A Resolution on New Year’s Resolutions

by reed depace

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us*

[This is a weekly prayer devotional I write for our church. It focuses on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Ps 85:6;Isa 44:3-4) Each week, we ask our members to pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block, and use this devotional to focus their prayers for our revival.]

Image courtesy of Norwood Themes, Unsplash

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

I talked with a brother this week who noted that he and his wife were not going to make their traditional New Year’s resolutions. They find the process only results in greater pressure and frustration in their lives. My response to him was, “Praise God!” Not that the custom of New Year’s Resolutions is inherently wrong for a Christian to engage in, yet this secular rooted custom presents some painful missteps for the child of God trying to learn to walk by faith.

The making of New Year’s resolutions goes at least back to the earliest period in the Babylonian kingdom, in the third millennium BC (around the time of the Tower of Babel, Gn 11:1-9). The Roman Empire also had a custom of making New Year’s Resolutions (around the time of Jesus’ birth). This ancient secular custom is basically the same as our secular custom. We make resolutions about making our lives better. Typically, about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.* Almost all of them can be categorized as self-help commitments to make one’s life better. Most of these resolutions are abandoned quickly: 25% after one week, 40% after one month, and 55% after six months. By year’s end, only 9% of people who made resolutions say they fulfilled them. As we might expect with efforts based on a resource that 100% of the time dies, New Year’s resolutions are but another example of the futility of life without a saving relationship with God (Eccl 12:1-8).

While the practice of making resolutions can be found in Church history, the adaptation of the secular custom goes back to John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service (1755), usually held on New Year’s Day. This was a service in which Christians recommitted themselves to discipleship. Notwithstanding the theological differences we have with Arminian Methodism, the liturgy for this service is Christ-focused. If informed by a specific commitment to the doctrines of grace, this adaptation might have some discipleship benefit.

Nevertheless, as is usually the case when the church adapts a secular idea, many Christians who make New Year’s Resolutions actually follow the secular practice. Being gospel presumptive, they’ve forgotten or were never taught that not only is salvation by the gospel alone, but so is growth in the Christian life (Col 2:6-7). Relying on self-help effort to grow in Christ, they’ve forgotten or never learned that there is no power for lasting change in their own efforts (Joh 6:63). Even with Jesus’ name on their lips and the intention to serve him in their hearts, Christians who rely on self-help techniques such as New Year’s Resolutions have forgotten or never learned that the Christian life is only lived by faith through the Spirit, not by flesh through self (2 Cor 5:7).

So, with my brother, I say, “Praise God! And good riddance!” to the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions.

Do Make New Year’s Prayers

Now, lest you think I’ve left the poor baby hanging by his fingernails on the window ledge in throwing the New Year’s Resolution bathwater out the window, I do think making a biblical resolution is a healthy discipleship practice. For example, Daniel and his three friends resolved not to break their faith in God by disobeying through eating King Nebuchadnezzer’s food (Dan 1:8). Paul made a resolution to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21), a resolution he kept even after being told he would face persecution (Acts 21:10-14). Finally, the Scriptures themselves urge on us the practice of making resolutions as part of our discipleship:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Th 1:11-12, emphasis added

If we begin with a firm commitment to the sovereignty of God, recognize that our role is to express our God-given repentance and faith, want to achieve something which will glorify God, and rely on the Holy Spirit to be the presence whose power transforms us, then resolving to grow in Christ is actually a very spiritually healthy thing. Indeed, as we consider Paul’s admonition here for resolutions that are good works of faith by the Spirit’s power, and as we consider the generally weak and anemic condition of many Christians’ lives, we might even conclude that we need to make more such resolutions (1 Pt 4:7)!!

But what makes such resolutions expressions of faith-by-the-Spirit, instead of flesh-by-self? It is found in Paul’s words at the beginning of these verses, “To this end we always pray for you.” The difference between a secular resolution and a Christian resolution is found in believing prayer.

