The Bible and New Year Resolutions

“Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me” (The Apostle Paul, Philippians 3:14).

A resolution is a serious vow to do something better or to accomplish a goal by taking a firm course of action. The new year has always been an excellent time to reflect and make resolutions. In fact, the tradition of New Year resolutions was inherited from the ancient Babylonians, who believed that what a person did on the first day of the New Year would affect the entire year.

The Bible doesn’t mention making resolutions at the beginning of a new year–but it does urge us to examine our lives regularly, and seek to become better persons every day. Perhaps you want to start a new hobby, or break a bad habit. Maybe you plan to read through the Bible, or go to church more often. If the new year is really going to be any different, it means that you have to actually make some changes, not just empty promises or wishful thinking. But don’t let setbacks discourage you.

As the Apostle Paul endeavored to preach the Gospel of Jesus, he was constantly being hindered. He was opposed, persecuted, shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, deserted, slandered, scorned, threatened, and imprisoned. Someone else under those circumstances would have given up. Yet Paul was not willing to quit; he kept looking ahead. He didn’t let past failures or delays keep him from pursuing his goal. Keep this in mind as you pursue your own goals in the new year.

Do you really want to keep your resolutions this year? Here are a few goal-setting tips:

Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once. There’s a temptation at the beginning of each year to brainstorm a list of everything we’ve ever wanted to change. But you will have better luck fulfilling one or two specific goals than you will with a list of fifty. You can always add new resolutions later, once you finish the others. Work hard, but concentrate on one thing at a time.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Make it Something Worthwhile. When making your resolutions, don’t just list a bunch of random things. Your resolutions need to serve a useful purpose or else there’s no point in keeping them, because you won’t take them seriously. Narrow them down to what will be most fruitful in terms of being productive, profitable, or constructive. The word “fruit” in this sense means a good or rewarding “deed, action, or result.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Word it Carefully. Let’s say your resolution is to be more relaxed in the coming year. Don’t think of it as “This year I am going to stay calm.” That’s actually stress-inducing because it makes you think of the resolution as something you have to force yourself to do without knowing how. Instead, say: “This year I’m going to try different relaxation techniques.” It also suggests more of a plan, rather than implying that you’re going to relax by sheer willpower.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Have a Plan. You can’t accomplish much of anything without a plan. Once you know what your goals are, narrow them down into a plan of action, which you can work on one step at a time. This doesn’t have to be a complicated plan, but it should at least give you a starting point. As the saying goes, “if we fail to plan, then we plan to fail.” It also helps to check your motives. Your goals might be good, but your motive might have more to do with your own glory than God’s.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Write it Down. Write down your resolution. Post it on the fridge, in your locker, on your bathroom mirror, wherever you’ll see it regularly. That way you will be constantly reminded of your resolution. It’s long been known that you are much more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. A resolution doesn’t have to be written in stone like the Ten Commandments – it’s okay to change the wording as time passes and you adjust your action plan or goals – though basing your resolutions on the Ten Commandments isn’t a bad idea.

“The Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes [commandments]… for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:24).

Let God Help. There is no better time than the present to learn to rely more heavily on God’s help. If during the past year you didn’t practice trusting in the Lord as much as you should have, make that your number one resolution. Submit your resolutions as a prayer request to God, asking Him for the strength to carry out your goals when you are struggling, procrastinating, or feel like giving up completely. If you place every aspect of your life into God’s hands, you will be much more likely to have a happy new year.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).

Make it Last. If you’re going to pour all your efforts into a new year’s resolution, be sure it’s a good one that will have a deep long-lasting effect. The results of worldly resolutions are often just superficial achievements in comparison to the treasures of eternity. But our earthly accomplishments can also be investments in the future. So ask yourself, will the goals I have set for myself matter five, ten, twenty years from now? How can I resolve to be more like Jesus, make a difference, or leave a legacy?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

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