Thinking about resolutions and words for the year…

It’s that time. The close of one year and beginning of another seems a good time for taking stock, making plans, setting goals for the year ahead.

I don’t know how the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions first got started. I dutifully made them each January as I grew up and forgot about them in a few weeks’ time. After a while that seemed pretty ridiculous. Then I began to make goals rather than resolutions. And then later on I began realizing that the things I pondered every year around Jan. 1 were things I needed to be working on all the time anyway. So I happily gave up on the whole idea.

This year in several articles and posts going around, some have gone so far as to say Christians shouldn’t make resolutions, that resolutions smack of moralism and even legalism, putting a focus on our efforts, on trying harder, rather than on grace, and we should rest on God’s promises to us rather than making promises to Him.

Well, of course we should rest on God’s promises and His provision of grace and forgiveness. Our resolutions or goals or lists for ourselves don’t make us more accepted or loved in His sight. But does that mean we should never resolve anything or promise God anything?

A few years ago I made a study of the statement “I will” in the Bible, said not by God or Satan but by people. “I will” is a statement of determination, sometimes a vow, or we could even say a resolution. There were many I found, and that’s not even including “I will nots” or statements that say the same thing in different words.

And then our pastor has been leading us through the book of Job for the past several months and started a series last Sunday on Job’s resolutions from Job 31, beginning with “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” The rest aren’t stated quite that way, but resolution can be inferred from the other behaviors Job lists in his defense against his friends who felt that he must have sinned and sinned big to deserve the affliction he suffered.

So there is Biblical grounds for making resolutions (not necessarily Jan. 1, but whenever needed, though January is a good time to examine ourselves and our schedules, etc.).

Our pastor made a little study booklet to aid in going over this section of Job in the next few weeks, and in it he nails the crux of another problem I have with resolutions: how to reconcile the fact that it is God who is making the changes in us with our efforts or promises or resolutions. That’s something I’ve wrestled with nearly all of my Christian life. It’s God who does the work of change in us, yet He requires our cooperation. He doesn’t run roughshod over our will in salvation or in sanctification. But what is God’s part and what is mine? And why won’t He just make me holy without requiring me to makes choices throughout the day as to whether to yield to the flesh or to the Spirit? If I were Spirit-filled, wouldn’t I just automatically do, feel, think the right things without having to make the conscious effort? Those are the kinds of things I wrestle with and I’m very excited that it looks like we’ll be going over some of those things in the coming weeks at church.

Pastor did bring up Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, which begin with the statement “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.” There are key elements there: that our resolutions be agreeable to God’s will, and that we acknowledge that we can’t keep them on our own and need His enabling.

So…I haven’t started making any lists yet, but I’ve been mulling this over and reading with interest several posts and links people have been putting on their blogs and Facebook. Thanks to a couple of you for letting me think through some of this in your comments section. I probably should not have taken up so much space there and should have just waited til this blog post to “think through my fingers.” 🙂

I’ve also seen a number of people choosing a word or theme for the year over the last few years. I had never heard of anyone doing that before, and wasn’t inclined to myself: I knew there would probably be several words to list areas God needed to work on me about. It’s not a practice laid out in Scripture, but there is certainly nothing wrong with it if it done as led by God. I wouldn’t necessarily want others to feel they should do this just because they see others do it and make it the new spiritual fad. But the blog friends I know of who have done this aren’t approaching it faddishly but rather with much thought and prayer.

Even though I hadn’t intentionally sought out or prayed for a word for the coming year, one that keeps coming to mind is intentional. Having good intentions is a different thing from living intentionally: I need to intentionally work those intentions out into everyday life. A former pastor once said that Philippians 2:12b, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” meant first of all not to work for your salvation, but to work it out like a math problem, taking it to its logical conclusions: in other words, take those high and lofty ideals in the Bible, those rock-solid doctrines, and work them out into your everyday lives. I can see many areas in my life, both the spiritual and the practical, where I’ve been floating along for years without making any real progress. Thinking, studying, and meditating on these areas is good and necessary, but they need to translate into action. And maybe that’s where resolutions or goals come in.

