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Happy New Year!
Did you set New Year’s Resolutions for yourself?
Lose weight, read more, organize your home?
I enjoy thinking about goals and dreams. I dream of a clean, perfectly organized home, and picture myself twenty pounds lighter, always making healthy food choices.
So, I consider how I will achieve these goals. The majority of the time, I go online looking for help.
“Three simple steps to a clutter-free home“ – oooh, let me read that.
I consume information, research best methods, and read other’s reviews.
And then…nothing changes or the changes are temporary. I am upset with myself until the cycle starts over again.
In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge problem. Am I a horrible person because my home is not Pinterest perfect and I don’t exercise daily? Probably not, but then God opens my eyes and I realize that my spiritual life is caught in this same cycle.
“The 10 best ways to improve your quiet time” – Yes! Let me stop everything and implement a new “system.”
I get burnt out, the goals become burdens, and I find myself oppressed by my spiritual to-do list.
The Law and New Year’s Resolutions
In Give Them Grace, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson give an analogy for parenting with grace, but I find that it applies to this situation as well.
Fitzpatrick and Thompson describe an amusement park ride that places you in a swinging cage with no harnesses or grab bars. Although the ride looks like a simple Ferris wheel, the lack of seeming control and bars to hold on to make the swinging ride scarier than a complicated roller coaster.
The authors state:
Releasing our hold on the law causes us to feel lost and abandoned. No, of course we don’t like the law, but grace is just terrifying, like swinging in that wretched gondola or free falling into faith. Trust that God is that good? Give up trust in ourselves and our own efforts?
Ouch. Desiring easy step-by-step methods has been my way of turning to the law, seeking to have control in earning God’s favor or the favor of others. Deep in my heart, I can hear myself, “If I could just find a system that will finally get me up at 5:00 am every morning to pray and read for two hours, then God, my family, and my friends will see me as a strong Christian.”
If it’s not about my own efforts, then why even try? Why do I even “do” all of these things if
- I know that I am going to repeatedly fail – OR
- Good deeds do not earn God’s favor?
The Heart of Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions
Charles Spurgeon said,
A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.
So, maybe, it is all about the heart.
Prayer and Bible study are not things to be checked off a list. They are means of experiencing God’s grace – how we get to know Him and His character in greater, deeper ways. They drive us to give Him glory.
Ultimately, these truths should change us. As we learn more about God, we learn about the things He hates. Through the Holy Spirit, we then weed these things out of our lives. We also grow in love for Him and others. As the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) increase in us, so does our desire to continue learning and growing. When, by God’s grace, we see glimpses of His glory through the Scripture, the Holy Spirit inclines our heart to seek after Him again and again.
Are you praying, reading your Bible, and going to church because you think that these are good things you are supposed to do – that they will somehow make God love you more? If so, read: Ephesians 2:8-9
Do you practice these things so other people will think you are a “good” Christian? If so, read: Isaiah 2:22; Jeremiah 17:5
One way I can prepare my heart is to put aside, by the Holy Spirit, fleshly distractions (Romans 8:13). For me, my greatest distraction is my phone. If I want to escape the mundane parts of my life, I turn to my phone for entertainment. Because of this, I started a “digital detox challenge.” If I am pursuing this personal challenge with the belief that God’s favor for me will increase, my heart is in the wrong place. Instead, I should put away things that are hindering me from focusing on God’s glory. Yes, there are “action steps” that I am taking to battle this distraction (click here if you want to find my challenge plan), but, ultimately, I will fail or fill my heart with new idols if I am not actively striving to seek God and make His glory known.
What do you think?
What are the motives behind your New Year’s resolutions? Do you struggle with trying to earn God or man’s favor through the spiritual disciplines? Comment below with your answers.
Book: Habits of Grace (available as a free pdf)