Will you be making any new year’s resolutions tonight? Will you promise yourself that in the new year you will get up at 6 every morning and do half an hour’s exercise before going to work? Or that you will eat fresh fruit every day? Maybe you will resolve that this year you will spend more time with your family or friends. If you’re a churchgoer, maybe you’re going to think in terms of getting up earlier each morning to start the day with some good quality prayer time.
But whatever your new year’s resolutions might be, whatever it is that you would like to change about yourself and the way you live, how are you going to make it happen?
Can you make it happen?
Or are we just setting ourselves up for failure when we make these resolutions? I know, it’s very tempting. A new year feels like the right time for a new start, a time for change. But if you’ve lived on this earth for a bit longer than a decade you will know by now that you’ve seen new years come and go and the truth is that not much has changed. The truth is that we make these resolutions with all the best intentions in the world, and if all it took was to have good intentions, we’d all be wonderfully healthy shiny people by now.
Of course I used to do it, I used to make all sorts of decisions, not just at new year. Sometimes it was when I’d been to church and heard an inspiring sermon – it was very easy to go home thinking, oh yes, I really will start praying more often; or, I really will read the Bible every day. Sometimes it was a book that inspired me. There were all sorts of things that would make me think that I could really do with changing some things about my life.
There were the sermons/books/whatever that reminded me that as a Christian I’m supposed to be loving, kind and patient. And oh how I tried!!! I kept trying. Now and again the miracle happened and I succeeded – managed to behave in a loving way towards someone at work who generally wound me up – but more often than not I failed miserably. I particularly remember one day at work when I spent half the afternoon quarrelling with a colleague (by email!) over a pair of scissors. When the boss heard about it he sent us both an email saying: I think you’re both pathetic and you need your heads banged together. And he was right, it was pathetic behaviour. And especially pathetic on my part as I claimed to be a Christian!
The trouble is, I was trying to be a Christian but I was trying to do it in my own strength, and that’s just impossible. Love your neighbour as yourself – does that sound humanly possible? Of course it isn’t. Our human nature is selfish and self-centred – yes, we do have that godly bit inside us that brings out some degree of kindness and charity, because we were made in God’s image after all. But his image in us has been spoiled since the Fall, so kindness doesn’t come so naturally to us. If someone steps on your toe, your instinctive reaction is to express anger in some way, not to forgive.
For years I managed to go to church regularly and still miss the point. Thinking of myself as a Christian and wondering why I found it so hard to live up to that name. Sometimes not even wondering – sometimes not realising that I wasn’t living up to it.
What was the point that I’d missed, you ask? Just this: that it is humanly impossible to live God’s way, that without his help no one can do it, and that’s why Jesus came to die, to pay the penalty that we deserve, because in our own strength we can’t make it okay, no matter how many good deeds we do, no matter how many grannies we help across the road, we just haven’t got it in us to make up for our sinful nature and we haven’t got it in us to change the way we are!
It was on 1 July 2002 that I finally came to the point of surrendering to Jesus, admitting that I can’t get it right, that I need his help, thanking him from the bottom of my heart that he accepted the death penalty instead of me, and asking him to be fully and totally and completely in charge of my life from that moment on.
Up to then, I’d been allowing him into bits of me here and there, so some change had been happening. But the moment that I gave my life over to him completely, that’s when I was really given a new start, a new life, and it’s him who has been changing me from the inside, it’s not my efforts to be a better person.
New year’s resolution? Here’s the only resolution that is really worth making: resolve to give your life over to Jesus now, this moment, repent of your sins (that means not just saying sorry but making a conscious choice to turn away from them, to change your ways, with God’s help), thank him for dying in your place, and accept him as your lord and master. Then you will experience a real new start, a new life.