As the new year is already underway, many of us have set (are setting) goals and resolutions. I’m not sure about you, but even when I don’t make any resolutions or goals, I feel this weird mixture of hope, confusion, guilt and (minor) despair as the year begins.
Different ‘influencers’ tell us to follow their system, promising we’ll have an amazing year. We wonder what God has in store for us. Biblically, we wonder if there’s anything to even setting goals or resolutions to begin with. If we don’t set any, we struggle with vague guilt and feel like we’re just drifting through life. And, of course, most of us have tried to make progress before and failed, feeling like a deflated tire on the side of the road.
In this post, I’ll share a few thoughts about this whole area to help us rethink it. Things I wish others were saying but aren’t. (At least that I’ve seen.) My hope is that you’ll come away feeling hopeful, eager to dive into all that God has for you without confusion, pressure or guilt.
Six Truths That Will Set Us Free In The New Year
This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but here are six things that will help us follow Christ with peace, clarity and freedom in the New Year.
1. God calls us to attempt great things for him.
As we live, God invites us to attempt big things for him. Things we could never do on our own strength. Nehemiah organized Israel to repair Jerusalem’s walls despite fierce opposition. Paul made it his ambition to ‘preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named’… so that others would come to know Jesus (Romans 15:20-21). But far more ordinary people – like most of the first disciples – wound up attempting great things for Christ, too. We should never think we’re too boring, normal or ordinary to change the world for Christ.
2. Scripture doesn’t seem to emphasize setting goals or resolutions.
So simply belonging to Christ will lead us to attempt great things for him. On the other hand, scripture isn’t neurotic about making plans for these big things. We do see examples of planning, ambition and audacious goals, but the process of discerning and making goals isn’t (at all) front and center in scripture. You’re not out of God’s will, or failing, if you’re not making New Year’s resolutions.
3. God stresses his work, not ours.
In Israel, several feasts structured their calendar year. Passover, for example, reminded Israel of God’s deliverance from slavery and sin (Exodus 12). The offering of firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14) helped Israel stay thankful for God’s provision, and, remember their dependence on him. The Lord’s Supper operates in a similar way for us.
4. Don’t be surprised when achieving your goals feels like death.
The vision and optimism of influencers can push us to keep growing. But if we’re not careful, following their advice can lead to serious discouragement. If we follow their principles or systems for setting goals, for example, and fail to accomplish them, we can feel like we’re the problem.
And maybe we can do better. But in my experience, many influencers subtly tempt us to think accomplishing our goals is as simple as following a system. Then, working hard.
But the bible tells us to expect serious resistance. From a world that is generally at odds with God. From the remaining sin and weakness in us. And, the devil. (See 1 John 2:15-17; 1 Peter 5:8-9). It won’t be this way forever, but for now the entire creation – including us – is under the curse. So don’t think that the struggle to set – let alone achieve – goals is all your fault. It’s not.
5. Anticipate God’s grace and fruit in the year ahead.
Although life ‘under the sun’ is always a grind, Jesus has promised that he ‘will be with [us] always, even to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). He wants us to be productive and fruitful, even if the form of that fruit and production seems strange in our real lives! ‘Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit’ (John 15:5). He’s given us gifts and talents so we can make an impact in the world around us every day (Exodus 31:1-6; 1 Corinthians 11:4-11). Despite the difficulties, let’s eagerly look for God’s grace and activity in the days ahead.
6. Seek God’s guidance, then do what you want.
There’s a healthy tension as we try to figure out what God wants us for us in the year ahead. On the one hand, we should obviously obey scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17), inviting God to guide us. On the other hand, if we’re acting in line with what God reveals in the bible, we’re entirely free to make plans and resolutions that bring us joy and do others good.
As Kevin DeYoung puts it in ‘Just Do Something’, ‘If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.’ Like marrying a godly spouse, buying a house, or finding a job that does some good in the world.
We don’t want to strike out on our own and ignore God, but we shouldn’t obsess about ‘finding God’s will’ or look for some sort of sign, either.
Moving Forward In The New Year
In conclusion, the new year often comes with hope that our lives can be different. That God will be at work. And he will be. But we often struggle with what other voices are telling us we ‘should’ do or be. And, depending on your temperament, that can tempt us to live in a way that’s driven, passive, or both. To ride the roller coaster of pride and despair.
Knowing Christ begins to change all that.
The Savior of the world has graciously saved us. He’s invited us into his plans for the universe, and equipped us to play our part alongside others. But he knows our weakness and the brokenness all around us. The glorious future he’s bringing depends on him, not us (see Philippians 1:6).
You have an amazing amount of freedom in the new year. May God lead you into all that he has for you in the days, weeks and months ahead.
For reflection: As the New Year begins, how are you feeling about it? How would the principles above help you live for Christ with more clarity, peace and freedom?