"Well, There You Go Again"
As the lingering melodic embers of “Auld Lang Syne” begin to fade from New Year’s Eve celebrations, a host of resolutions will fill the air: “This year, I will lose 20 pounds”; “this year, I will spend less money”; “this year, I’ll make those home repairs.” Even Christians are prone to such promises: “This year, I’ll read my Bible all the way through”; “this year, I’ll be more faithful in attendance to worship”; “this year, I’ll contribute more to the work of the Lord.” How does the Lord feel about these promises? Oddly, a peak back to the 1980 U.S. presidential election might help find the answer.
As then candidate Ronald Reagan took on the formidable challenge of unseating President Jimmy Carter, both men agreed to hold one nationally televised debate. When Carter began leveling political attacks at his opponent, the jocular Reagan smiled and stated simply, “Well, there you go again.” Within these few words, Reagan disarmed the president and convinced a nation that the statements Carter made were not to be believed. One might wonder if the Lord thinks in these terms each year on January 1. As He hears His people make all manner of promises, does He sigh, lower His head, and state, “There they go again?” Broken promises are a disappointment both in Heaven and on earth; thus, a better course must be chosen by the people of God.
To help in grasping the seriousness of resolutions, the book of Ecclesiastes provides help. Within its pages, the wise man admonishes, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (5:2 ESV). As an example of this principle, he further states, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin” (5:4-6a). The text is not placing a prohibition on promises made to God; instead, it admonishes a serious mindset when these promises are made. Flippancy, no matter how well meaning, is simply not an option when God is brought into the equation. It is therefore no surprise that Jesus Christ Himself admonishes against such prattle and tells His followers that if they make commitments, be true to their word! (see Matthew 5:37). Based on what is learned from these passages, step number one in making resolutions is this: Don’t make promises to God unless you plan to honor them.
Step two involves a healthy dose of realism. If 8% body weight and a muscular physique could be attained simply by wishing, humanity would take on a very different appearance. What is true of physical change is certainly true of spiritual change. Lasting spiritual growth does not occur overnight. This is the message demonstrated by the Lord in His parable of the soils. In speaking of the heart represented by the rocky soil, He states, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21). To avoid such an outcome, the Hebrews writer shows what must be done in the quest to attain spiritual maturity: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (5:14). When resolutions are made, achievable goals are essential. These are the things of “constant practice”; these are the things that will keep one from grandiose notions that wither in the heat of reality.
The third step in keeping spiritual resolutions is developing a workable plan. In discussing the cost of discipleship, the Lord addresses the danger of embarking on a task without appropriate thought. He provides the following illustration of poor planning: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30). This lesson is essential in keeping spiritual resolutions. Take for example the resolution to read more of the Bible within the next year. If one desires to do so, the following resolution will prove worthless: “I resolve to read more of the Bible this year.” However, if time is allotted, a practical plan established, and interferences removed, success will occur. Whatever the resolution may be, the tired old adage still rings quite true: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Real determination will be buttressed by a real plan.
Most importantly, a spiritual resolution will only succeed when God is the reason behind it. Anything done simply to better self-approval or to garner the approval of others is nothing short of hypocrisy. Instead, commitment must be made to please God and to grow more like Him; the desire for increased holiness must be the launching pad of all promises made to Him. Prayer is also an essential part of spiritual success. Prayer serves two important purposes: 1. It is a reminder that I can do nothing on my own; 2. It is a reminder that God has full power and willingness to make me a vessel fit for Heaven. When prayer is employed in the efforts of the earnest resolver, success will come by the hand of God.
In reality, January 1 is no different than the other 364 days of the year; therefore, plans for spiritual growth should be implemented on a regular basis throughout the year. However, in this season of resolutions, may each child of God resolve to never utter a worthless promise before the Lord. Instead, may each commit to a positive course of growth that will never bring the Lord to say, “There you go again.”