One Question to Ask Yourself Before Making New Year’s Resolutions

When I was a college pastor, I used to define success for our student leaders every year. I had three goals for them to focus on: love God, love your people, multiply leaders. That was it. I provided those goals for them because I knew that it was easy to lose focus, to shift their attention to auxiliary issues rather than primary ones. “Do I have the biggest group?” “Is my group the most fun and popular?” “Do we finish every question in the study packet each week?” While those indicators might mean something, they don’t necessarily indicate that the group was effective. So I told them this: If you’ve been faithful to love God, love your people, and multiply leaders for the future, then your group is a smashing success. Even if you only have 2 people left in the group in May. Don’t get sidetracked. Focus on what is central.

Similarly, I think we often approach the New Year with a list of wonderful goals, but we haven’t really defined success. We want to lose weight, read the Bible, and take charge of our finances. We’re going to repair the broken sink, make sure our toddlers know how to read in three languages, and get an ‘A’ in differential equations. All wonderful ideas, but we fail to ask, “Why?” Why are we doing any of this?

This year, try asking yourself this question: “What primary value(s) will drive my goals, thoughts, and actions this year?” Don’t write down a list of 27 values. Keep it to no more than three. You can easily remember three, and you can quickly check each of your goals against those values.

So your values might be: love God, love my spouse, and love my kids. Or love God, make friends, and grow in courage. The values will vary from person to person, and yours will vary from year to year, but they will keep you focused.

So when you decide to lose weight, for example, you can check it against your values. Will losing weight help me to know God better? Perhaps, if physical laziness and poor health robs me of the energy I need to pray and to serve. Will saving more money help me to love my family? Quite likely, since you can better provide for them if you’re not buried in debt and overwhelmed by expenses.

Your goals might not dramatically change, but they will be more focused. I’m guessing, also, that they will be fewer. Finally, you’ll know why you’re committing to change. Nobody grows or changes without strong motivation to do so. That’s the reason most of our resolutions fail: We feel we should resolve to do “better,” but we don’t really know why or what “better” even means.

What primary values will drive your goals, thoughts, and actions this year? Write the question down, determine your values, and move from there. Nobody can tackle every problem at once. Finding the simple center of your life will help you make your resolutions and ambitions realistic. It will also inform your prayer, as you seek God’s strength and wisdom to live out your values, to grow in godliness while still very much a sinner.

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My Only New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s resolutions are clear evidence of our longing for grace. Our feelings on New Year’s Day are an amplification of what we feel every day. We wake up each morning craving God’s new mercies, hoping that today will be a new start, the day we put our failures and sins behind us to find forgiveness and transformation.

The Christian knows that grace and transformation are extended to us through Jesus. His death and resurrection provide us with real life, now and forever. So a new day and a new year are just small tokens of the grace we’ll enjoy for eternity. They’re also opportunities to “walk in a manner worthy” of the grace we’ve been given (Ephesians 4:1). So we seek change and growth, not in order to earn God’s favor, but to reflect the favor He’s already given us. A gracious life proclaims a gracious Savior.

But even though God’s grace abounds, we’re not always gracious. At least I’m not. Not with myself and not with other people. I often measure myself by my own impossible standards and expect others to live up to them as well. A Pharisee lurks in my heart, even if he’s not always evident on my face.

“I wouldn’t have made that short-sighted decision.”

“My kids would never act that way.”

“How could that person be so inconsiderate?”

I think like that sometimes. Maybe you can relate. Hopefully you can’t.

So this year I have only one resolution. It’s a bit different from past resolutions, because it’s not exactly about being better or more disciplined or more “together.”

My resolution, if you can call it that, is grace. I want to accept it. I want to extend it. And I want to rejoice in it.

I’m not abandoning truth by pursuing grace. After all, Jesus is filled with grace and truth. I still intend to proclaim God’s holiness and to encourage those around me to live God-honoring lives. My teaching and this blog will still wrestle with questions of truth and righteousness from Scripture.

When I say I’m resolving to be gracious, I simply mean that I want to practice grace on a personal level. I want to stop judging others based on my standards instead of God’s. I want to remember with greater frequency that we all sin, we all fail, and we all need the grace offered in Christ.

Most of all, I want to keep reminding myself that I’m not the standard of all that’s good and true. And the best I can do as a pastor, as a Christian, is to point others to the One who is that standard, and trust Him to provide transformation and new life.

In order to practice grace, I’m going to need a lot of grace. Grace for growth. Grace when I fall. Grace when I get up again. Even grace from you, my friends and family and readers. So if you see that Pharisee look on my face, just remind me again: My resolution is grace.

What about you? Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions? I’d love to hear them. 

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