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God’s New Year’s Resolutions

Tonight, we say farewell to the troubles of 2016, we celebrate the joys of the past year, and we ponder mysteries of the new year to come. Above it, all ring the ever-revolving anthems of our “New Year’s Resolutions.” We cringe at the thought of failing at them before the end of January. We fantasize our dreams of paying off debt, getting in shape, finding that job we’ve wanted for so long, finding a spouse, and a great many other things. As you’re shaping your dreams and goals for 2017, I want to encourage you first to meditate on something perhaps unexpected: God’s New Year’s Resolutions.

I know it’s odd to think of God having New Year’s resolutions; and no, I’m not claiming to write prophecy here. I am, however, hoping to bring something timely and helpful. God also has goals for 2017, and for some, His goals might be unexpected. I’ve seen a number of chain posts on Facebook with prayers for the coming year, and they all seem to repeat the same theme: abating the troubles of 2016 and seeking an easier 2017. God’s goals center on something else entirely.

If you haven’t read it before, it would be helpful for you to read at least Exodus 1-20 after reading this post. Read it in an easy, flowing translation, and it will read quite quickly since it’s a story. For now, consider that God says to the Israelites,

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
- Exodus 19:4-6

As you read through the Bible, you’ll realize at least two things very clearly.

First, these words of God are actually New Testament promises. You see, God told the Israelites, “if you obey.” If you obey. And we find in the Old Testament storyline a giant allegory of our human nature: we cannot obey, and we will never be God’s prized people if it depends on our obedience. Then, the New Testament realizes the promises to Abraham and the prophets of One that will come and (among other profound blessings) obey on our behalf because we are utterly unable to obey. Jesus won for us these promises and blessings, and this truth isn’t subtle. Peter tells us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Sound familiar?

Second, the Exodus story is a clear and intentional allegory for New Testament life. God rescued the Israelites from death and slavery by the blood of lambs. He brought them into a wilderness with compassionate promises to bear them on eagles’ wings to Himself, their ultimate resting place. But they did not obey, and we would not have either. We find we need a better Lamb to be slaughtered on our behalf to free us from a deeper death and slavery to sin.

However, the allegory does not end there. We were brought out of sin and into a wilderness full of troubles and difficulties. I know this because Peter says later in his letter, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13)”. Not just Peter, but Paul, and James, and others tell us often to rejoice in our sufferings in the wilderness. The wilderness is assumed.

The desperation and chaos of the wilderness are not meant as a punishment (otherwise, Jesus accomplished nothing in His death on our behalf). No, they are meant as a deep grace, as a gift of deep love given to us out of a well deep wisdom. God is using the desperation and uprooting the wilderness inevitably brings as a means of continuing our rescue from sin’s slavery. He is using the wilderness to show us His provision by dethroning all of the idolatrous provisions we have all lived addicted to for so long.

Entertainment is not your joy. Your job is not your great provision. Physical rest is not your resting place. Control is not your green pastures. Receiving and taking from others is not your still water. Your spouse’s love and respect are not your fountains of living water. God Himself and His blessings in Jesus alone are your good portion and your full inheritance. He is your resting place. He is your completion.

You cannot, I repeat, you cannot see God as your everything when everything else is your functional everything. Only in the wilderness do the scales fall from your eyes to see God as your lavish and great Provider.

God’s New Year’s resolution, friend, is to rescue you from sin’s grasp and to lead you gently into a wilderness of hard difficulty where He will expose your idols, cause you to feel a deep need, and then provide deep grace that will bring you joy greater than you’ve ever known before. Friend, He will not give you ease. He will give you Himself.

As you form your New Year’s resolutions or continue to work on your current resolutions, I strongly encourage you to do so in the context of God’s wilderness storyline. Please do not say, “God, give me health and prosperity.” Rather, say, “God, by any means necessary, lead me to enjoy more deeply the prosperity Jesus has already given me and to put it on display for more people to see.”

Posted by Matt Norman with

2017 Resolutions that don't stink...

Talking about New Year’s Resolutions is like asking people about their retirement investments. You know you should do be doing it, but feel condemned for not doing it well...or at all. You are likely in the 38% of those who never set a resolution on January 1, or maybe you are part of the 24% who never sees success in the goals you do set. Either way, I know that just by bringing it up you are likely to groan and roll your eyes. I totally understand.

I’d like to help by letting you inside how I do this every year. I don’t do many things like a boss, but I do happen to consider myself a professional resolution administrator. I absolutely love new year resolutions. in fact, you can access our sermons and look the week before or after January 1 and I guarantee you’ll find a sermon preaching to the heart on the importance of intentional and resolved living in light of the Gospel’s freedom. That being said, I won’t go into that here. Here, I want to take you into the mechanics of how I have done it over the last several years to great profit. 

