Imagine you’re at New Year’s Day dinner with your family and you hear, “Okay, we’re going to go around the table and have everyone share your New Year’s Resolution!”
What would be your reaction?
Maybe you love resolutions and you couldn’t wait until it was your turn to share. “Which one of my ten resolutions will I pick?”, you wonder.
But maybe, just maybe, you are one of those people who don’t like resolutions. You think they’re pointless because they never seem to work out because, after all, most people don’t follow through with them, and they just leave us disappointed in the end.
If that’s you, I agree. Not because people shouldn’t try to change for the better and not because we can’t change, but because the typical premise of new year’s resolutions just doesn’t work.
Let me explain. The way people typically approach resolutions is that they look for a few things in their lives that they want to change, maybe it’s their health or their weight, maybe it’s their financial situation or even an aspect of their spiritual life. Then, they set a goal that they think will take care of that issue. So, if they want to lose weight, they set a plan to work out more or change their diet. If it’s to get out of financial debt, they set a goal to spend less. If it has to do with their spiritual lives, they make a plan to read the Bible or attend more church events.
If you’re like most people, all of those well-intentioned plans are long forgotten by the time the calendar changes to February. In fact, studies have shown that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
Why does this happen? The simple answer is that real change is incredibly difficult. Sometimes we can work hard to change actions and plans and maybe even change some habits, but many times we will see that even the smallest amount of change is incredibly difficult. On top of that, there is one thing that we can’t change on our own, no matter how hard we try, and it’s the only thing that really counts. We can’t change our nature. We can’t change our hearts on our own.
This creates a problem for us since, for all of us, there are things we see in our lives that we want to change—hence, resolutions—but we can’t seem to make real changes last for any amount of real time. So, what should we do?
One of the festivals that God commanded His people in the Old Testament to celebrate was known as the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25). The Feast of Trumpets began with a celebration of the Hebrew new year, called Rosh Hashanah (lit. “head of the year”). A Rosh Hashanah celebration began with 10 consecutive days of repentance (!) which led into the most holy days in the Hebrew calendar and then concluded with the most holy day, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
Needless to say, the tone and focus of the Rosh Hashanah celebration was not like our typical modern day New Year celebrations. Of course, in the New Testament Church, we don’t celebrate the Feast of Trumpets in the same way as Israel did, and it is certainly appropriate to celebrate the New Year as a time of reflection and new beginnings. However, is there something that we can learn from the example of how the Hebrews celebrated their new year?
I think there is, especially in terms of what our focus should be and what really works in terms of change and transformation in our lives.
In a recent article entitled, “5 Things Failed New Year’s Resolutions Teach Us”, Brad Larson reminds us of five truths we learn when it comes to real change in our lives,
1. We’re unable to change ourselves. “Life change comes from heart
change and heart change comes from God.”
2. We don’t even know what we want. “We need the Lord to guide our lives
3. We have an unhealthy and unrealistic interest in our earthly future.
“Far better to seek contentment in the present and hope in our eternal
future. These are guaranteed.”
4. We’re not content in every circumstance. “Our failed resolutions teach
us that we’re not happy with how God cares for us.”
5. We need Jesus. “We need Jesus to transform us into his likeness, and
resolve alone isn’t enough”.
It seems apparent to me that Jesus is much more concerned with our level of dependence on Him than on our level of “self-improvement.” As we celebrate the new year as a holiday that is full of the hope of new beginnings, it’s important to remember from whom our hope for change and newness comes.
In light of the hope that we have in Jesus, the more biblical approach to making resolutions might look something like this: repent more, trust Jesus more, give thanks more, love more. And when you fail on these resolutions, just start over and keep going because Jesus’ mercies aren’t just new every year, they are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
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