From Jonathan Edwards, 18th Century American Pastor and Revivalist,
"Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.
2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the aforementioned things.
3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life."
Edwards doesn't stop at 7. He goes on to make a list of 70 resolutions...70! Every time I read his list I feel more and more ungodly (And I wonder if he may have secretly felt the same way.)
The great revivalist's list reminded me of my old list of resolutions from twentysomething years ago. Like Edwards my list was long and intense and I blew it again and again.
It seemed like every year (many times around the New Year) I would re-resolve my resolutions. And, by mid-January, like a dieter who has gone off the rails and feels so bad about it that he re-commits to a stricter regimen the next day, I would fail in one of my resolutions, then binge break all my resolutions for a few days, then feel extremely guilty afterward and then re-write the list again the next day. Usually the second list was way more extreme and way more unachievable than the first. This, of course, led to more inevitable failure and disappointment.
But over the years through a little trial and a ton of error I have discovered a more balanced way to make and keep resolutions. It all started by clearly identifying my mis-steps, mistakes and mess-ups over the years. Maybe my mistakes will help you in your resolution-keeping this year.
Mistake #1: I didn't pray about it first.
Simply spending time asking God beforehand, "What areas of my life do I need to focus on during the upcoming year?" and letting God guide you to his answer will help you have more success in identifying strong resolutions.
For instance too many times our resolutions center on shedding pounds instead of shedding sins. It's better for me to have a few extra pounds and stronger communication with my wife and kids than to be fit, ripped and dysfunctional.
I'm not saying that health resolutions are wrong but they shouldn't be the only resolutions we make. Luke 2:52 reminds us to, like Jesus, be balanced in our growth goals. As a young man "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." He grew intellectually ("wisdom"), physically ("stature"), spiritually ("favor with God") and relationally ("favor with...man.) Perhaps one resolution in each of these areas would get us where we need to go.
Mistake #2: I made them hugely unrealistic.
I'm embarrassed by many of the resolutions that I made as a young pastor. If I had followed through on each of them over the years I would have memorized the entire Bible, reached the world for Christ singlehandedly and had won several Ironman competitions before I turned forty.
There is a difference between faith and foolishness. One sets us on a path of disciplined action and the other toward inevitable failure. It's way better to have a short list of stretch goals than a long list of impossible ones.
Mistake #3: I didn't have a plan of action for each resolution.
A resolution without a plan is like a car without fuel. It will get you nowhere.
Want to lose weight? Then figure out your workout and nutritional plan. How many times are you going to workout every week? Which program are you going to follow? What's your daily caloric intake going to be?
Want to read the Bible through in a year? Then figure out your reading plan. How many chapters a day are you going to tackle? What specific time are you going to dive into God's Word everyday? How will you record what you learn along the way?
Want to share your faith more consistently? Then answer these questions: How will you get trained to evangelize? What are the names of three people you are going to start with? When will you have your first conversation? (By the way, for help in sharing your faith, click here.)
Want to get more disciplined in your finances? Then figure out the answers to these questions: What program will you follow? What are you willing to cut out? When will you start? (By the way, for help in your finances may I suggest Financial Peace University?)
You get the idea. Make a goal. Make a plan. Then make it happen captain!
Mistake #4: I forgot that Spirit empowerment was my first and most-important resolution.
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit...." Ephesians 5:18
If you get filled with too much New Year's champagne you'll be controlled by the alcohol in it. It will rush to your bloodstream then rush to your brain. What's true of alcohol is true of the Spirit. When you are filled with Him you are controlled by Him and when you are controlled by Him everything else falls in line.
Galatians 5:22,23 tells us, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." If you are producing this brand of fruit in your life you are going to have great relationships (filled with love, peace, kindness), not over-eat or over-spend (filled with self-control), be able to have a more positive attitude (filled with joy) and more!
It's hard to imagine a resolution that's not covered (or at least touched by) the fruit of the Spirit. So, if we make being filled with the Spirit part of our daily routine everything else just takes care of itself.
How do we get filled with the Spirit? We confess our sin and yield to God in faith-filled prayer. We hand him the reigns and remind ourselves to do that throughout the day. We consistently remind ourselves to be fully dependent on the Spirit. In the words of my former Youth Ministry professor, RJ Koerper, "The key to the Christian life is a daily declaration of dependence on the Spirit."
Mistake #5: I failed to have someone keep me accountable.
The Navy Seals have a saying they keep saying during their super high intensity training, "Get a swim buddy!" Since the Navy Seals do much of their training in, on and under the water the idea of a swim buddy is crucial. Seals in training need someone to push them when they're slow, temper them when they're rash and help them when they fall (or are in danger of drowning!)
If you're caught without your swim buddy in Navy Seals training it's a serious offense. Soon you'll be doing burpees in the sand or taking a face-full of ocean standing in the waves or military pressing a log over your shoulder.
The Navy Seals know that the key to victory on the battlefield is teamwork and trust. It's the rogue "me-first" soldiers who fail the class and the hard core "team-first" soldiers who pass the course.
What's true with the Seals is true with the believer. We need "swim buddies" in our ocean of busyness. We need someone to keep us accountable with our resolutions and our resolve. We need someone to kick our butts when we are failing and to pick us up when we are falling.
I hope and pray that you can learn from the five mistakes I've made so that your resolutions are actually kept throughout 2017.