Do you have a New Years resolution? I have a track record of failed resolutions. In 2013, I vowed to learn Spanish. In 2014, I promised to stop interrupting people. 2017 has arrived, and I’m embarrassed to say that no hablo español, and I do still interrupt in English.
But some things need to be interrupted, like the way we do resolutions. Perhaps you’re the exception. If your personal growth has risen to new heights with each passing January, stop reading this and go become a motivational speaker or something. But if, like me, you’ve fought a losing battle to become the best version of yourself, keep reading. You’ll discover one thing that can change everything.
Where Did Resolutions Come From?
New Years resolutions are actually quite old. In ancient Babylon, the people made promises to their gods at the beginning of each year, resolving to pay debts and return borrowed items. The Romans made annual promises to Janus (the god of January).
What about the God of Christianity? Does He want us to make promises to Him? Can He help us reach our goals? To answer these questions, let’s rewind a few thousand years to discover how not to make a resolution.
Resolutions Gone Wrong
The children of Israel once made a very ambitious spiritual resolution. God had just given His Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. He instructed Moses to tell the people that if they would simply obey His covenant, they would be blessed above all nations.
But if our resolutions are worthless, how can we ever expect to become better versions of ourselves?
The people could see the beauty in God’s design, and knew the rules were for their own good. They responded with all the motivation human nature could muster:
“All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7,ESV).
Inspiring, right? But fast forward just eight chapters and you’ll see this same group dancing around a golden calf. So much for human motivation.
Have you ever broken a promise you really wanted to keep? I have. Why do we do this? The answer is found in a little book called Steps to Christ, which says that human “resolutions are like ropes of sand” (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 47).
But if our resolutions are worthless, how can we ever expect to become better versions of ourselves? How can we hope to heal, grow, and become fully alive like Jesus wants us to be? Are we supposed to play passive roles in our own growth?
“The whole spiritual life is molded by our conceptions of God…”
Actually, no. The Bible presents a radical plan for personal growth, but it does it in an upside-down way. Let’s take a look at three Bible characters who revolutionized their resolutions by doing just one thing.
King David was a busy guy. He had countless horses, chariots, buildings, battles, and people to keep up with. He had many personal and political goals. But he condensed these goals into one simple resolution:
“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4, NIV, emphasis supplied).
David knew that the one thing, the only thing, that could make him truly successful was time in the presence of God, and not just time, but time gazing upon the beauty of God’s character. Why is this gazing so important? Because, as Ellen White says, “The whole spiritual life is molded by our conceptions of God; and if we cherish erroneous views of His character, our souls will sustain injury. We should see in God one who yearns toward the children of men, longing to do them good” (Review and Herald, Jan. 14, 1890).
Jesus taught this same principle to Martha a thousand years later. This power-woman knew how to make things happen. On this particular occasion, her goal was to throw an extraordinary dinner party for Jesus and His friends. But something was wrong, so she came to tell Jesus:
“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40, NKJV).
With a gentle voice and a twinkle in His eye, Jesus let Martha know her priorities were off:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, NKJV, emphasis supplied).
Are you busy with many things? In the rat race of life, it’s easy to forget the one thing.
But the one thing is the big thing. It’s the thing. Why? Because the one thing connects us to the only One who’s capable of guiding our paths, giving us success, and accomplishing all the many things we try to accomplish without Him. The one thing is less about a checklist and more about a relationship.
Paul knew this secret. He lived his life trying to do many “good” things, until he realized they were worthless without Jesus:
“And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:6-8, NLT).”
Paul’s paradigm had radically shifted from a list of rules to a relationship. His new goal was just one thing:
“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:1314, NKJV, emphasis mine).
This year, you’re invited to experience the same beautiful reality these Bible characters did: an authentic, close connection with Jesus. He wants to speak to you through prayer, the Bible, nature, and community. He wants to whisper His love through the intentional time you set aside for one thing.
…there’s certainly no need to be discouraged if you’ve failed before.
Quiet time doesn’t make God love you more or earn spiritual brownie points. Jesus’ righteousness is the one and only thing in which you can safely trust. But quiet time connects you with the God of generosity. It creates a channel through which He can infuse your life with His custom-made blessings.
Jesus knows you’re busy and cares about the many things you have to do. So He even threw in a promise to remind you that time in His presence will actually make you more productive:
“But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).
So this year, why not try a relational resolution? New Years resolutions aren’t worthless. In fact, people who make specific goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Rest assured that this particular resolution is one that Jesus will help you with.
Speaking of goals, there’s certainly no need to be discouraged if you’ve failed before. Did you know the more times someone tries to quit smoking, the more likely he or she is to succeed? What if that same reality applies to our spiritual lives? Every past failed attempt to reach this goal may simply have been practice for today.
Let’s follow the example of David, Mary, and Paul. Let’s not miss out on the one thing Jesus wants to give us. May our new year be filled with the “good portion.” May it be marked by an intentional simplicity that allows for the quiet moments we so desperately need.
Today, and every day, choose the one thing.
Elise studies theology at Andrews University. A registered nurse, her background is in health ministry and resource development. She is the coauthor of Goodbye Diabetes, Diabetes Undone and graduated from ARISE in 2007.