The new year has begun. Do you have your goals yet? Or should you even bother?
We should acknowledge from the beginning that the idea is certainly cultural. Yesterday is really no different from any other (different calendars do exist, of course). And there is something very American about the constant quest for self-improvement, played out by making lists of personal goals.
But Americans we are (with humble, grateful recognition also to our international readers). More importantly, making goals can naturally fit into our thinking as believers. Here’s why.
1. Scripture recognizes time markers as significant.
The beginning of the year may be arbitrary (I find things like this personally fascinating). but the idea of taking things in review is not just arbitrary. Psalm 90:12 tells us to number our days. God created a regular rhythm for His people to recall His past works and rededicate themselves (Exod. 13:10; Lev. 25:8-10; Deut. 11:12; 14:28; 15:1; Zech. 14:16). There’s no biblical reason that it has to fall at the beginning of the year, but we should have some habit of stopping somewhere on a repeated basis to evaluate.
2. Our thinking should look back as well as forward.
New Year’s resolutions are all about goals for recreating ourselves in the next year. I would suggest that they chronically fail because the concept itself is broken. Instead, use the time as a mile marker. Look backwards on the previous year of God’s grace to you. Remember and rejoice in His blessings. Recognize where you slipped. And then step forward with renewed commitment to follow Him better in the coming year.
God gave you today. Yesterday can’t be changed. Tomorrow isn’t here yet. Today is what you have. So live it well.
3. New Year’s resolutions work just like the rest of life.
I hear goofy Disneyish comments sometimes about resolutions. “2015 is a fresh start without any problems in it.” Too late now. Or “a new year; a new you.” Nope. Same old me when I woke up in 2015.
There’s no special power in determining to be different because some numbers changed. The only way I can be truly different is by walking in grace this year. That’s why I view the time as less about creating new hoops to jump through and more as a natural opportunity to take stock of where I am in life.
4. We should consciously strategize about our Christian walk.
Grace doesn’t mean just letting life happen to you. Good money management, quality family time, taking good care of your car—they all require thought and attention. Why should our spiritual lives be any different?
Here are a few steps to take as you look at the new year:
1. Put it in writing.
Make two lists for yourself–maybe 5-10 blessings looking backward and the same number of goals for the coming year. I view the first as praise; the second as prayers / yearnings for my growth in grace.
2. Make it a time of prayer.
One reason I know resolutions are cultural is because in some biographies and journals (here’s an excellent example) people used the time differently – setting aside extended time for prayer. What if you could dedicate this coming year by putting aside a full hour (gasp!), for praise and prayer from the lists you just made?
3. Plan to revisit your thoughts.
Scripture definitely encourages us to stop and evaluate ourselves on an ongoing basis. But if anything, that’s probably weekly rather than only once a year. So whatever you write down for this year, try to revisit it again on a smaller scale each month and even glance back each week. I find it helpful to follow a routine of evaluating, remembering and strategizing across various time scales (here’s a great description of how to get started).
I’m 32 this year. If I’m learning to count my days and if I live to 75, I have 15,572 days left or 57% of my life. I need to remember and recount the things God did for me last year. I need to strategize and maximize the year ahead. Life is too short.
Because at my age (at any age that is) I can’t afford not to do either one.