Several decades ago a missionary home on furlough stood up to address the congregation. We were expecting good news about the work abroad and perhaps some expression of thanks for our support. But that was not what we heard. He began by calling us out for something that most of us had not even known that we had done.
Just before his sermon, we sang a hymn in which we all promised to take the gospel to the world despite any an all hardships. He was upset that we would make a promise to God in worship which we had no intention of keeping. He was right. We had each personally claimed to own the greatest of all intentions as an act of worship, and then promptly put the matter out of our minds. Most of us had no plans to spend our lives in overseas missions or in any other place.
Good intentions bestow the immediate rewards of lofty ideals without ever billing us for the cost of delivery. They are all gain and no pain…or so it seems.
Many of us greet the new year with a sense of optimism. A new year has arrived and a new page in our lives has begun. It is like a blank sheet on which to write a new and better chapter. But better chapters call for planning in the form of goal-setting and that is where New Year’s Resolutions come in.
Have you made any?
Do you intend to keep them?
Did you end 2020 by comparing the resolutions that you started the year with? According to Ipsos, about a third of Canadians make new year’s resolutions and about a third of those who make them, actually achieve them.
There are a number of possible reasons for this disparity.
- Goals are usually outcome oriented and often do not include the means of achieving them. Those who succeed tend to support each goal with a series of steps and strategies to ensure the outcome.
- Goals tend to be set in areas of personal weakness. That very weakness contributes to failure and supplies a built-in rationalization for failure.
- Sometimes, too many goals are the problem. A scatter-gun approach is more likely to fail than a focused one.
- Goal setting is often done in private and goals are kept secret. Achieving goals without the support of others is a formula for failure. Secret goals forfeit the support of a group and the motivation of mutual accountability.
My sampling of online surveys indicates that new year’s resolutions coalesce in certain areas.
Improved health and fitness
Financial goals: debt reduction, increased savings
Getting rid of bad habits: smoking/drinking etc.
More time for travel and leisure
Each of these is worthwhile, even while the relative absence of ‘spiritual’ goals reflects a secular society. Yet even these more material resolutions can contribute to God’s work.
When pursued as a matter of stewardship, improved health and fitness may add years to our lives of Christian service. Ridding ourselves of substance addiction may do the the same while setting a positive example. Our financial ability to support the lord’s work and to give generously depends on how well we handle our money. And balancing work with times of rest and relaxation as a celebration of God’s good gifts, allows us to live fully in each moment while not living ‘for the moment’. Dedicating each moment of every day to the Lord and serving him with all of our might is a worthy goal embracing all others. The books of Proverbs and to some degree Ecclesiastes are made up of this kind of advice.
While all worthy goals may be dedicated to the Lord, spiritual goals are already worthy, having been dedicated by the Lord himself. Paul made this distinction when he wrote to Timothy:
“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (I Tim 4:7b-8)
Among the spiritual goals found in scripture, we would do well to choose several that we have perhaps neglected. Adding them to our daily spiritual lives may we grow up into the image of the one who has saved us. Goals such as:
- Draw near to the Lord – and he will draw near to you. (Jas 4:8)
- Set aside daily time for prayer – to praise God, to thank him, to ask for forgiveness and to petition on behalf of others.
- Spend time in God’s word – to seek God’s will (II Tim 2:15)
- Bible study is one way to fill your mind with the things that God wants you to think about
- There are no loftier thoughts than those supplied by God and preserved by inspiration.
- The content of the scriptures is 100% true, allowing us to spend our mind’s energies upon the significance of those truths and the spiritual implications of life in Christ.
- A ‘Biblical Worldview’ is possible in no other way. It starts and finishes with the word of God.
- Set out each day to ‘practice’ the godliness for which God has set us apart. Here are a few examples:
- Share the gospel with someone who has not heard it (I Thess 2:8)
- Relieve the needs of those less fortunate – acts of service, kindness and benevolence (James 1:27)
- Visit those in hospital or even in prison (Mt. 25:36, 39)
- Attend to your own family in the role that God has given you (Eph 5:22-6:4)
As a matter of ‘best spiritual practices’, may we resolve together as the family of God, to be more faithful and more Christlike in the year to come – so that one day we may all be ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace’.