By Meredith Cook
You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about New Year’s when we’ve yet to finish celebrating the joyous Christmas season.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m a regular “Buddy the Elf” who loves Christmas and everything about it.
But I’m also a planner. Around this time of year, I start looking ahead to the next year to determine my goals and how to achieve them.
From Fickle New Year’s Resolutions to Disciplined Image Bearers
The problem with typical New Year’s resolutions is that we often set impossible standards and, perhaps, think too highly of ourselves and what we can accomplish.
The standard New Year’s resolution tends to be focused merely on improving ourselves. But self-improvement is a feeble motivation—one that can be quickly redefined.
When self-improvement is our motivation, New Year’s resolutions become less about developing long-term disciplines and more about catering to whims that shift like the wind.
Instead of trying to fulfill New Year’s resolutions for the sake of self-improvement, our motivation to be disciplined should come from recognizing we’re God’s image-bearers.
We don’t simply aim to make ourselves better; we strive to develop disciplines that will help us glorify God, steward what He’s given us, and grow in Christlikeness.
Prioritizing for Spiritual Formation
When we shift our thinking from self-focused New Year’s resolutions to God-centered disciplines, our priorities shift as well.
Striving for spiritual growth requires we determine how to best use our limited amount of time. That often means the resolutions we may have previously valued lose significance compared to other spiritually-formative disciplines.
Most believers would agree that spending time in Scripture and prayer is vital to spiritual well-being. These disciplines should always be part of a Christian’s New Year’s goals.
But this year, consider how you might spend your time on other disciplines, even if it means sacrificing your time spent on the traditional laundry list of resolutions.
In addition to reading the Bible and praying, memorizing Scripture helps us set our minds on the things of God (1 Chronicles 22:19; Colossians 3:2).
Pastor Andy Davis says, “Memorization is a form of deep meditation on the text, and it drives Scripture deeper into our hearts.”
Evangelism is another vital discipline—one that’s often neglected. Though some Christians are gifted evangelists, all believers are called to share the gospel.
Ask the Lord to give you boldness to share His truth with those around you. Resolve to share the gospel more often this year.
There are other common resolutions that can be turned into God-focused disciplines. Examples are budgeting (in order to tithe faithfully) and healthy living (so our physical bodies will be fit for the work God has given us).
Ask the Lord to show you areas in which you’re weak, to give you strength and wisdom as you pursue spiritual formation, and to make you more like Jesus in the process.
As you do this, you can also take steps now to prepare for the year ahead.
A Practical Way Forward
There’s no multi-step program that will guarantee we become disciplined and sanctified. But as we increasingly set our minds on things above, the Lord works in us, giving us His strength to pursue holiness.
It’s not a passive process, though. There are at least ways we can actively participate in this work.
1. Set Reasonable Goals.
Prayerfully set these goals and ask for the Lord’s guidance. Our sin nature presents all kinds of challenges to our daily lives, and goals help us focus on the tasks at hand.
Remember that God’s mercies are new every morning, and that He strengthens us for the day ahead. Keep your eyes fixed on Him even in seemingly mundane daily tasks.
2. Research and use tools.
There are lots of tools—many which are free—to help us stay on track. And it’s not hard to find them.
Your local church may offer evangelism training. You can easily find all types of Bible-reading plans online. There are several good apps to help you memorize Scripture.
Take advantage of these tools.
Spiritual formation can seem overwhelming. How do we know we’re doing it right? Why do we constantly seem to give into sin? How can we live up to God’s standards?
If we don’t have the right mindset, these questions can paralyze us.
The freeing truth is that God hasn’t left us alone. He doesn’t expect us to sanctify ourselves. His standards are not too high because, in Christ, He’s given us all we need to become more like Him.
The best way forward is just to start. Start reading your Bible, start praying, start sharing the gospel. Trust that the Lord will work in you to accomplish his good purposes (Philippians 2:13).
Meredith is the wife of Keelan, an editor for IMB.org, and an M.Div graduate in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.