I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions. It’s usually the fault of gift cards for Cheesecake Factory or a friend’s new venture in selling clever handmade products on Etsy, but, really, the bottom line is I don’t like feeling compelled to make promises I can’t be sure I am able to keep. This especially goes for resolutions where I resolve to lose XX amount of pounds, or to embrace a minimalist lifestyle, or to spend XX number of hours per week off the internet. Things happen, and while sometimes those things might legitimately interfere with the keeping of a resolution, I know myself too well and anticipate happily taking advantage of a good excuse to ditch the resolution—like a gift card or an insane challenge to write post an article a day for a month.
Let’s be honest, though. After this year of life-wide cancellations, can any of us ever again make resolutions with such a recent reminder that, at any point in the year, life might swoop in and scatter all the presumptions that have to be in place in order for a resolution to be kept?
But I drag myself to the internal conflict every year—should I or shouldn’t I make resolutions?—with a pretty good guess as to how it’s going to end up because it’s really a hate-hate relationship. There’s nothing I love about changing habits or behavior. The “good ideas” resolutions aren’t the only ones that stir up feelings of rebellion in me. Not only do I refuse to resolve to drop some weight or alter my social media habits, I resist committing to resolutions that are simply paraphrases of Jesus’s commands to us in His Word. That is sin.
In truth, every directive by Christ should be followed by a “Yes! I will!” Each exhortation or call to holiness or command to put on Christ should elicit a “Yes! Lord, I want to be obedient!” Another way of looking at resolutions is planning to rightly respond to God’s call to sanctification, to be holy, to live as one whose heart has been made new by the atoning work of Jesus and able to obey by the supernatural ministrations of the Spirit. I have two choices. I can do nothing and feel rather self-righteous and authentic and above it all. Or I can resolve to put on Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 3:12).
My children are, for the most part, grown, and some have flown, and I regret not being more intentional about including them in resolutions and articulating other efforts to surrender our home life to Christ. Scripture clearly exhorts parents to train up children in the way that they should go (Proverbs 3:5-6), and much of the New Testament methodology of training up involves modeling godly behavior (although not exclusively, so don’t forget to require obedience and discipline accordingly). New Year’s resolutions obviously are not specified in the Bible, but neither are they forbidden. Properly approached, they can provide a checkpoint for a family to engage in spiritual self-examination and an opportunity for the members to encourage one another in Christian living.
Here are some of the benefits to having children participate in putting a plan in action to rightly respond to God’s call to live as one whose heart has been made new by the atoning work of Jesus and the sanctifying ministrations of the Spirit:
1. We have an opportunity to discuss with our children the tension between God’s preservation of our faith and our persevering response in obedience.
If we don’t help little hearts apprehend this tension, New Year’s resolutions may result in nothing more than a cycle of moralistic intentions and bitter disappointments. If those intentions are wrongly skewed as a righteousness based on works, children can struggle with a false understanding of salvation. Reviewing Jesus’s commands with them provides the framework where we can show that He Himself is the means by which the commands are kept.
2. Kings give orders. Subjects obey. Grateful, adoring subjects obey happily and willingly. Resolutions are declarations that we subjects will happily and willingly honor our King.
Happy and willing are great key attitude words to discuss with children, as Philippians 2:14 admonishes all of us, “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.”
3. Making resolutions that align with Scripture help us meet that goal of bringing all areas of life into a thoughtful, disciplined submission to God.
That general, “I’ll do better next year” catch-all resolution—admit it —is usually forgotten after the first 24 hours. Lists of external self-improvements are subject to changing winds that follow our internal, variable moods. On the other hand, the Word never changes. The commands are right and undeniably divine. And we have access to the Spirit’s generous graces and mercies in keeping them. They are there in the earliest commands in the Sermon on the Mount—“Let your light shine”, “Do not be angry with your brother”, “Let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’”, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”—to the final words of the Revelation of John—“Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price”, “Do not add to the words of this book”.
4. There is nothing more in the world that I want than for my children to know the Lord.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. ~ 3 John 1:4
If we persevere to live according to the Scriptures, teaching our children doctrine, letting them see us wrestle with the commands to put off the old and put on the new, showing them how we rely on songs of praise and memory verses, going to the Word on our knees with every hardship and challenge, joining with other believers in worship to give the Lord honor and praise and to hear His truths preached, discussing difficulties and obstacles and failures, and showing them how we love Jesus and endeavor to make Him Lord, then they will have a front row seat to the power of the Spirit in our lives.
My children are grown, and the dynamics of instruction/submission have evolved, but we are still in relationship, especially since they all profess faith in Christ. Although a lot of the benefits I’ve listed fit the standard family unit where children are at home being taught, as sisters and brothers in the family of God, we can still encourage one another in persevering, obeying, submitting, and walking in truth to the glory of God, regardless of our family life or our household design. I hope you resolve to love God and love your neighbor, regardless of your family circumstances.
Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions are often cited because they get down to the nitty-gritty of will powered by God’s grace, and when you read through them, it’s even easy to see that there is a devotional aspect to them. But few people have read them all, nor realize he resolved to read them to himself once a week. They all deserve a good review, so here is a link, but for this year, I am focusing on numbers 5 and 6:
Resolved #5: Never lose one moment of time; but seize the time to use it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
Resolved #6: To live with all my might, . . . while I do live.
Backbone is a synonym for the word “resolution”, further extended by the thesaurus to include tenacity, steadfastness, grit, fortitude, mettle, willpower. Where do we get this backbone?
My tenacity is tenuous. My grit ground to dust. My fortitude a counterfeit. As I confessed at the outset, it’s a leap for me to make the first step to surrendering in obedience. In Romans 8:26, Paul tells us where our strength comes from: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Pray for the Spirit to intercede. Pray for your family, for strength, for mercy.
Resolve to resolve, whether you make formal resolutions or not.