Renewal: The Key to Resolution
Study Guide, December 30, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
It’s that time of year again when a lot of people all over the world make New Year’s Resolutions. Making resolutions before the New Year is a really common thing to do. Keeping resolutions?…right…not so common. Somehow they have come up with some research on how many people actually keep their resolutions. They claim that only around 9% actually follow through with their resolutions. I think they should make a resolution to re-do that research…it can’t be all that low, can it?
Why do you think it is that so many people don’t stick to their resolutions? You know, they have even researched that. I was reading an article about that and gleaned a few of those reasons, and thought it would profit us all to Biblically expand on them. So here we go.
One reason was: ‘Many people try to go it alone’. That’s kind of interesting because the Scriptures actually speak to the problem of going at things alone. Eccl 4:9-10- “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” NASU And the Proverbs also talk a lot about the perils of isolation and the benefits of working together, serving together, growing together, and so on.
That’s especially pointed out in the analogy of the church as well. Notice Eph 4:15-16- “…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” NASU So, we certainly know that God calls each of His children to connect to a local body of believers for the purpose of living out their discipleship and serving God through a local church. God’s people especially are not to try to go it alone in the Christian life. Remember, even though no one else can do your discipleship for you, still, discipleship involves seeking help from others for your own walk with Christ and also being involved in helping others in their walk with Christ.
So for 2019, make a point of helping build up others in their Christian walk, and you will find yourself getting built up as well.
Another reason they found that many don’t stick to their resolutions is that their goals or wishes are unrealistic. And this was often associated with common sense things, such as in setting goals that were unhealthy, as in related to things like getting too little sleep in order to get more done, or setting a goal for an unhealthy diet in order to try to lose a lot of weight in too little time.
Even Christians tend to get caught up in having unrealistic expectations about some things. And often it’s related not to whatever resolution or goal it is that they are making…no, it’s related to what they are leaving out of their resolutions or their goals, or leaving out of their plans, we should say. Notice what the Apostle James has to say about this: James 4:13-16- “Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” NLT
The problem is not about the making of plans nor of having industrious ambitions. That’s all fine. No, the problem is actually three-fold. One is the unrealistic expectation about this world itself, and our life in it. James informs us that to assume that any future time already belongs to us is completely unrealistic. Who can assume that tomorrow belongs to them as though tomorrow is something that is owed to them? Each day that a person lives on planet Earth is not something that is owed them; rather each day is a gift to them, and it is a gift given to them by God. Ps 118:24- “This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” NASU Yes, the Psalmist was rejoicing in the Sabbath day, but he was also revealing that every day is a new gift from God, not to be taken for granted nor taken advantage of, but something to be grateful to the Creator for…for giving thanks to God for giving you another day of life on planet Earth. How often do we remember to thank God for the gift of each new day?
But another problem James points out here is that they were thinking and acting like this world was their permanent home, when the reality was that they were only passing through this world, as both the prophets and the apostles had told them time and time again. In fact, James made that about as clear as possible by using the example of the morning fog. It wasn’t going to be long before they were going to be long gone from this world, because God’s people are all on a brief journey through this world, with our permanent citizenship in Heaven and the New World ahead. Remember, God calls us things like ‘sojourners’, ‘pilgrims’, and ‘strangers in this world’ for the express purpose that we understand that this world is not our home. Home is where our Heavenly Father is. Actually, the real reason we are still here is that our assignment, our mission, our work here is not yet done.
And then the third problem, and the most egregious of their arrogant attitudes, was again, not in the making of ambitious plans and preparing for the possibility of a long life on this earth…No, that’s fine. But the real problem was thinking and acting like they were the masters of their lives in making their plans, instead of bowing before their Master, their Lord, and taking the place of being His steward, and seeking His guidance and His will in whatever plans they were making. And in not doing this, well James says, that is the equivalence of ‘boastful arrogance’ and the ‘doing of evil’.
So remember, whenever you look ahead to make plans for the days ahead, first look up to your Lord and Master and ask God to direct you in making these plans for any day ahead that you are given as a gift from God. And be careful, for our nature is that we tend to do the opposite. As my college Pastor used to say: “We sort of fill out the page of our plans and then ask God to sign His name at the bottom; when what we need to do is to give God a blank sheet with our names already signed at the bottom and then ask, “Lord, will You fill this in for me? And whatever it is, ‘Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
Again, remember, God will not be ignored or dishonored, no matter how good of plans or resolutions we might have. If God is not sought out first in the making of plans or resolutions, then it falls under the heading of ‘vanity of vanities’, and is in danger of having no lasting value.
