Another year has ended and a new year has begun. New Year’s resolutions have become commonplace. We all want to make promises to ourselves about how we will change or what we’ll do differently. Rarely, though, do we actually follow through. This week we’ll look at some promises we can keep, and how we can move Beyond Resolutions.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, especially those you know you will break.”
Yes, another year has ended and a new one has begun. For many, this is a time of reflection; and it’s a time filled with possibilities – new hopes, new dreams, new plans for the future. At this time each year we have the opportunity to take inventory of our lives. Like a warehouse, we have the opportunity to review our past inventory and to decide what we choose to keep for the future. Like clearing out old stock, we have the opportunity to release the things we’ve been storing up that no longer serve a purpose in our lives. And, like deciding on what new inventory to bring in, we have the opportunity to decide what it is we want to bring into our lives over the next year.
That’s where resolutions come in. Unfortunately, many of us don’t really look at the past, we simply put together a long list of what it is we think we want. We make promises to ourselves, usually around unrealistic resolutions. Either because we can’t or we really had no intention of keeping the promises in the first place, we rarely keep many, if any, of the resolutions we make. This often leads to feelings of failure and guilt. Then, our New Year Resolutions, rather than being inspirational, lead us into despair and depression.
As I say, we often make resolutions that are unrealistic, or worse, ones we know we have no real intention of keeping in the first place. This occurs year after year, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Now, some of us here today might be looking forward to the new year and its myriad of possibilities. Others of us might have feelings of fear, worried that this year will just as bad, or worse, than the last. I believe that a large part of how we react, both to the year that has passed and to the year that lies ahead, is based on our attitude.
There is an old story that has been going around for years. In fact, Kenny Rogers recorded a song all about this story. A happy little boy went out into the field wearing his baseball cap and carrying his bat and ball. He was confident and determined. Cocking the bat, he tossed the ball into the air saying, “I’m the best batter in the world!” As the ball came down, he swung, and missed. “Strike one,” he called out. Again he tossed the ball into the air saying, “I’m the best batter in the world!” And again, as the ball came down, he swung – and missed. “Strike two.” He checked his bat, made sure there was not a hole in it, adjusted his cap, took up his stance, and tossed the ball into the air, again saying, “I’m the best batter in the world.” He swung, and missed…”Strike three.” Instead of being discouraged about his failure, he proudly exclaimed, “Wow, I’m the best pitcher in the world!”
When we look at the past year, and when we ponder the new year to come, do we see ourselves as batters, or as pitchers? We all must face our past, and we all must look toward the future. Our attitude about both will make all the difference.
Looking at the past is important. It’s our past, the failures and the victories, that have brought us to where we are today. Deuteronomy 4:9 tells us, “Be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your hearts as long as you live.” So, with this advice in mind, we reflect, and we ponder. We may want this new year to be a fresh new start. But, it doesn’t start in a vacuum. That’s one of the reasons we end up making promises we can’t keep, or have no intention of keeping in the first place. If we don’t know where we came from, how can we know where we’re going? And though we reflect upon our past, God doesn’t want us to live there. But we can use the past to guide our future. And, if we don’t take an honest look at the past, we may end up just repeating the same old patterns, and the next year will be but a mirror image of the last. As we think about the last year, and the new year that’s just beginning, let’s think about the following:
- What can we be thankful for?
- What is there to be happy about?
- What came easily?
- What was difficult?
- What did we learn?
- What habits would we like to break?
- What new habits would we like to develop?
Remember Paul? Paul knew all about having a past. He had been a persecutor and an executioner of the first Christians. Rather than wallowing in guilt, he used his past to illumine and guide his future. He didn’t dwell on his past, he looked forward to living in a deep relationship with God, through Jesus. In his letter to the Philippians (3:13 & 14) he wrote, “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
When it comes to resolutions, especially failed resolutions, many of us get caught up in the past failures and mistakes so much that we spiritually paralyze ourselves. We must remember that we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. It’s not our mistakes that define us, and they don’t have to define our future. But they can help us to focus our future. The question then becomes, what are we aiming for?
Where do we start?
As we ponder the new year, and we think about the changes we’d like to see in our lives, perhaps it will help if we get our priorities straight. Think about your priorities this year. Perhaps you want to lose weight, quit smoking, or exercise more. Perhaps you want to eliminate unhealthy relationships, or develop even stronger relationships with your spouse, partner, family, or friends. Whatever those desires, perhaps, like Paul, our greatest priority should be to develop a stronger relationship with God through Jesus.
First, forgive yourself of your past. Remember, in Matthew 22:37-39 we are told, “…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving ourselves means being able to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes. And then, by placing our priority on loving God, we can rely on Him to guide us. When determining what we want the next year to bring we can heed the advice of Psalm 37:7 – “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” And Matthew 6:33 tells us, “…Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
When we place our priority on getting closer to God, when we first seek His Kingdom, He will guide us. Perhaps this is the only “resolution” we should be making – to seek His Kingdom and to strengthen our relationship with Him. Instead of resolutions, make a commitment to spend time with Him in prayer and meditation every day. Make it realistic – 15 or 30 minutes…whatever it is you know you can commit to. Spend time reading your Bible and letting His Word guide you. Then, with His guidance, make realistic plans and set realistic goals. Take things one small step at a time. Remember the old saying – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Use your time with God to come up with step by step plans on how you will accomplish each goal – one bite at a time. Write them down so you have a checklist and so you can monitor your progress and make corrections as you go. Don’t let yourself get bogged down if you stumble. Remember, you’re human. Maintain the right attitude. Instead of thinking you’re the worst batter, think of yourself as the best pitcher! And, don’t try to do it all alone. That’s why we have a community of faith. We can be a source of strength and support for each other. Share your plans and your goals with people you are close to; people who will support you, ask how it’s going, and who will encourage you. And, be that support person to others.
We often wonder if the lessons and teachings of the Bible have meaning in our lives today. This, to me, is a perfect example of how we can apply the principles in our lives. New Year doesn’t have to be a time of unrealistic and failed resolutions. We can stop making promises we won’t keep. We can look honestly at our past, and we can forgive ourselves. We can choose to be batters or pitchers. We can break the vicious cycle. Most importantly, we can make the decision to move into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God, through Jesus. He will guide us every step of the way, if we just remember to be still and wait patiently for Him. And so I invite you today to examine your past, give thought to the future, decide whether you’re a batter or a pitcher, live in the present, and, above all, to seek His Kingdom, and with His guidance, move Beyond Resolutions.
- Deuteronomy 4:9
- Philippians 3:13 & 14
- Matthew 22:37-39
- Psalm 37:7
- Matthew 6:33
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