A Guilt Free Spin on New Year’s Resolutions

January is the time famously known for resolutions.  It’s a time to take stock and make changes.  It’s a great idea, but the statistics are staggering—the resolutions don’t stick.  Motivation only lasts for a short while and then old habits reappear followed by guilt over having failed to stick with the resolutions and effect change.  As a result, many choose to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Why do something which you are only going to fail at and which will only produce guilt?  So eventually, many of us give up on taking stock of our lives and making resolutions out of a desperate attempt to avoid a compounding of guilt.

Quitting the process altogether though doesn’t provide the relief we expect either.  Something in us knows that there may be some benefit to this process of evaluating the state of the union.  What if there is another way to do it though?  What if there is a way that doesn’t rely on our own understanding and strength and ability to change ourselves?  What if this taking stock can be less about motivation and more about cooperation…with GOD?  Let me explain what I mean.

I should confess first off that I don’t think I have ever succeeded in a single New Year’s resolution.   That may be because I have never truly, actually resolved to do anything at New Year’s.   My New Year’s Resolutions should probably be called New Year’s Wishful Thinkings.  I would like to say this is because I am aware of my weaknesses and inability to change myself, which is why I need Jesus – because I can’t do it on my own.  That’s my spiritual answer (and no less truthful).  The practical, honest answer may be more nearly that I am afraid of failure, therefore afraid to commit to anything I might fail at.  In either case, I don’t usually resolve to do anything at New Year’s, but I still find myself longing to do some life evaluation at that time of year. 

To facilitate this evaluation, my friend and I started a beautiful tradition on New Year’s Day.  Rather than stay up all night New Year’s Eve, we get up early on the first, early enough to watch the sunrise.  We drive out to this cemetery on a hill (one of the few hills in Dallas) and with the tombstones behind us, and the sunrise before us (it’s all so beautifully symbolic), we contemplate the past year and dream about the future, generally christening a new journal in the process.  And we pray.  We invite God into the process. 

This has been the transformational thing.  We ask God to dialogue with us about what He thinks about our lives.  If there’s something I want to change, I ask God for His help with it.  This frees me up considerably too, to ask for things that are beyond my control.  New Year’s Resolutions focus on things I can (at least in theory) control—my weight, my accomplishments, etc.  This process of dialoguing with Jesus about it, however, frees me up to ask God to do things I cannot.  I have asked Him to bring healing and breakthroughs in various areas of my life, asked for healing in relationships, asked for Him to provide things that were beyond my ability to do for myself.  That’s not to say He has always done as I have asked, but when He chooses not to, I don’t feel that I have failed my New Year’s resolution because it wasn’t my resolution, it was my request…and I have given God, as my sovereign and good King, the veto power.    

So I tell God about the things I don’t like and I want to change and ask for His help, knowing I truly stink at changing anything about myself.  That’s OK though.  I mean, maybe it’s not OK in America, but it is OK in God’s Kingdom.  America is the land of the independent, the self-made and the strong—the self-help industry is booming in America—we love the message that we can do it ourselves and we scorn the weaklings who admit that they can’t.  We even have a saying that God helps those who help themselves and many of us actually think that is a verse in the Bible.  The truth of the Gospel, however, is that God helps those who cannot help themselves.  He came to save the lost, the sick, the dying, the weak.  God actually likes our weaknesses, because it’s in them that His strength is made perfect.  When we finally know we are weak, we look to Him and ask Him to come in save us…the very thing He is longing to do.  So this is what I do when I talk to God about New Year’s Resolutions—I tell Him everything I can’t do, all the areas in my life that need saving, and ask Him to do it for me, and promise to do my best to cooperate with Him in it. 

The past couple of years this process has grown to include another important aspect.  I don’t just talk to God about what I would like to see change in my life anymore, though I do still do that.  Now I spend more time asking God for His input, thoughts and ideas—and not just about my life and the upcoming year, but more importantly, about our relationship.    I wrote a letter to a friend challenging her to do the same.  Here is how I presented it.

Ask Him to show you, “What part of His character does He want to reveal to you?”  See whatever you sense might be His answer.  Don’t worry bout being wrong.  There’s no harm in it, even if you are, [i.e. there is no harm to come from thinking that God wants to show you His peace, for example, even if that wasn’t His actual answer to you for this year, because God is always desirous of revealing Himself to us].  His Holy Spirit wants to be in fellowship and communication with you, and He wants to reveal the Father to you, so you can fully expect He wants to answer that question.  So trust whatever tiny, little whisper or impression you might have heard or felt.  And then look for God to show you that part of His nature all year.  When circumstances arise, ask God, “How are you showing me your X in this situation?”  or, “How are you using this situation to show me your X?”