It is not found merely in prayer. A Christian who prays, “Lord, this year I promise I am going to do such and such …” is basically telling God what they intend to do this year, in their own flesh-based, self-help power. The only difference between that and the atheist who doesn’t pray, or the goof who prays to the Spaghetti God is, well, nothing. A self-help prayer does not honor God. Instead, it simply builds on “The Waterboy” lie Satan told our first parents, “You can do it!” (yourself)!+

The potency of biblical resolution making is found in believing prayer. Trusting in God’s sovereignty, wanting to show God’s glory, relying on the Spirit, it is through such believing prayer that we express our repentance and faith. So, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, let me encourage you to make New Year’s Prayers. Jot down a handful of sinful traits or habits you know are dishonoring God. Pray for these each week. Write down the four or five godly habits you want to develop (e.g., Bible reading, weekly worship – personal, family, and church, being discipled, regular witnessing, etc.). Then pray these each week as well. Don’t worry if you forget to pray for these in a given week. Just repent the next week and pray for them again! What you will find is that the Spirit will do exactly what Paul prayed for the Thessalonians (and us!). The name of Jesus will be glorified in and through you this year in more powerful ways, with a more lasting glory than even the most potent New Year’s Resolution could achieve!

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, we confess that too much of this past year has been given to self-indulgence. Be it wicked sins we don’t want anyone else to find out about, or the common sins we excuse every day, because Jesus is the Resolute One who never wavered in his commitment to face the cross for your glory and his and our joy, forgive and cleanse us.

Then Holy Spirit, who love us enough to resolve to complete the work of holiness in us until we are perfect like Jesus, guide us to what we should be praying for this year. Show us the sins we need to regularly pray the promise of repentance upon. Show us the obedience we need to regularly ask for in faith that hears only Yes and Amen from our Father. Use us this year that your glory in and through us might draw others to yourself. We long for your glory!

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

olivia-snow-265289

Photo courtesy Olivia Snow, Unsplash

______________

* Statistics on New Years’ resolutions found at: https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.

+ “You can do it!” is a line from the movie Waterboy (1998), epitomizing our culture’s belief in the power of self-help to overcome anything.

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9 Comments

  1. Steve Drake said,

    December 30, 2017 at 7:02 am

    Reed,

    The making of New Year’s resolutions goes at least back to the earliest period in the Babylonian kingdom, in the third Century BC (around the time of the Tower of Babel, Gn 11:1-9).

    The above is a bit confusing as worded. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Do you mean to say 3rd millenium BC? Or are you saying the Tower of Babel event was 3rd century BC?

    Thanks

  2. Reed Here said,

    December 30, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    thx Steve. Meant millennium. fixed.

  3. Ron said,

    December 30, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    So, to be safe, make a biblical resolution, just not at the new year? :)

    Seems to me that what’s being objected to is not so much the tradition but rather the lack of reliance upon God. Yet the latter doesn’t seem to be essential to the former, as is the case with many traditions. Christmas for instance.

  4. roberty bob said,

    December 30, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    2018 will be The Year of Our Lord! Let us resolve to serve Him well in whatever He calls us to do. Long Live our King!

  5. Reed Here said,

    January 5, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Would that he rooted this piece in prayer Steve. Agree with all he says. Am cautioned by what is missing. We live in an especially gospel-presumptive era. Following the pattern of the Scriptures, believers must only talk of exercising discipline in the immediate context of exercising faith and repentance.

    Kind of like the Shakespeare idea. Calvin, Turretin, Vos, and Bavink are my list this year (after the Bible).

  6. Ron said,

    January 5, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    I agree that prayer is key if we’re to conquer resolutions. It’s a bit paradoxical, perhaps, if our resolution is to pray more. If we pray in order to succeed at praying more, then will we have succeeded before succeeding?

    Kids got me Vos (dogmatics) for Christmas. It was nowhere on my radar screen. Truly fantastic. I had no idea how good.

  7. Reed Here said,

    January 8, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Ron, wow, they love you. They really love you! ;)

  8. Ron said,

    January 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    I got each of my girls Hodge’s ST, but when I began reading Vos I said to Lisa we should’ve gotten them Vos instead. She said, no we shouldn’t have, knowing the price difference times 3!


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