What should Christians think of New Year’s resolutions? Are they a helpful way to make changes, or are they a legalistic threat? In this episode I talk about how resolutions can benefit us in helping us form godly habits, and why this doesn’t need to be a slavish, performance-obsessed way of life.
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Below is an edited transcript of the audio.
As the old Christmas song says, “Fast away the old year passes; hail the New Year, lads and lasses!” As we head into a new year, one thing that many people in our culture begin to wonder about is New Year’s resolutions. Recently I received a question from a listener, asking if Christians should have New Year’s resolutions?
Perhaps the reason someone would ask this is the reality that most people don’t keep their resolutions. That’s a reason why, for example, gyms will make a lot of money in memberships around the first of the year. People tend to come in January and February and then taper off toward the end of the year.
But I think New Year resolutions can be a good thing. Some Christians have said that these resolutions can feed into a performance mentality that undermines the gospel. I think they can do this, but I also think one positive of New Year resolutions is the building of habit. That’s a good thing, because we know that habits shape us. What a New Year’s resolution is ultimately trying to get us to is the sort of habit in our life that we don’t have to map out and say, “This is what we’re going to do today.” It’s just something that we naturally do. In the same way you probably don’t make a list and include, “Brush my teeth tomorrow.” It’s just part of your routine, and a resolution is trying to imitate that.
What we need to do is think through what are the resolutions we want to pursue in our life, and decide whether these are realistic. One thing many people will do is choose a big abstraction, like, “I will be a kind person.” That’s a good abstraction, but what’s better is to say, “I am going to give one word of affirmation every day to my spouse or a coworker.” Try to build into your life something specific and concrete.
This is especially true in your own spiritual life. If you don’t have a consistent plan for Bible reading and prayer, for example, you may say, “I am going to self consciously set aside time for these things.” In doing this, though, make sure you have something that is doable. If you don’t have any sort of Bible reading in your life, don’t resolve to read 3 chapters a day. Resolve instead to read 1 chapter a week, and start with something manageable that you can build on as time goes on.
One thing I’ve noticed in my own life is that if I look back on journals that I’ve written in from years ago—I just found a whole stack of them recently—I can look and see all the ways God was with me in the past. And I can also say, “Look at what I was so worried about then that never came to pass.” So I’ve realized that I want to get back into the practice of journaling, not because it’s something everyone needs to do but because I’ve found it’s beneficial to me. And since I’m in a very fast paced season of life with work and the ages of my children, I’ve found it helpful to use some technological ways to journal. That’s a good thing to do, to just sit down and say: What’s one thing I want to change and build into my life?
And this isn’t something to be a slave to. If you have a resolution that you see as something that’s going to be a drudgery for you throughout the year, don’t do it. That’s not going to be helpful. But find a way to build these patterns into your life in a way that will benefit you in the year to come. This isn’t a legalistic “performance” mentality, as long as you keep it in perspective.