How to Succeed in Your New Years Resolutions
How to Succeed in Your New Years Resolutions
This is the time of year when we set new goals in life. We want to kick some bad habits and start some good habits. We want to work on our relationships and start planning more date-nights with our spouses, more activities with our kids, more barbecues with our neighbors. We want to be better disciplined about what we eat and how much time we waste on social media.
The problem is that we’ve tried to set those kinds of goals before. Maybe you came to a point in your marriage where you realized that you were just business partners. You had a company called Family Incorporated and your business was getting kids fed, to school, then to soccer practice, then showered and to bed every day. Then you crashed into bed and woke up and did the same thing the next day.
But then you read a blog post called Seven Steps to a Sizzling Marriage. You said, “This is exactly what we need. This will change everything!” You started the next weekend. You got through steps 1 through 4, but then one of your kids got sick, and you were up with them all night. And then every night for the next week. When life finally got back to normal, you and your spouse tried to get back on track with the seven steps, but by that point you were both just tired and grumpy. You sank back into your old patterns of life and said to yourself, “This is just the way we’ll always be. It is what it is.”
Those are the two opposite ruts we fall into. We set big ambitious goals (usually around the New Year), and then we fail to achieve our goals, so we go to the other extreme. We settle on tiny little manini goals. We just survive.
How will things ever change?
Jesus gave us the answer: “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me” (John 15:5). If you’re connected to the vine, you will bear fruit. It’s not even a question, it’s a guarantee. If you’re close to Jesus, you will bear fruit. Much fruit.
There’s no room in Jesus’ thinking for “a little fruit.” Either there’s no fruit, or there’s much fruit. There’s nothing in between. Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing, which is why you keep failing to reach your big goals. But if you’re connected to Jesus, you’re going to do everything. You’re going to achieve. You’re going to conquer. You’re going to change and grow. It’s guaranteed, because you’re receiving all the sustenance and support you need from the vine.
The reason why we have so much trouble seeing real, long-lasting growth in our lives is because the power and motivation is always outside of us. Think about your New Years’ resolutions. Why do you want to lose weight this year? It’s probably so you’ll look good for somebody else (or a whole lot of somebody else’s). And how are you going to lose weight? You’ll probably buy a set of DVD’s on an infomercial, or you’ll get a membership at a gym. Why do you want to start reading your Bible more? Maybe because other people have said you should, or because you think it will make God more happy with you. How are you going to do it? You’ll find a Bible reading plan online or some smartphone app. You’ll check off boxes every day and feel good about yourself as long as you see more boxes getting checked. It’s all external!
But Jesus says the only path to improvement and growth is from the inside. It’s when you’re intimately connected to him, so that you receive nutrients and water from the vine. It has to come from inside, and it has to come from him. You have to abide in Christ. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” And just in case you’re not sure what it means to abide in Christ, he explains it in the next few verses.
- Ask for Christ’s help. “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8). Stop banging your head against the wall, trying to force the change you want. Just ask for it!
- Live in Christ’s word. That’s the condition for asking: “If you abide in me, and if my words abide in you, then you can ask whatever you wish” (John 15:7). Read it on your own, listen to it in sermons, and discuss it with friends so that it can swirl around your soul and slowly encourage you, convict you, and transform you.
- Live in Christ’s love. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). Allow Christ’s love (demonstrated to you by his death on the cross to pay for your sins) to satisfy all of your needs.
- Follow Christ’s commands. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). That’s what happens when your love for someone grows: you increasingly want to do what makes them happy.
- Receive the Father’s pruning. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). Even if you do your devotionals every day, and serve in a homeless shelter, and share the gospel with everyone you meet … even if you’re bearing all that fruit, God will take out his pruning shears and trim you back a little bit! He’ll make life difficult for you, and it’s not because he doesn’t love you, it’s because he loves you so much that he knows the only way for you to grow and be healthy is to be pruned.
Go ahead. Make some monster New Years resolutions this year. But let them be shaped by Christ’s word, in line with Christ’s commands, and powered by Christ’s love.