By Nate Whitley
Face it. You just can’t help yourself. You tell yourself that you are going to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Next, you write down that you will pray more in the New Year. And since you didn’t fast nearly enough last year, you set the goal of increasing your fasting. “This will be the year,” you tell yourself. Then February and March come traipsing into your life, intruding on all of your well-intentioned resolutions and goals. The months following January are like unwanted houseguests that never seem to leave. What once looked so hopeful quickly turns to just an afterthought. All of the energy and enthusiasm have moved out, and Real Life and all his ruthless friends have moved in.
A U.S. Government survey shows almost half of all Americans make some kind of New Year’s resolution, but most don’t keep them. 75% will last a week, 64% will keep them for a month, and only 46% will ever make it to the six-month mark. Those are not inspiring odds.
What will keep you focused on your spiritual resolutions beyond the first month? The answer to that question is discipline. Enthusiasm is fickle, and inspiration is fleeting. Each wears off faster than your morning cup of coffee. What we need is discipline. But discipline, in and of itself; is not enough. A nineteen-year-old pastor by the name of Jonathan Edwards penned in his diary some guidelines, which he came to call his “Resolutions:’ These seventy resolutions were quite towering in their scope. Before Edwards got to number one, however, he offered an introductory word:
“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will for Christ’s sake.”
Discipline without the grace of God is futile. Do not overlook the necessity of God’s grace in reaching your spiritual resolutions for the upcoming New Year. Without God’s grace enabling us to keep our resolutions we are certain to fail. But if we do fail (and we will), then we can rest in the grace of God to pick us up to start over again.
Nothing can be more detrimental to achieving your spiritual resolutions than setting goals so high even Goliath couldn’t reach them. But you also don’t want to set your goals so low that Zacchaeus could high jump over them. Be realistic. If you have never read your Bible through from beginning to end, then don’t set a goal of reading it five times this year. Get a Bible reading plan and read the given chapters. Then, if you are feeling audacious, you could read ahead.
If you want to increase your prayer time, then begin by increasing it little by little. It’s incredibly difficult trying to pray for an hour when you have never done it before. Try increasing your prayer time by 5-10 minutes each time. After you have done that for a few weeks, or months, increase it a little bit more.
Resolve is being completely committed to achieving a goal. Being resolved is a discipline in itself. A prizefighter has to continually train to become a champion. He takes the punches, and keeps getting back up. You have to have the mindset that your spiritual resolutions are worth fighting for. Praying more is invaluable. Studying the Bible is priceless. Fasting is worth the struggle. So you keep getting back up when you miss your prayer time. You put the gloves back on when you forget to read your Bible. This is resolve.
Paul writes to Timothy, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7 ESV). We are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Godliness is worth the struggle of attaining our spiritual resolutions. Granted, it will be difficult after the high of enthusiasm has faded. But you must be resolved that your spiritual health is of far greater value than bodily exercise (1 Tim. 4:8).
In order for a life to be altered for greater godliness, there has to be a plan of action. Discipline takes time. Bursts of enthusiasm may create a certain level of excitement, and for a short time there may be some results. But a spiritually disciplined lifestyle has to be sustainable.