So make 2019 a year for seeking God’s will in all that you do and thanking God for His gift of each new day that He’s given you to do it.
Now here was an interesting reason for people not sticking to their resolutions: ‘Giving up too easily’. I remember Dr. Howard Hendricks once telling about a parent he was counseling. And the parent was lamenting how much difficulty he had with a wayward son of his and was just pretty much done with it all. And Dr. Hendricks asked him how old his son was…and the man said “he’s 38”. And Dr. Hendricks said, “Well, why are you giving up so soon?!” Of all people, Christians are to be in everything we do for the long haul. Remember: Failure doesn’t define us; Faithfulness is to define us. And a central feature of ‘faithfulness’ is ‘perseverance’! We keep pressing on in anything that is good and in everything that is God honoring!
In many things in life we tend to let our failures be final, when in reality, as Dr. Warren Wiersbe reminds us: “Failures are part of the bumps we climb on!” Remember, by the grace of God and the perseverance of our faith, whatever stumbling blocks the world, the flesh, and the devil throw into our path can be transformed into stepping stones as offerings to God, as we continue to ‘fight the good fight of faith’.
Here’s a fascinating example of this in the Apostle Paul’s own life. Here’s what he once said: Rom 15:24- “So I will visit you when I go to Spain. Yes, I hope to visit you while I am traveling to Spain, and I will stay and enjoy being with you. Then you can help me continue on my trip.” NLT This is kind of like a ‘resolution’ he makes about his mission work. He says something like: “And this year my goal is to go to Spain and take the Gospel all over those lands.” But instead, it was not long after this that Paul went not to Spain, but to prison. So what does he make of that? Well, instead of seeing that as a defeat, he says this: “ Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Phil 1:12-15 NASU
What a victorious attitude” That’s the attitude of an ‘overcomer’; the mindset of a ‘conqueror’; and the commitment to perseverance! Even in difficult circumstances, like here with Paul’s imprisonment, if we turn those circumstances over to God and ask Him to use them someway and somehow, God will then grab even our hard circumstances by the scruff of the neck and make them honor Him and bless others and turn out for reward for us. Our plans don’t have to work out perfect to be good. We just have to persevere in doing good and letting God work them out together for His good. Amen?
So make 2019 a year for persevering in doing good for God’s sake and letting Him work it out together for good!
And then there was one other reason given for why people don’t stick to their resolutions that was very insightful: Wrong Perspective. They gave this example of a wrong perspective: “While you may have the best intentions with your resolution, you could be putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. Put it in perspective. “Rather than associating the New Year with resolutions or changes you need to make, consider it a time for reflection on things you wish to work on throughout the year. Quit dwelling on what you have not accomplished and focus on what you will accomplish instead.” 1
Let’s inject a deeper Biblical perspective on it all that is actually the real key in both making and keeping resolutions. Rom 12:1-2- “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” NASU
This passage here is Romans 12 is the ‘sunnum bonum’ of all resolutions, or the ‘supreme good’ of all resolutions, because true change in your behavior follows true change in your thinking. And true change in your thinking first follows a true change in your will; that is, a willingness to offer yourself as a living sacrifice to the Lord for Him to be first in all things in your life. Remember: Sacrifice precedes service. And since we are ‘living sacrifices’, that means we pretty much need to offer ourselves anew each day. And in doing so, each day becomes a new day of both sacrifice and service. Just think, God tells us that His lovingkindness and mercies to us are new each day. (Lam. 3:22,23) That’s supposed to lighten our burdens about our past and inspire us for the present, and for the future. Sacrifice and service are the keys to our sense of satisfaction and significance.
Plus, Paul also reveals here that the key then to any kind of resolution in life or transformation in behavior is through this: ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind‘! How remarkable and wonderful it is that by the power of the Holy Spirit and the truths of God’s Word we can actually renew, even re-wire our mind, in order to, like the songs says, ‘See Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow God more nearly day by day’. Again, sacrifice precedes service, and renewal of the mind precedes resolutions in behavior. Yes, a resolution begins in your mind, but a resolution won’t transform your mind apart from renewing your mind. And how? By replacing being conformed to this world’s thinking with being transformed with Biblical thinking.
So make 2019 a year of growing more and more in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ through His Word, for that is the key to transformation and resolution. And by the grace of God, we can do this!
- (Several of the ‘reasons’ gleaned from an article by Jene Luciani, Top 10 Reasons You Don’t Stick to Your Resolutions)