failures. For some it was a great year. For others it was one of the worst. Regardless of the previous year, many look to the upcoming year with hope. New Years Resolutions add to this hope. We think, “If I work harder this year, it will be a better year” or “If I just lose those 20 pounds the year will be much better.”
Well I’m here to say I think New Years Resolutions (NYRs) rely too heavily on human effort and therefore I think they are a waste of time. Sorry if I come across harsh. If you want to work harder, declaring it at the beginning of the year is a great idea, but you need something greater than yourself to sustain you in your day-to-day existence. This is why most people’s resolutions make no real impact on their lives. But another problem with NYRs is the importance placed on the single day of the new year. There is nothing magical or special about January 1. However there is something special about today.
Paul talks about the time to receive God’s grace:
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2 emphasis added).
Why wait for tomorrow for something that can be received today? Today is the day, not tomorrow. And the time to continually receive that grace will be each new day, not a day in the past or a day in the future. The individual day is the time to receive the power of God and be renewed and transformed by his grace. NYRs claim that if you will it to happen and keep it on the forefront of your mind you can change. We do not have the power to make ourselves “new creations” where “the old has passed away and the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:16).
The emphasis placed on the individual’s power and the importance of one day seems to be unproductive. The grace of God tells a different story. The opportunity for new beginning happens every single morning. But these new beginnings have nothing to do with our initiative. They only happen by the grace of God. If it wasn’t we would still be operating in a Yom Kippur-like system, where one day a year a priest made an offering to atone for our sins. We do not rely on one single day to be changed. It is his grace that changes us and his grace that sustains us. We do have to resolve to make changes, but it is the grace of God that allows such transformation to happen and I believe it is the work of the Spirit that brings about the thought of the change in the first place. Therefore, we need both discipline and grace. The problem with these resolutions is that they rely on the discipline and work of man and neglect the power of God. In discipline we faithfully try; but in grace He gloriously succeeds.
Here’s a practical suggestion: Resolve to give each day to the Lord at the very beginning of each day. Our days do not belong to ourselves. Each new day is a gift from God. If you want to be sustained throughout the day, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Therefore, as much as it is possible, give the first part of your day to prayer and reading the Bible. In this you will be strengthened and nourished for the difficulties of the day. Bonhoeffer states in Life Together, “For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work.” Do not rely on yourself to get through the day but do as Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
My only New Years Resolution is to try to make the first thought of my day be of praise to God, thanking Him for his grace and spending time reading His Word and communing with Him in prayer. In that, I will be continually transformed by His grace and grow and change in the ways he leads.