Just between you and me, I admit it: I am a New-Years-resolution-stealer.
Every year, by the time December 31 rolls around, I cannot muster anything that resembles care for how I will improve myself next year. By the end of the year, I am too frazzled to ponder all the exercise I could have done, vegetables I could have eaten, time I could have spent doing anything other than working, books I could have read, charities I could have volunteered with, languages I could have learned, money I could have saved, and the myriad ways I could have improved my relationship with God.
Thanks to some porous capsule buried deep in my subconscious, I still believe—and act—like these small decisions towards self-improvement matter. Over the years I have stolen resolutions including: exercise daily, learn French, no Bible no breakfast, read the Bible over breakfast, Bible on the train, audioBible in the car, Bible with a friend, no phone until you’ve read your Bible, take a regular day off, pray for five minutes before bed, pray while in the shower, pray as you go about your day, pray before meals, use a daily devotional book, journal, and any number of ways to implement a savings plan and budget.
I have always failed.
A few years back, I overheard a friend of a friend comment that the previous year she resolved to drink more water. I knew I didn’t drink enough water—does anyone?— so I capitalised on my eavesdropping and made her water resolution mine. I invested in a drink bottle, and carried it with me every day the first week of January, most of the rest of the month, and then sporadically for the next couple of months until I lost it. It was, I am ashamed to say, my most successful New Years resolution.
If I set aside the general sense of bad-humanness that emanates from my inability to commit to daily exercise, sufficient sleep, and a balanced diet—even after making a New Years resolution—I can dimly see that these small milestones don’t matter so much, in the end. Sometimes the daily grind of human existence is simply too much to bear, and there are benefits to be had from not judging ourselves for surviving on leftovers of the same meal for seven days straight, or five hours sleep a night for a few weeks.
But when the “Christian thing” is woven into the New Years resolution mix, it becomes a lot more difficult to let ourselves off the hook when we fail, because failing at a resolution suddenly explodes into failure in our relationship with God, which feels orders of magnitude more serious than failing to go for a run.
I actually think we’ve got it the wrong way around.
The small milestones—drink more water, exercise, sleep, eat more salad—may not matter so much in the end, but failure is still failure, regardless of the importance of the task. Unlike almost every other sphere of life, this is something that cannot be outsourced. It is not possible to instruct another person to exercise for you, or eat well for you, or sleep for you. There are whole industries devoted to helping people achieve their fitness, heath and well-being goals, but ultimately the success of this kind of resolution rests entirely with you. If you fail, you fail.
The same is not true for “Christian” resolutions.
I know I am not the only one who, with an alarming frequency, considers myself a “bad Christian” because I have been unable, yet again, to get through a whole day without laziness, or lying, or anger. It’s not for nothing that so many of us feel like this. The chasm between how I want to live and how I actually live needs bridging. Quickly.
But you and I both know that changing behaviour is not simply a matter of sheer will power.
God doesn’t work like that. He works together with us, in failure and success, to change and grow us, and sees to it that our resolutions to grow in Christian virtues do not fail, in the end. A failure in the pursuit of a Christian resolution—be it patience, self-control, Bible reading, kindness, or anything else—it is not actually the failure it seems to be, because there is someone else who is committed to keeping that resolution more than us.
Your Christian life and relationship with God are not all up to you, in the end. Jesus himself is enough. His death for us at our worst, and the work of his Spirit, is enough. God began this work in you, and he will bring it to completion, even after you’ve failed at fourteen consecutive New Years resolutions to read the Bible daily, as I have.