By Adrienne Lawrence
Are you one of those people who likes to keep the Christmas decorations up as long as possible, clinging to the spirit of Christmas? Or, are you like me, come January 1st you want every vestige of Christmas expunged from your house. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Christmas season. I also love new beginnings. The new year is full of hope for fresh starts. Once Christmas is over I’m ready to move on and make plans for the new year.
I enjoy making New Year’s resolutions. It’s an opportunity to put aside past mistakes and failures and start over in the coming year. I can start anew with my devotional or exercise program that I abandoned last year. My gym sent me an e-mail which declared this to be the “year of . . . you”. The e-mail went on to say, “It’s 100% your choice. It’s your decision. It’s in your hands. YOU are in control. YOU.”
That’s the kind of talk I like – talk that centers around me. Of course, as a Christian I immediately recognize this to be worldly thinking, but I need to be careful. My thinking about resolutions can easily end up as worldly thinking masked by a thin veneer of Christian language.
The Making of New Year’s Idols
How does this happen? As with many of my good impulses, Satan has a way of influencing them and subtly shifting my thinking. I start out with a New Year’s resolution which is based on good intentions. I want to grow closer to God, so I plan a devotional program. Or I want more time for relationships, so I come up with new systems to manage my work or home life. But then, ever so subtly, my thinking starts to change.
It changes in two ways. First, I start to believe that the success or failure of my resolutions is all up to me. These are my plans, and I am responsible for their success or failure. I am the change agent. This feeds my desire to be in control. When I keep my resolutions, I feel confident and powerful. When I don’t, I wallow in failure. Any praise I receive for change belongs to me because I made those changes happen.
Second, plans that began as other focused priorities often become “me” centered. I want to make myself into a better person who I can feel good about. The glory is now mine. Over time my New Year’s resolutions become New Year’s idols.
The Idol Remedy
Reminding ourselves of the gospel is our antidote to these idols. Redemption is about fresh starts, but we aren’t in control of that fresh start. When we are redeemed it’s because we’ve come to an end of ourselves. We realize we shouldn’t be in control, and when we have been, we’ve made a mess of things (Romans 3:23). We bring our sin to Christ, and he gives us his righteousness (Romans 4:22-25). The Holy Spirit then begins to transform us and make us more like Christ (Galatians 5:22-25).
Redemption is about fresh starts, but we aren’t in control of that fresh start. When we are redeemed it’s because we’ve come to an end of ourselves.
So, go ahead, make those resolutions, but remind yourself of the place of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit in those resolutions. Fight the temptation to see them as proof of your control or your goodness. The gospel reminds us that Christ’s work on the cross is the power by which we’re changed. The Holy Spirit brings about that change as he works in our lives. We are not the all-powerful change agents, nor can these changes prove our worth.
God gets the praise and the glory he deserves because he’s the one who makes change possible and accomplishes that change in our lives. When we fail to keep our resolutions, the story is not over. If necessary, we can repent. We also know that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in our lives when we wake up the next morning.
Resolutions as Worship
Therefore, bring your resolutions to God in prayer and ask him if these are his priorities for your life this year. Remember that he has planned good works for you to do this year (Ephesians 2:10) so plan some resolutions based on serving others. As you pursue your resolutions, ask the Holy Spirit to grow you in godliness. When you fail, remember that the sin nature still dwells within you (Romans 7:23) but that the Holy Spirit is continuing to work as well.
One area in which to think about making resolutions this year is your ministry. Whether you’re a volunteer or in full time ministry we can all grow in our ability to minister to others. The Verity Forum will have a track devoted to helping women grow in their ministry abilities. There will be workshops on leading Bible studies, engaging in faithful discipleship, and teaching children. Would you like to grow in those areas this year? If so, come to the Verity Forum on Saturday, January 14th at Hinson Church.
Adrienne Lawrence has been involved in ministry since she started leading Bible studies for her Inter-Varsity college group several decades ago. She earned her M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Since then, she has spoken at retreats, discipled women, and continued to lead Bible studies. Her current project is working with a group of women at her church to write a Bible study on the book of Mark. She finds this work incredibly invigorating as well as challenging. She currently lives in Portland, OR with her husband, Michael (lead pastor Hinson Baptist Church) and five children.