3 Steps To Grace-Based Action In The New Year
When it comes to the New Year and resolutions, most of us have two responses:
- Get excited, take on the world, and make 50 resolutions.
- Get cynical, and do nothing.
Other times, we wind up taking a hybrid approach. We start out strong, fail, get discouraged and then impersonate our pet taking a nap for the rest of the year.
Personally, I've done all three. You?
Since you're reading this article, I'm guessing you're hoping for a different approach. Even if you're skeptical of your ability to actually follow through.
If that's you, you're in the right place.
Dismantling Our Old Approaches
If we're going to sustain something new, first we've got to be convinced our usual approaches don't work. As in really convinced. Not just kinda, sorta.
Here's what I mean.
The approaches I mentioned above both make some sense. They can seem right, which is why we adopt them.
The take on the world approach resonates with us because - honestly - we're over-confident in our own abilities. And, we know God has called us to play an active part in our lives.
Colossians 3:23, for example, urges us 'Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men...' In Philippians, Paul again calls us to 'work out your own salvation with fear and trembling' (2:12).
But the cynical, do-nothing approach resonates with us because we've failed so many times before. Like my annual hopes to 'memorize scripture more'. At some point, we figure, 'It's better to not aim for anything than to make an empty promise I'm probably not going to keep anyway.'
And, our belief in grace seems to have our back, too. After all, God loves us apart from what we do or don't because of Christ's work, right?
Yes. Definitely. Theology police, put the brown paper bag down.
But believing that God accepts us apart from our effort doesn't translate to a couch potato and chips kind of life, either.
Somehow, as we think about our role in the Christian life, making resolutions, and growing, grace and hard work have to play nicely together.
A Better Approach
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul helps us find balance in our struggles.
First, he lays a foundation of grace.
'By the grace of God I am what I am' (verse 10). He knows that all his accomplishments and status as an apostle is from God. Swagger gone.
But then he goes on to say that 'I worked harder than all [of the other apostles].'
I'm pretty sure Paul was a serious Type A. He described himself as zealous (Philippians 3:6), and his actions backed it up. He thought nothing, for example, of traveling from town to town persecuting Christians before his conversion. (You can read more about his impressive resume in Philippians 3:4-6.)
But over time, Paul learned to work hard based on a deep trust in God's grace.
'By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of [the other apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.'
So, there it is. Grace means I don't have to 'do it myself' like a toddler, but it doesn't let me live like I'm on a permanent vacation, either.
While we may (will) have a million struggles living this out, this is our anchor and point of departure.
Let me close with a few practical suggestions. Try them on, and see which ones fit you as you think about the year ahead.
Grace-Based Action: A Simple, Three-Step Plan
Here are a few suggestions for how this principle of grace-based action might help you think about what resolutions, plans, and goals to make.
This is not an ultimate guide or anything. Just my small attempt to carry our conversation forward, and get you started so you're not googling 'how to make new year's resolutions' for the next five hours.
#1 Think about your default approach, and bring that to God
Most of us tend to work frenetically, or, do nothing. Or, waffle between the two.
What's your tendency, and what does that say about what you really believe?
As an example, I tend to come up with a million plans and think I can accomplish them all. It shows I have an over-inflated opinion of myself, and don't really need God - either to come up with my plans, or, accomplish them. Over time, I'm learning to see that more and repent of it.
Just take a few moments, get honest with God, and ask him for help.
#2 Just take another step forward this year
You don't have to 'get everything right' as the new year begins. We can't; we're not that good.
But with God's help, the new year is a fresh opportunity to take steps in the right direction. To recalibrate, and set our hearts on discovering - and doing - those 'good works' that God already has in mind for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Practically-speaking, I'm viewing this year more like a refresh than a major renovation, which would overwhelm me.
With God's help, I'll (figuratively) repaint the kitchen cabinet doors and refinish the hardwood floors instead of gutting the entire house.
At times, I expect that I'll catch myself trying to do it by myself and burnout. At other times, I anticipate getting discouraged and giving up.
But when I do, I'll talk to God about it, pick up my tools again, and ask him to help me move forward. By the end of the year, I expect that I'll have made some real progress.
Does that make sense?
As another New Year begins, we can take grace-based, imperfect action and make adjustments as we go.
Just Give Me A Plan!
At this point, some of you may be thinking, 'Okay that sounds great in theory, but I have no idea how to put this into action. You've lost me.'
I get that. You don't want to go bananas, or do nothing, but doing something feels overwhelming.
So, here's one simple plan to help you get started. Obviously, feel free to modify in either direction to fit you.
On a side note, since this blog is largely dedicated to helping you pursue, and build, a healthy marriage, I'll touch on that more specifically below.
Bonus: write down (or type) your thoughts as you go. Studies show you're more likely to follow through when you do. And, you won't have to keep remembering your thoughts later.
Reflect on the past year (15 minutes)
- What went well, and what didn't, in the major areas of your life? Don't forget to consider how things are going with being single, dating or your marriage.
- Thank God for the victories, and confess anything you need to.
Set a few simple goals (30 minutes)
- Prayerfully set one goal in each major area of your life. If that feels overwhelming, you might divide up your life like this: (1) God, (2) others and (3) self. (Based on Jesus' greatest commandments from Matthew 22:37-39).
- Setting a goal in the area of relationships can be especially challenging. For starters, we're only one side of the equation. It's also an area we've probably experienced (and caused) significant pain, frustration or rejection. But we can't be truly fulfilled if we ignore this part of our lives, so push yourself a little here. Maybe you need to ask someone out on a date by February 1st, decide whether you'll continue dating in the next two months, or pursue marriage counseling in an area you're stuck.
- Without 'forcing it', try to make your goals SMART goals. Short version: they should be specific, measurable, realistic, and have a deadline of some kind. As an example, instead of 'spend more time with God', 'start my day with 10 minutes of bible reading, followed by 5 minutes of prayer'.
Start, and tweak (15 minutes)
- Decide when you'll start, and do it.
- Re-evaluate after two weeks. You're not trapped! Just give it a shot, then make any adjustments you need to.
Your Next Move
So, as another New Year begins, in Christ we have the power to turn over a new leaf without it all depending on us. We can take grace-based, imperfect action and make adjustments as we go. And this year can be just a little better than the last.
In just an hour, we can follow a simple plan and make a beginning.
I'd love to hear what you're planning on doing. Let me know in the comments below!
Want More About Setting Resolutions & Goals In The New Year?
I've written about this pretty extensively, so I've got you covered.
- why our resolutions fail and how to fix it
- 6 big-picture truths that will set you free in the New Year
- 6 steps to setting goals & resolutions that really work
- the first 2 critical steps to setting resolutions that work
- 4 principles for setting (much) better resolutions
- 2 super-simple ways to make progress on goals & resolutions as the year goes on