Another factor I wrestle with in all this is the time it will take. In a couple of areas in particular, making changes is going to take some planning. And then, too, just the thought of schedules and such to implement some of these things makes me cringe, but that may be my lazy, resistant-to-change flesh.

I am thankful that the next verse in Philippians 2 says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” I’m seeking His help and guidance both in the willing and the doing.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a pat on the back, so consider it done. 🙂 Thanks for listening to my ramblings.

If you’re interested, here are some of the other posts that have fueled my thinking about resolutions:

A Resolution on Resolutions. Advocates that resolution-making might better come after Easter than New Year’s Day and that “New Year’s resolutions were meant to be inspired by repentance and redemption; they were never intended to be the path to them.”

A New Year’s Plea: Plan!

Trading One Dramatic Resolution for 10,000 Little Ones

A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution. “My daily perseverance requires embracing God’s promises, not inventing my own, which I cannot keep. There will come a time for resolutions in the conventional sense, personal goals and the shouldering of responsibility. But the law will bear crops only where grace has fertilized the soil. So, at least for the first month of this new year, my focus will be not on what I plan to do better, but what has been done perfectly for me.” (Note: theologically I’d disagree with a couple of his resolved statements).

Resolution Reflections: to Come, to Rest, to Be Still, to Trust.

Resolved by the Grace of God.

The last two, the last one in particular, are, I think, the most balanced. Many of these people I have never read before, so please don’t take this as an endorsement of everything on their sites. Most were found through recommended links of people I do know.

9 thoughts on “Thinking about resolutions and words for the year…

  1. I’ve also been thinking about this area …. and I DID make some resolutions this year. Another article that I have read can be seen at

  2. I stumbled upon My One Word ( last year and chose to focus on the word “simplify” and how that applied to so many areas of my life. While I acknowledge choosing one word is not found in the Bible, it certainly helped me cut out extra stuff and get back to basics.

    This year my word is “action” because I have many good intentions but don’t act on them. “Be ye doers of the Word, not hearers only”.

  3. Maybe I should clarify that I am not speaking against resolutions or choosing a word for the year — I’m just working through my thoughts on them. In fact, by the end of the post I am more inclined towards them than away from them. I’m still thinking and waiting to hear the rest of my pastor’s series before trying to solidify anything.

  4. I haven’t necessarily chosen a word for this year, but if I did it would be simplify. A cluttered life takes me away from the important things and makes it harder for me to listen to what God is telling me.
    Very interesting thoughts about this subject. I’ve always made resolutions and have failed to stick to them. This year I’m not making resolutions, per se, but am just trying to do better in general. I do actually make resolutions around Easter. Those I have stuck with better than the New Years resolutions. Maybe it’s because those don’t focus so much on my behavior as much as my soul.

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  6. (Again, you’ve written a post I’ve had up for days waiting to read when I could focus on it!)

    I can’t make myself make resolutions. When I set out a Resolution (uppercase ‘R’!) I feel exhausted before I’ve even stated what the Resolution IS! My mind starts whirling about where it is my resolution is going to take me and what it is going to demand of me. And life changes so quickly and I’m a very bad guesser at what is going to come to pass, ultimately. (I think the deaths in the family threw me for a loop on being WILLING to plan. I WANT to plan. I LIKE to plan. But I’m not yet WILLING.)

    I kinda liked the idea of the word. I didn’t have one for myself but when I was reading other people’s posts about what word they would choose to represent what they are focusing on I thought mine might just as well be “self-discipline” because that pretty much covers everything that Jonathan and I have spent time talking about and I’ve spent time thinking about. I need to be more self-disciplined in the way I spend my time, the foods I eat, etc. But how that all looks on a day-to-day basis isn’t always clear to me. (Hence I liked your quote that you shared in the latest WiW about “what isn’t started to day can’t be finished tomorrow.”

    I don’t think making resolutions are BAD. But I lack self-discipline to see them through. Hello. You see my quandary!? 😉 I’m working on it.

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