Forbes reported last year that some sixty-five (65%) percent of adult Americans— 164 million people—have made New Year’s resolutions. The top five categories for New Year’s Resolutions in America are as follows:
In 2017, Twitter analyzed the contents of tweets and expanded this list to include things like reading more, being kinder, volunteering time, donating money and renewing old friendships or forming new ones. How about you, Gracious Reader – is the New Year’s Resolution a part of your yearly routine?
As a schoolteacher, every new school year started with a clean slate and a sense of optimism and opportunity for each student. As a tennis coach, each player along with the team started the new season with an unblemished record and the commitment to compete at a higher level than the previous season. How many parents holding their newborn baby promised never to err in the raising and nurturing of this precious life? How many consumers assured themselves when they bought a new computer that they would finally keep all their documents – and especially all those pictures – organized in well-named folders?
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” “Once begun is half done.” There are only so many fresh starts and we naturally want to do the most with them.
During the twelve-day festival known as Akitu (or Akitum,) the Babylonians introduced the forerunner of the modern-day New Year’s Resolution. Promises were made upon which the prosperity of the upcoming year depended. Much more than a personal commitment to do better, these commitments, when honored, pleased the Babylonian god; failure resulted in unwelcome consequences.
So what of the Christian – is there any verse or passage in the Bible which encourages or mandates an annual commitment to improvement? So … NO! Countless verses remind us that God is continuing His work: “He who began a good work in us will complete it!” “God is the author and the finisher of our faith!” “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.” (For a more detailed look at the tension between God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility, you may want to take a look at The Sovereignty of Man available at our bookstore.)
Paul throughout 2 Corinthians defends himself to his readers. Chapter 10 opens with Paul defending his approach to teaching. Chapter 11 reveals Paul defending his apostleship. In Chapter 12, Paul defends his affection for the believers of the church at Corinth. Paul opens Chapter 13 acknowledging that his readers “seek a proof” that Christ is speaking through him. And finally in verse 5, Paul challenges his readers to “Examine yourselves (to see) whether you are in the faith.”
Paul patiently, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, addressed their concerns, doubts and even insults. And as he closes his letter, he refocuses the inspection back on the believers at Corinth. “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” Socrates is generally credited with coining the phrase, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While not a Biblical passage, it aligns with Paul’s mindset as he challenged his readers to look to themselves and not to undermine others. We are called to discernment; we are not called to denigration.
As I have committed over the years to use each New Year as a time of prayerful examination, I have resisted the in-the-flesh resolution to improve myself. This examination is not one of the heart—instead I consider the fruit of my life. Jesus taught, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.” I will not share what these “fruit inspections” revealed, but instead I invite you, Gracious Reader, to consider this as your “New Year’s Resolution.” Not the appeasing of the Babylonian god; not the strong declaration of self-help psychology–take an honest look at the fruit of your service and the fruit of the Spirit May 2021 truly be a year of abundant harvest as we plant and water while God provides the increase in both our lives and in our churches.