Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions work? Why is screwing up our eyes and saying ‘this is the year’ so predictably ineffective?
One answer might be that it’s an inorganic approach to the organic process of personal growth. The foundation of effective change is first of all to embrace that life is a journey, and the only mindset to have on a journey is that of a pilgrim. Making resolutions with a settler mindset is like planning an overseas vacation without a passport – such a person is going nowhere.
Know the signs of your times
Effective decisions for change flow from self-knowledge – knowing where you are on your journey of growth and having a sense of what’s coming up. Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees when they asked him for a sign. Matthew 16: 2-3,
“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
Jesus was referring to their ignorance concerning himself. These were meant to be guardians of spiritual truth, but they couldn’t even tell they were speaking to the Messiah. Contrast that to Simeon, at the time just after Jesus’ birth. Luke 2:22-32,
‘When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout…It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Spiritual knowledge is always available to us, but it is a choice to tune into it. Jesus rebuked the pharisees for failing to understand the times they lived in, for missing the crucial signs around them, but for me this works on a personal level too. Do we know the signs of our own times? Do we know where we’re going? Do we know what the Lord is saying to us? Do we know the leading of our loving God? Or are we like pinballs, careening off the bumpers of life?
Seek the Lord for direction
At New Year, I sit with the Lord and seek an understanding of what’s to come in the next twelve months. I like to know the character of the next phase of the journey, to ready myself for it. I feel self-conscious sharing this, but for the sake of explanation:
Two years ago, during a New Year time of reflection and prayer, the Lord spoke to me – not in an audible voice, but with clear ideas I could understand, which were not of myself. The message was that 2020 would be ‘a year of writing’, which was odd, as I’d just started a new, full-time job and had little time for personal pursuits. Twelve months later I‘d released one novel and finished another, sending it to my literary agent for editing. I’d also embarked on the first stages of a freelance writing career, to replace the job I’d lost during lockdown, and had received my first paycheque for a YouTube project.
This is just one small example of the loving, highly specific communication I’ve learned to receive from God, but I won’t share further examples, in case it looks like boasting. This isn’t about any individual. The Lord is loving and communicative, and longs to connect with all his children in these (and other) ways.
Walk more closely with God
In times of increasing uncertainty, there is a rock we can lean on. He knows what each of us is going to face, and despite Covid, economic downturns and other impending troubles such as the effects of climate change, he has a way forward for you and I. To experience and enjoy this privilege, we need to commit to two things:
- Seeking increased closeness with the Holy Spirit. How can we navigate a journey if we don’t know the voice of the Guide? The most important decision any of us can make this coming year is committing to regular time with God. If you want/need to break into new depths of intimacy, including the ability to hear his voice more clearly, then simply ask, and don’t stop asking until you get it. I can promise you from personal experience, and from a multitude of clear, Biblical promises, that the answer is always yes.
- Embracing a pilgrim mindset. Growth is good, and something God encourages in us because he desires our freedom, happiness and fulfilment. He loves us, and leads us into that which will bless our lives.
An exercise in listening
In the run-up to New Year, I hope you will find a place where you can be still, preferably in nature, but anywhere quiet will do. If you’ll permit a suggestion, welcome God into that space, and as your mind stills, ask yourself questions and listen to the answers that rise from within. It’s amazing what we have to say to ourselves, if we really listen:
- How do I feel about the year that’s gone?
- What did I learn?
- In what ways did I grow?
- What would I like to change in 2022?
Sit with the answer to that last question for a while, and follow it up:
- Why is that change important?
- Is it something I’m ready to do?
- How am I going to do it?
- What help might I need in getting it done?
Once you’ve connected with yourself, and found answers from within, turn your heart to the Lord. Ask him what he has to say about your 2022? What does he want you to know? What resolutions do you feel led to make?
What happens next is private, between you and your maker, but I know this much – resolutions made in the company of God, inspired by the leading with God, will work.
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