From childhood I learned to make New Year's resolutions. I usually start thinking about them as soon as the Christmas tree goes up. Some resolutions appear year after year — losing weight, exercising, eating right, a schedule for Bible reading, a plan for reading new books, cleaning my desk and files, etc. Those maintenance resolutions are still the hardest to keep faithfully.
Life gets busy and it seems impossible to go to the fitness center. It gets a little busier and the Bible reading schedule slides out of view. As I write this, my desk looks like a tornado has hit. So why make resolutions if they are just going to be empty plans to organize and order the activities of life? Most adults say that they don't make resolutions anymore because they can't keep them.
So it may be that instead of resolutions, mature Christians should be establishing priorities to enhance the qualities of their lives. We should be praying for God to guide us in seeing what he wants us to do with the bright, shining new year we are about to celebrate. How does God want us to use the stretch of time ahead? Who are the people we should be embracing and drawing closer to God? What are those voids in our spiritual world that we should seek to fill through prayer and faith?
One year, I realized that I was almost totally ignorant of Jeremiah. I had read it several times in those one-year sprints to read the Bible, but I really knew only the most superficial part of the book. On my list of resolutions was “Master the message of Jeremiah.” I admit I dawdled with that lengthy and troubling book for several months until I realized that I could not casually approach Jeremiah: My study had to be intense and engaging. I began praying for God to help me see why I had such an urge to know this book. I began a serious study of place names, nations and images found in the book. I began to see the work of God with Jeremiah and God’s people, and from that I developed a fuller appreciation of my God and his working in the lives of an individual and a community.
“Master the message of Jeremiah” was not accomplished that year, but I made progress. I studied enough to see the main outlines and get into the work and mind of God as it comes from that book. I found my heart and my life renewed by what I found in this study. I even recognized how much Jesus and the writers of the New Testament knew of Jeremiah and his connection with God.
Deciding on priorities and objectives for a year has another important function. It can cause us to take stock of the gifts and talents God has given us. Most people spend an inordinate amount of their lives regretting gifts they don’t have. But God asks each person to use what he has. If you are great in dealing with people who are sick, you should be thinking of how to best use that talent for God. Find your talent and turn it into a ministry for your church family. Help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. Tutor in a school where children need individual help with English.
One thing I have learned about resolutions is that they should not be too ambitious, but they should be idealistic: They should not concentrate on physical life, but they should focus on your spirit and its health. Godly matters are more important than fleshly. And sometimes priorities should focus on the messes in our lives. Wounded relationships, neglected business and family ties may require attention and resolution before you can enjoy the peace and abundance in living God’s promises.
I eagerly anticipate the New Year and the fresh start it brings. This year I am not making many resolutions about my care and maintenance. Instead, I am trying to think about ways I can serve the people in my life and the people of my community. Honoring God is far more important than my diet, my weight, my fitness. Openly confessing God is more important than my Bible reading schedule.
I wish you the happiest of New Years. I urge you to join me in taking stock to see how we can best honor God in the months ahead. If we all set priorities to encourage one another, we will be a blessed people whose joy will testify to the world that God is our hope. Let’s join together in celebrating a new beginning of our personal spiritual lives in God.