New Year’s resolutions can be an important first step, but they are a far cry from real, lasting change.
The ringing in of a new year brings with it the possibility of a fresh start, or at least a fresh reminder to turn the page on some (or many) ways we’d like to grow and mature in the next season of life. But haven’t we all tried this enough times by now to know how futile mere resolves are if not accompanied by more?
Whether it’s eating and exercise, or Bible-reading and prayer, the God-created mechanism we call “habit” is vital for seeing our earnest resolutions through to enjoyable realities. If we really are resolved to see our hopes for 2017 become life-enriching habits, we will do well to keep several basic truths in mind at the outset of a new year.
Focus on a Few, Not Many.
Better than big emotional, private resolves about the many things you want to “fix” about your life is dialing in just one or two realistic, and really important, resolves with a concrete plan and specific accountability. The excitement of a new year, and ease with which we can desire change, often leads us to bite off way more than we can chew for a new year.
It’s much better to focus on just a couple new habits — even better, just one. And if you’re going to narrow it to just one (or maybe a couple or three), you might as well make it count. Identify something important that will give your new-habit-forming particular focus, even while this one resolve will reap benefits in other areas of your life. Soul-strengthening “habits of grace” are precisely this. Going deeper in God’s word, prayer, or your local church will produce an invaluable harvest.
Consider a specific focus for the new year, or just the first three months of 2017, or even just January. A year is a long period of time in terms of habit-forming; typically we would do much better to just make one resolve at a time, and do so every few months, than to attempt many things and for so long a period as twelve months.
Make It Specific.
Bible intake, prayer, and Christian community likely are too broad in and of themselves. Give it more specific focus like reading the whole Bible this year, or not just reading but daily meditating on a short passage or verse, or even just a word or phrase (in context). Don’t keep it general at “prayer,” but make it more particular: private prayer each morning, or bedtime prayer with your spouse or family, or punctuating your day with “constant prayer,” or some new prayer initiative as a community group or church.
Perhaps as the old year is coming to a close, you’re realizing how spotty your church commitment has been, and how thin your relationships are as a result. You might resolve to deepen your commitment to not neglect your meeting together “as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25), whether that’s making Sunday mornings more nonnegotiable or prioritizing your midweek investment in life together in community group. Resolve in 2017 not to let silly last-minute excuses keep you from faithfully gathering with the body of Christ, which will be a priceless, long-term means of God’s grace both to you and through you, to others.