I don’t say this lightly. I LOVE resolving. Everything in me wants to take charge and improve myself. I grade my days and I grade my life. Lists of stuff I’ve done and stuff I stuffed up. B-. C+. Must. Try. Harder.
Drink less coffee. Floss. Be Better.
But what does ‘better’ even mean? Better looking? Better feeling? Better compared to what? Gwynneth Paltrow? Gandhi?
How do I measure my betterness? On my own reckoning, it changes all the time. Monday morning I’m on fire! – Monday evening I’m a washout. And the more I look at my own betterness, the more my worseness worsens.
And then there’s the issue of motivation. How to ramp up the desire to be ‘better’? Is it a question of thinking really hard about it? Sticking magazine articles onto the fridge? Downloading more prayer apps? Reading affirmations? Setting targets?
It’s hard to muster enthusiasm for a to-do list that’s as old as me. I seem to remember resolving to be better last year too. And the one before.
Here are the resolutions of the 18th century moralist Samuel Johnston, (courtesy of Mike Reeves in these these excellent talks). Notice the “progression”…
September 18, 1738 – Oh lord, enable me by your Grace to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth, vanity and wickedness, to lead a new life in your faith, fear and love; and finally to obtain everlasting life.
1757 – Almighty God, enable me, from this instant, to amend my life that I may not finally lose the things eternal.
1759 – enable me to shake off idleness and sloth
1761 – I have resolved till I am afraid to resolve again. Yet, hoping in God, I steadfastly purpose to lead a new life.
1764 – I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thoughts, and more addicted to wine and meat. Grant me, O God, to amend my life. My purposes, from this time, to avoid idleness. To rise early. To read the Scriptures.
A few months later: I have now spent 55 years in resolving; O God, Grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions. I resolve to rise early, not later than six if I can.
1765 – I purpose to rise at eight, Because though I shall not rise early, it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lie till two.
1775. When I look back upon resolutions of improvement, Which have year after year been made and broken, Why do I try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary. I try, in hope of the help of God.
I see myself in these resolutions. I think I have to try to get God to help me. I have to earn Him giving me grace.
This is nonsense. God is not the hired help. He’s already saved me, adopted me, forgiven me and blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:1-9). He doesn’t help me climb into heaven. He comes down and lifts me out of the pit. That’s what the Christmas rescue mission was all about.
Right now, I’m not just in Eastbourne, looking at my year planner. I’m sat in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Which means as I walk into 2014 I’m walking downhill. Nothing to prove, nothing to lose, nothing to hide. I can dream big dreams for 2014. I can pray big prayers. But I don’t need to resolve anything. All that I need is mine in Jesus. And all that’s ahead is a gift.
This year, I don’t need more spiritual resolutions. I need more spiritual refreshments – reminders of all that Christ is for us and all that we are in Him. So I don’t have resolutions for 2014. Instead I have this prayer, asking the Father to give us a deeper appreciation of what we already have.
I pray that out of His glorious riches, God my Father may strengthen me with power through His Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith. And I pray that as I’m rooted and established in love, I may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that I may be filled to the measure of all God’s fullness.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.