It’s that time again, when New Year’s resolutions become more difficult to obey. Our best intentions have somehow morphed into reminders of our human weakness, and our self-imposed promises to do better have become rigid taskmasters we look to avoid.
For many of the men and women in your congregation, this is a difficult few weeks, the make-it-or-break-it time for their spiritual resolutions.
Back in December, committing to pray for an hour a day seemed like a good idea. So did reading through the entire Bible, volunteering more at church, and being faithful to give more.
Now we’re deep into January, and we’re all coming face to face with some version of Romans 7:15—”I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do.”
But all is not lost, and you, pastor, have a glorious opportunity to remind your church that the gospel is not about creating new laws to live by; it’s about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Every relationship has ups and downs, and it’s often through the tough times that we grow closer together.
Encourage your church to press forward
There are few things more devastating for our walk with Jesus than the feeling that we’ve let Him down. No one wants to make a promise to the Lord and then fail to keep that promise. But there are two things to keep in mind when we think about our New Year’s resolutions:
#1. Our best intentions are just that—our best.
They were meant to produce good fruit in our lives. Remember that. Just because the road got tough, that doesn’t mean we were traveling the wrong path.
Now is the time to keep pressing forward, even if the pace is slower than when we first set out.
With the exception of Jesus Himself, it’s hard to think of a single biblical figure who didn’t stumble, trip, or otherwise fall flat on their face from time to time as they walked with God. We’re not alone in our struggles.
#2. It’s not how we start; it’s how we finish.
The apostle Paul wrote this about the Christian life: “Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Our ability to keep our New Year’s resolutions isn’t a measure of our love for God, of course, but we ought to do whatever we can to become more like Jesus. When we fall down in our prayer life or in our study of the Bible, or any other area of devotion, let’s make sure to get right back up again.
As long as there’s breath in our lungs, let’s pursue Jesus with everything we have.
Encourage your church to live by grace
As Christians, our goal is to give ourselves completely to Jesus. In response to His overwhelming love for us, we shouldn’t hold anything back. But our relationship with Him is only possible because of His grace.
We human beings seem to have a real problem with grace. We don’t like to admit it, but there’s something in our flesh that makes us want to earn our own way. We don’t like to be dependent on anyone, even the Lord.
In the first century, the Christians in Galatia had a difficult time believing God could accept them as they were. As a result, they fell for a lie that said they needed to be circumcised in order to earn God’s approval.
What was Paul’s response to these Galatians? “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). Let these words be a reminder that we won’t get very far if we try to do it all on our own.
What we need is not more willpower, but more of God’s presence in our lives. So let’s make time for Him. Let’s pray and ask Him to guide our steps.
We were not saved by our works, and we don’t keep our salvation by anything we do either. It is grace, from beginning to end.
That means that, regardless of the commitments we made at the start of the year, nothing we do can earn us a spot at God’s table. We already have one. Likewise, nothing we fail to do will get us booted from the party.
Struggling with our spiritual New Year’s resolutions might just be the opportunity we need to lean into God’s grace.
Encourage your church to make a new resolution
Finally, let’s remember that in the end, there’s only one resolution that matters: to know Jesus.
When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, he reminded them of how he had decided to live his life: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
That’s what all our resolutions are about anyway, right?
- Are people in your church trying to read through the Old and New Testaments this year? I’m guessing it’s to know Jesus better.
- Do you know someone trying their hardest to set aside more time for prayer? I imagine it’s because they want to spend more time in conversation with the Lord.
- Anyone trying to serve others more? Is it because that’s what Jesus did?
- Is someone looking to be more generous with their money? I wonder if that’s a response to the immeasurable gift they’ve received from Jesus.
All of these resolutions are good and right and wonderful, but at their core, they’re really all driving at the same desire in your heart—to know more of Jesus.
Whether the men and women in your church have already given up on their resolutions or are soldiering through Leviticus in their through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, encourage them to keep their eyes on Jesus. He’s the whole point of it all.
Over to you
The best resolutions are the ones that stick with us for the long haul. As believers, “the long haul” is nothing short of eternity. May that be an encouragement to you, pastor, as you keep your own eyes fixed on Jesus.