1. Spend adequate time reflecting on the last year?

Ask probing questions to get you thinking, like “What is the biggest highlight and win this year?” “Where did I repeatedly fail this year?” “If I could have changed anything about my life this last year, what would it have been?” “What is the greatest lesson I’ve learned this year?” If you want more great questions, check out what Justin Buzzard asks when he appraises a year already gone by. 

2. Establish what your roles are?

In other words, what are the lanes you drive in - in order. For me, I'm a Christian first, a husband second, a daddy third, and a pastor and church planter fourth. This is important because it helps you “shoebox” your life in a way that makes resolving life changes a bit easier.

3. Establish what your life’s mission may be and how you may be distinctly called.

I think it’s important for everyone to have a mission statement and a stated understanding of their calling. Now, the mission statement ought to sound just like Jesus’ Great Commission, so we’re not all distinct snowflakes in that regard. But, when it comes to your distinct calling you should expect to see a “bent” or “flavor” to how you want to live as a worshiping missionary on earth. For a great book on how to do this, check out Matt Perman’s What's Best Next.

4. Establish where you keep getting stuck.

Many of your resolutions will look like refurbished resolutions from last year, and that’s because you keep getting stuck in the same areas. Diet, prayer, giving, and other potholes keep finding you likely. This is an opportunity for you to spend time looking at (1) what you wrongly believe about God and (2) what you desire more than God. Knowing where you get stuck will greatly inform your goal setting and growth. For a fantastic resource on how to be fluent in why you sin in certain areas and how to be fluent in the Gospel, check out Jeff Vandersteldt teach Gospel Fluency. 

5. Develop good goals/resolutions according to your roles.

Armed with (1) why you keep gumming down in the same areas, (2) how you did this last year, and (3) what you are called to do here on earth, begin jotting down rough ideas of how you’d like to see changes within your distinct roles. For instance, I have resolved to parent my teenage daughter differently this year (daddy goal) and I have also resolved to tangibly thank people in small notes this year (pastor goal). Don’t think too hard, just start brainstorming.

6. Rewrite them several times to make them concise and crisp and honestly ask…

    1. Are they specific enough? This means instead of writing, “I need to be healthier” you instead write down “I need to lose 25 lbs this year.” You must define what the win is. Vague end zones provide no touchdowns.
    1. Are they measurable at all? How will you know if you have done well? You’ll need to bring a way to discern win over failure or else you’ll never see change that will satisfy, nor will you know if your goal was too easy. You must build your goals in a trackable format as best as possible.
    1. Are they attainable and realistic? Do your resolutions consider your ability and time? Are they do-able? Don’t write “I want to read 50 books this year” -  unless you understand that this means reading roughly 10,000 pages, which takes roughly 10 hours per week...gulp. Work backwards to see what a goal does to your calendar and assess whether it’s even doable. Resolutions should be something to stretch and strain towards, but not crushingly difficult or impossible.
    1. Are they time-bound? Also important is nailing a time down, or even breaking the year into seasons (trimester, quarter, etc…). A wise man once told me, “Don’t think of a marathon as a 26 mile race, think of it as 26 one mile races.” Makes sense.


7. Submit them to someone close and ask them to be brutally honest with you.

I have done this at great profit. Inevitably someone always picks up where I have over-reached on a goal or have an odd motive behind a goal. Maybe I have 3 goals for “pastor” for every one I have for “dad.” Not only can close community or a spouse de-bug our strategic growth strategy, they bring accountability to it.  This seems like an unnecessary step, but change is a community project.

8. Write them in a place where you can look them over often.

I currently use an app called Trello, but Google has a task function that I used for years. Google tasks also lets you import them into a calendar. It doesn’t really matter what you use to collate your resolved goals, but you should have them in a place you are already used to looking. I check mine most every Monday and use it to help drive my calendar for the next few weeks. Every leadership coach in the world says the same thing about good goal setting: Write. It. Down. 

Wanna see a pro do this. Check out Jonathan Edwards list of resolutions...it's inspiring. 

9. Re-assess how SMART the goals are on July 4th.

You guessed it, number 6 above spelled out the acronym SMART. Now you get to see how smart the goals really were. Every July 4th (about the middle of the year) I spend a few hours to re-assess my annual resolutions. Sometimes I find I was too aggressive, and sometimes I already met a goal because it was a bit too easy. So, I take this time to adjust the dial so come December 31st, I have a good chance of meeting the resolutions in a way that they serve me and help me grow.

10. Be patient and graceful, knowing you’ll fail many times

Seriously, you’re going to fail a ton when intentionally setting out to grow as a disciple. It will require a bunch of effort to break out of the patterns you're used to living easily. Breaking into a new rhythm and way of living is going to be difficult. Be ready for setbacks and handle yourself with grace because that is how Jesus handles your resolution failures.

I hope this helps you this year. Volumes can be written on goal setting by people more qualified than me, and as much as you may find failure in the goals you set this year, you statistically stand a 10x better chance of succeeding in them if you go through this process. Happy New Year!

Posted by Luke Thomas with

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