You can also ask God to show you what is it He wants to be for you this year.  A similar question, and it may be the same answer—He wants to show you the part of His nature that is love, and simultaneously He wants to be love for you and to you this year.  Or it could be different.  He wants to show you His love so that He can give you His peace, because “perfect love casts out fear.”

I am finding though that asking these questions helps me in several ways. 

    1. It forces me to listen.
    2. It helps me to trust God’s heart for me and desire to communicate with me – which results in my listening better and more positively, with more faith, without which it is impossible to please God.
    3. Because I am listening and expecting an answer, I’m more likely to recognize one when it comes, and to trust it.
    4. It forces me to examine my life and think about what I need from God.
    5. It helps me look at circumstances in life as tools of God to accomplish His purposes, vs. random acts [or punishments].
    6. This increases both my joy, as I see all things as purposeful, and my peace, as I see all things as resulting from His love and power.
    7. It also begins to open my eyes to see the nature and character of God – because I’m intentionally look for it…always.

Another benefit that appears to me now is that, over a few years of doing this, it has increased my confidence in my relationship and communication with God.  It wasn’t immediate, but was rather a result of this process over time.  I write down at the beginning of the year what I think God may be telling me that He wants to be for me and  do for me or in me or through me in the upcoming year.  At the end of the year, I look back and “take stock”.  Did God do those things?  How did He do those things?  If not those things, what things did I see happening?   But actually, that last question hasn’t really been necessary.  I might see that God did more than I expected or imagined (that happens a LOT!), but I have yet to get to the end of a year and realize that I was completely off, that God didn’t reveal the X aspect of His character to me that I anticipated at all.  And this is the very reason why I have felt an increase of confidence in my communication with God—because every single year I have discovered that God not only gave me some sort of impression of what was to come, but then He DID it.  I am learning to hear His voice and to trust it when I hear it because of the very process of assuming that He wants to communicate with me.  God honors acts of faith.

A final thing I encourage you to ask God to do for you as you begin this process is to confirm what you sense He may be telling you.  Not just to ask Him to confirm it by doing it throughout the year (though that is definitely the most important confirmation, and the one you must wait for), but to ask Him to confirm it in some way before you even see the fruit of that promise.  This year I didn’t even ask for confirmation, but I got it in two different places.  I went to a Bible study that didn’t appear to be anything close to the topic on my heart and the first lecture spoke exactly to what I felt God had been telling me, verbatim, for this year, and gave it some more clarity and scriptural context.  Then again, there was a guest speaker in church who, out of nowhere, said that he felt that this year God intended do some specific things for His people, the very things I felt God had said He wanted to do for me.  I’m not saying to assume that all of life is “a sign,” and certainly anything you think God may be telling you must be in line with Scriptures or it is NOT from Him.  But do take what you sense He is impressing upon you, check it out against the Scriptures, and then don’t be afraid to ask Him to confirm it for you, so that you reinforce you right to hold onto that promise of what He is going to do.

That reinforcement can be a blessed thing when the enemy comes to steal from you that seed of promise.  Be aware that the enemy certainly does not want you to learn to hear God’s voice, to anticipate good things from Him, to better know His nature and character and love for you.  He will do all he can to sabotage that relationship and any words God may speak to you.  When that happens, rejoice!  God has given you a promise and you can trust it.  You can trust all the more that it’s a good one, or the enemy wouldn’t trouble himself with it. 

One year I felt like God had said it would be a year of breakthroughs.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that would mean, or what areas I would have breakthroughs in, but I clung to that word.  I also had several “out of the blue” confirmations/reinforcements that God had spoken that word to me for the coming year, and it was a good thing, because before long, everything just blew up.  It was awful.  Instead of experience breakthrough, I was feeling more enslaved than ever to doubts and insecurities and bitterness and you name it, and it was affecting me, my relationships and others.   Maybe it was just my sin nature, or maybe it was a deliberate attack and the enemy was trying to discourage me, rob me of any breakthroughs by feeling that these issues were all too big to get out of or conquer, but either way I saw that God was allowing it to show me how fully I did need to experience HIS deliverance.  I realized the seriousness, depth and magnitude of things which I had been tempted to minimalize.   I saw how helpless I was to work my own breakthrough; I needed Him to do it for me.  I was also more desperate for that promise He had given me that year than ever before…and I can hardly tell you how sweet it was when finally it did. 

It is a glorious, beautiful thing when you quit thinking so much about your New Year’s Resolutions (and all the guilt and failure and shame that usually accompany them), and start asking God about His.  He never fails to keep them, and every one of them is to His glory and your benefit.  Take some time to ask the Lord about this coming year—what would He like to accomplish this year, in you, for you, in the world at large?…And ask Him how you can partner with Him to get it done!

 By Stacey Tuttle