Why Christians Struggle With New Year’s Resolutions
As we enter into a new year, many of us are teeming with newfound enthusiasm, and will make resolutions with the aim of changing some things about ourselves. Resolved to purge undesired habits, we’ll vow to lose weight, spend less time on social media, read more, stop procrastinating, as well as a host of others.
For this reason, gym memberships soar, closets will clear as old clothes are donated to those in need, kindle books are purchased, and as the whirlwind of optimism swirls, many Christians will find themselves engulfed in the fray.
Some believers will jot down a few goals and diligently pursue their aspirations, while others will wonder if all the newfound fervor is really necessary. Is it appropriate for Christians to make New Year’s resolutions? Isn’t it simply an exercise in self-reliance? As Christians, shouldn’t we seek to be good stewards at all times, and if so, what’s the point of making resolutions?
“Consider Your Ways”
While it’s important to address such questions, it’s my assertion that not only is it biblically permissible to make resolutions, but we’re given good reasons to do so. When the children of Israel became spiritually negligent in their relationship with God, he used the prophet Haggai to rebuke them. “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5), he prophesied, challenging them to re-evaluate their priorities and rebuild the temple in spite of local opposition.
God expects his children to mature spiritually and he uses personal examination (i.e. considering our ways) as a mechanism for growth. Believers should continually assess their spiritual lives (Lam. 3:40; Ps. 139:23-24), and the beginning of the year provides the ideal context to do so.
As we prayerfully reflect upon the past year, we’re provided with an opportunity to assess our affections, desires, and actions by holding them up to the reflective word of God, and with the assistance of the Spirit, make particular resolutions to help us better steward our time, talents, and treasures.
Furthermore, there is a bevy of biblical passages (Acts 19:21; 1 Cor. 10:14-32; Col. 3:12-17) that provide reasons for resolutions and examples of people of God who resolved to live in a particular manner for a specific season of their lives. Daniel, for example, after being carried away into Babylonian captivity, resolved in his heart to not eat the king’s food in order to avoid defiling himself for a specific season (Dan. 1:8). Also, while not bound by the mosaic law, the Apostle Paul took a vow to live a particular way for some time in order to win Jews in Cenchreas to Christ (Acts 18:18).
Christians Have Made Resolutions Since the Church’s Inception
From a historical standpoint, the celebration of New Year’s Day started in the West before the church came into existence. Romans celebrated the New Year on March 1st, but Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on the first of January to honor,Janus, the two-faced god who looked back to the prior year while looking forward to the new.
New Year resolutions began during this early period. As Sue Ellen Thompson’s Holiday Symbols asserts when Christianity become the official faith of Rome in the 4th Century, Christians continued to keep New Year’s Day and traded the vague moral resolutions for the practice of prayer and fasting with the aim of living a new life for Christ in the new year.
Your Will Power Is Pathetic
While Christians have vowed to make changes in the New Year, statistic says that resolutions tend to fail miserably. Some of you may have even given up on your resolutions already. Some researchers suggest that upward of 80 percent of those who make resolutions will quit by the Valentine’s Day. Why is this failure so widespread? Because we often hastily make resolutions in moments of excitement and fall into depending upon our own will power. It becomes nothing more than a futile exercise in self-reliance.
As the first weeks of 2017 come and go, as the excitement of resolutions wanes, have you prayerfully assessed whether your resolutions were sustainable throughout the year? When you composed your list, did you do it prayerfully? Have you consulted with wise counsel? Did you look to the scriptures or did you haphazardly create resolutions in moments of excitement, guilt, or foolishness?
If Christ is to be most gloried in our resolutions, we ought to make sure that they revolve around him, and then be dependent upon his grace to change our undesirable habits. We should not rely on raw willpower. Before you quit on your resolutions, reevaluate to make sure they are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. In the famed word of St. John Chrysostom, “When we once begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out.”