It’s New Year’s Day and I have to admit this year I’m thankful that nobody has asked me if I’ve made any resolutions. I can only remember one year in my life where I actually made a list of resolutions. It was at church when one of the elders invited everyone to make a list and he would mail it to you in six months to remind you what you had resolved to do. This way you could either celebrate your success or recommit to your effort. The elder was a friend of mine and I thought he was very generous to take on such a task so I went along with it. When the list arrived in the mail I laughed and sent him an email telling him I was impressed with his follow-through.
My list was fairly benign and I’d created it in light of my Type A personality. I wasn’t going to put anything on the list I didn’t think I could have a moderate degree of success with. This isn’t to say I don’t ever set lofty goals for myself. I do. I’ve just never been on board with the idea of doing it at the start of the year. I don’t fast during Lent either so you could say I’m trouble. I live in Colorado and I’m not a Bronco fan and I grew up in Los Angeles and I’m not a Laker fan so this is all par for the course with me. With some things I just have to be difficult. My parents can attest to this.
Even with New Year’s Day falling on a Saturday the boys and I are planning to go to church this evening like we normally try to do. We were, however, a little worried about who might be preaching tonight because on a holiday you don’t always get the “A” Team. I know you are appalled I’ve said this because it shouldn’t matter who is preaching. Sadly, for all my years in ministry I’m not that different from a lot of folks. Sometimes I’ll see the line-up at church and not want to go. This would actually suggest I should make a New Year’s resolution to attend church more regularly but you’ve already figured out I’m not going to do that.
Looking at the line-up we figured out the message was about – yes you guessed it, “Resolutions”. The boys laughed and looked at me and Chase because he can’t help but be honest said, “I hope they don’t say anything stupid.” I almost died laughing. Luke the pragmatist said, “Oh Chase it could be good and maybe we need it.” Me I said, “We know the worship will be good” but then out of guilt I had to follow that up with, “God’s word cannot go out void”. I’ve grown up in the church and that’s the perspective I know I should have.
Why so jaded? Why so cynical? Is it a reflection of the year I’ve had? Is it because it’s ridiculously cold outside and I don’t like that? Is it because I’m tired after all the hustle and bustle of the holidays? Yes, yes, and yes. There’s more to it though.
The top three resolutions heading into the New Year for Christians are spend more time reading my Bible, spend more time praying, and attend church regularly. The cynical perspective looking at these top three is that people do this because they’ve heard they should. The optimistic perspective to consider with these resolutions is that a person wants to grow closer in their relationship with God. These are spiritual disciplines that can bear that fruit. However, the Pharisees were hyper-vigilant about these disciplines and didn’t actually grow closer to God. They were just slaves to lists of things a devout believer was supposed to do.
The irony for me is that New Year’s resolutions are a practice that dates back to the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. The Israelites (God’s chosen people) became captives of the Babylonians and were assimilated into their culture thus losing their identity. Tragically after escaping the slavery of Egypt they became slaves again to the Babylonians forgetting everything they’d learned in captivity before. It’s a classic metaphor for how most of us live our lives. We free ourselves from one form of slavery only to find ourselves in bondage to another. Why? More often than not it’s because we lose our way in terms of what our focus should really be.
This is what I hate about resolutions because most of the time the list of things you are a resolved to do doesn’t come from the heart it comes from the head. We make lists of things we ought to do and then become a slave to them. We live with a tyranny of “ought to’s”. I ought to do this, that, and the other thing and then when I fail I’ll beat myself up about it. This is a cycle that only sets you up for self-deprecation not nourishing your soul.
With all that said I’m headed to church tonight. I don’t have the best attitude about it because I think the message might be something very formulaic like, “Make the Ten Commandments Your New Year’s Resolutions”. Still I’m going because I do find great value in worshipping the God I love so very much. I don’t have a list of resolutions to take with me and if asked I’ll be as stubborn as ever. I will however, turn to the page in my journal where I’ve written my great hope for the year. It’s the hope that with a sincere effort I can learn more about how Jesus – God’s perfect Son who was also fully man handled the hard things in life.
I want to know more about how he wrestled with demons and agonized in prayer. I want to understand how he bore his heartbreak and what he did when he felt betrayed and insulted. How is it that He could do good for people who hurt and opposed him? How was he able to live with injustice and how was he able to accept the outcome of his unanswered prayers? I want to know these things because I believe they are the key to living with the freedom I believe God wants me to have. Freedom from the lists of “ought to’s and shoulds” that gives way to freedom found in the how and why.