This is my 65th New Year. The first few I was completely unaware of, but since then, like a lot of other people, I’ve enjoyed the sense of excitement and optimism that our culture associates with the date. There’s something bracing about turning the page, starting out fresh, doing things better this time around.
Sometimes those among us who have half-empty glasses feel the need to point out a couple of things about the new year—as a public service, of course—
- There’s really no such thing as a new start, you know. We carry with us the consequences of our previous sins and failures and misjudgments.
- If the past is any guide, your good intentions are going to fade in a few days, and statistics show that pretty soon you’re going to be back in the same old rut.
As someone whose glass is perpetually half full—with contents that are quite tasty, thanks—I’ll observe that while those two statements are technically true, they’re practically false by virtue of their incompleteness. Let me explain.
First, it’s true that we carry with us the consequences of our past failures. The founder of my university used to say that if an inebriated bar patron loses an eye in a bar fight, and then gets gloriously converted, he’ll be forgiven, but he’ll never get his eye back. There are consequences of our sin that are inescapable.
True enough. But let’s not forget that he does get gloriously converted, and that’s nothing to slough over. And with conversion comes a whole raft of change and empowerment that will certainly affect the path that the convert takes for the rest of his life.
So yes, you do bring some baggage into this new year, and you can’t pretend that the baggage is weightless. But if you’re a believer, you have the Spirit of God indwelling you, changing your thinking, enabling you to act on that new way of thinking, and surely and powerfully bringing you, over time, into conformity with the Son of God (2Co 3.18). This new year is another step in that sure process.
Divine enablement is a powerful, powerful thing. If your New Year’s resolutions involve spiritual progress, they come with serious momentum behind them.
Now about that second point. Let me note first that statistics don’t “show” anything about the future. They show tendencies about past activities. But rare things do happen.
It’s demonstrably true that most people accomplish less toward their New Year’s resolutions than they intend. But that says nothing about how you’ll do on yours. The fact is that a minority of people do make and maintain significant changes. Somebody’s going to succeed; why can’t you be part of that group? Set reasonable goals, lay out a plan, pray for grace, and go for it.
Maybe you’ll accomplish less than you intend. Fine. But you’ll accomplish something. Refer to point 1.
So much for the naysayers.
My experience also tells me that some new years seem to hold more promise for change than others. In my lifetime, the Big One was Y2K, which involved the potential End of Civilization As We Know It and turned out to be, well, a dud. (Yeah, I filled some containers with water so we’d at least be able to flush the toilet after the End. Can’t hurt to make simple provisions.)
This one is 2020, which is a new decade, and a balanced number, and carries the connotation of clear vision, so who knows? Might be a big year.
But we make too big a deal about Big Years.
Of course our lives include major events—birth, marriage, parenthood, maybe a championship of something, or some other form of public recognition—but the important stuff, the really important stuff, is typically all about simple consistency and attentiveness and faithfulness. The wedding is a Big Deal, but the marriage involves simple daily kindness, gentleness, and thoughtfulness. The birth of your child is a Big Deal, but parenting is a daily slog that is sometimes difficult and frustrating but in the end leaves delightful memories.
So this year, steward your goals, and make them achievable. Make them less about the fireworks and more about faithfulness in the shadows. And watch God keep his promises for your growth in him.
Happy New Year.