It’s day one of the New Year— let the resolutions begin.
New Year’s is perhaps the only holiday that requires its celebrants to continue the ‘festivities’ months and months after the day is out.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
After all the partying and fellowship die down, most people can’t help but get started setting goals and making resolutions. As a matter of fact, a full 40% of the nation’s population makes New Year’s resolutions each year.
Of course, the size and scale of these goals often differs from person to person. Many set out to change their budgets, bodies, homes, or education levels. Others want to focus on emotional well-being or the building of meaningful interpersonal connections with others.
But regardless of the specific area of interest, there exists a couple of common denominators between these resolutions worth acknowledging.
First and foremost, everyone seems to want more of something specific in their lives.
We are never satisfied.
Statista performed a study in 2017 on individuals’ New Year’s resolutions across the country. When asked, 53% of respondents wanted to save more money, 24% of respondents wanted to travel more, 23% wanted to read more books. Others wanted to increase their own personal health by losing weight, getting in shape, or quitting smoking.
More is a common focus, and that is not always bad.
Many of us could benefit from books, travel, or a little weight loss. What’s most impressionable here is the theme of discontentment; we are a society full of perpetually unsatisfied people, hungry for more of whatever we can get our hands on.
As the line in Hamilton goes, “I’ve never been satisfied.”
Actually, it’s one of the recurring themes in the show— the lack of satisfaction which both propels betterment and ultimately undermines relationships.
Second, New Year’s resolutions are mostly about trying harder.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, it seems that the method we use for going about getting to the ‘more’ we’ve set our sights on is the same across the board. When in doubt, most of us assume that trying harder is the solution to almost all our problems.
Are you struggling with your weight (like me)? Try hustling better at the gym. Finding it difficult to reconfigure that budget? Work more diligently. Not getting that promotion at work you’ve always wanted? Maybe you’re not putting enough effort in.
New Year’s is, without a doubt, every try-hard’s favorite holiday.
But the thing is, this whole ‘do more, work harder’ mentality hasn’t just become evident in our celebration of a once-a-year goal-setting tradition. In fact, many of us now live in a culture that is more achievement focused than any other in recent history.
A 2015 article in The Atlantic makes note of the “pervasive culture of achievement” plaguing today’s generation of college students. But the piece, entitled ‘The Try-Hard Generation,’ delves deeper into the topic than a surface level blame-game.
Not surprisingly, our try-hard culture has spilled over into matters of spirituality. Many followers of Christ this New Year’s Day plan to make resolutions about Bible reading, prayer time, and ministry work. We want to be better followers of Christ who take the call to obedience seriously in our daily practices.
These ambitions, much like the weight loss, reading, and travel goals are good things when entered into rightly. Certainly, setting goals for the new year about going to church, praying, or reading Scripture with greater frequency isn’t a bad idea. We do need to set aside time for personal devotion—believers have agency and that agency matters in terms of our approach to our walk of faith.
But matters like these often fall astray not in the planning, but in the application stage.
You see, the lie we so often believe about faith is that it is something we alone have the power to nurture. It’s our job to draw closer to God. It’s our job to spend time in the Word with him. It’s our job to pray so that we won’t forget about the Lord’s presence or fall astray.
But, what we must remember amidst the try-hard and obsessive goal-setting mentalities in the world we live in is that our God is the source of all gospel-centered life change.
As Paul write in Philippians, He who began a good work in each of our lives is faithful to complete it in good time. The growth of our trust and cultivation of our love for him isn’t something we can nurture all on our own. God is sovereign over and constantly providing every step of the way.
That just does not just include things like calendaring your quite time. It includes calendering your excersise. It includes all of life, and our desire to submit our lives to the Lordship of Christ.
Actually, even if we want to do these things, it is God who gives us even the desire. I like the New Living Translation of Phillipans 2:13:
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Work as we might to love him more and follow him better, we never want to lose the fact that it is God working in us.
For me, I’m going to set goals and make resolutions with that mentality—one centered around God’s power in us instead of my trying harder.
I hope you will as well, because you can be satisfied, in Christ, and you can have more, in Christ.
Gospel-centered resolutions are not all about you, your strength, or your plans. That’s what makes such resolutions worth making.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
Gabriella Siefert contributed to this article.