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Resolutions: Aladdin vs. Jonathan Edwards

The much-maligned ritual of making New Year’s resolutions has fallen on hard times. One problem is most people want their wish magically granted. This Aladdin-like, genie-in-a-bottle, approach is why many New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February. In our quick fix, microwavable, take-a-pill-to-lose-weight, culture we often make resolutions devoid of the necessary resolve to see them through. Aside from a well-known failure rate, there are other problems with these vows of fortitude made at the beginning of every year.

First, our approach can teeter dangerously on the edge of self-salvation. “My life isn’t what I’d like it to be so I will turn things around! I will get a better job this year so I can improve my life.” In this process, we see a problem and then assume that we can also be the solution through our own determination. The reality—as many of us know—is more complex than that. Change happens best in the context of a supportive community, and we will inevitably fail if we attempt significant life change in our own power. Change happens through God’s power.

Second, our resolutions often give disproportionate significance to a single area of life. We assume that the problems our resolutions will solve are the only things standing in the way of our our complete happiness, growth, or true meaning. So, our resolutions hang around our necks as a magical key to unlock the abundant life. This can be imprudent for multiple reasons: it reveals misplaced priorities, it’s a narrow view of the good life, and misses Jesus. The good life comes from Christ. The gospel brings life.

 

Aladdin: Tempted By The Genie Approach

1 Kings 3 challenges our way of looking at and making resolutions. In this chapter, we find an interesting contrast to our New Year’s resolutions in an interaction between God and Solomon. In this rare display of wish granting, God asks Solomon to make a wish. He says, “Ask what you wish me to give you.” In this moment, Solomon could have asked for anything.

If God asked you or me what our one wish would be for the coming year, how would we respond? Would we ask to lose 20 pounds? To stop smoking? To have a prosperous year? More safety? More comfort? Better family? Solomon’s response was astounding. He asked that he would be able to understand justice for the sake of better serving God and his people (1 Kings 3:9). Essentially Solomon’s one wish was to be divinely equipped to serve others better.

God’s reaction to Solomon’s response reveals what lies within most of our hearts. God has come to expect us to lust after physical and financial excellence above all else. Affirming Solomon’s request, God said,

Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself…behold, I have done according to your words. – 1 Kings 3:11-12

God knew that most people would be tempted to ask for health and wealth. God was impressed that Solomon did not follow suit.

It isn’t necessarily wrong to have good health and money. In fact, God decided to give Solomon the long life and riches for which he had not asked for in addition to the wisdom and understanding for which he had asked. Let us follow this same pattern as we consider resolutions–New Year’s or otherwise–in our lives. Let’s focus first on loving God and loving others before moving on to ancillary issues. What Solomon understood is this truth: to serve well we need God’s empowerment.

We should evaluate what needs to change this year through the lens of others-centeredness instead of self-centeredness. What will make you a better neighbor, a more joyful employee, a more faithful ambassador for Christ? Any of these categories may or may not require physical or financial alterations in the coming year. But they will require Christ’s work.

 

Edwards: Grounded By A Christian Approach

Our endeavors aren’t all bad, though. David Powlison has noted the profundity of some resolutions:

“[They] express a sensed need of moral reformation. Gluttony, laziness, drunkenness, overspending and debt, loveless isolation from others, joyless workaholism, peaceless anxiety, restless entertainment, sexual self-indulgence, bitterness and estrangement from kith and kin, slovenly disorganization…[resolutions] are not trivial matters…”

Resolutions are not trivial. They demonstrate an awareness that our hearts and lives are not as they should be–that we are in need of revival. We need transformation. Then, how should we make our resolutions and persevere in keeping them?

Perhaps the most famous set of resolutions made by a Christian were the 70 made by Jonathan Edwards. His resolutions, penned in 1722, were prefaced with this sentence:

“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.”  

Not only did he write them once, but Edwards meditated weekly on these 70 resolutions. Praying this same prayer, he asked for and sought after God’s glory.

In this simple introduction, Edwards offers find several tips for how a Christian should make resolutions.

  • First, there should be a humble approach that recognizes it is God’s strength that we rely on for resolve and victory. Resolutions are not for the purpose of self-salvation; they are for Christ’s sake and his glory. When we assume self-salvation, or sola bootstrapa, we are in dangerous territory. To confess Christ means we have stopped trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Instead, we rely on Jesus raise us.
  • Second, we must yield to his will. Health and wealth isn’t promised to any of us. God may want you to have a more prosperous year. Then again, he may not. To confess Christ is to submit our will to his. Not only does this become our posture in resolutions but for daily life. We make resolutions by asking, “God, what do you want to do in and through me this year?”
  • Third, our goal should be the glory of Christ. If our impetus in resolution making is self-glorification, then we are beginning with improper motives. Time and again, the posture of self-glorification leads to either personal pride or despair. However, seeking God’s glory brings peace.
  • Finally, just as Edwards did, we must review our resolutions on a consistent basis. We also need to seek accountability.

Get Started!

What are some areas of life where God might be calling you to re-focus? What could God grant you that would allow you to serve and love others better? What victories over sin might God want to give you for his sake? Are your resolutions for Christ’s sake and glory?

Also, get around others who share a common passion. You can’t run this race alone. Undoubtedly, there are some wonderful people at your local church who would love to see you grow in numerous areas this coming year. Community calls us to remember Christ and our commitment to him. They remind us we are doing it through Christ’s power when we are foolishly trying to act in our own. Christian community reminds us of our need for repentance and heart change we chase our own will. They don’t hold the mirror up to us; they hold Christ up. If you are going to change in 2013, it will be through Christ and his people.

May 2013 be a year when you resolve–by God’s strength and for his glory–to make some serious life change both spiritually and physically.

 

Jason Seville (Th.M) lives in Memphis, TN with his wife, Kim, and daughters, Sydney & Sophie. They are members at First Evangelical Church, and Jason is on staff with Downline Ministries, where he writes curriculum, teaches, and heads up Downline Builder. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonCseville

Read Winfield Bevin’s book, The Holy Spirit.

Read more free articles:  The Daily Gospel by Matthew Simms and Rethinking Devotion by Matt Manry