New Year’s Resolutions and Reconnecting With God

I confess I’ve learned NOT to make what are typically called “New Year’s Resolutions.” But I do create goals for every new year, based on a review of last year’s goals and a reflection on where my life is at. I typically take at least a day early in the year to review a written report created at the same time last year, and to create a new one outlining last year’s successes and failures, and setting goals in various areas of my life.

I learned this practice in college (in a great “intercession” communications class at Biola on writing for personal enrichment). The class taught us how to create an “annual report” on our life, very similar in structure to a corporate annual report. I’ve attempted to complete this ever since then (more than 40 years ago now), and this treasure trove of annual reports (accessible to no one but me) has been a blessing in my life.

(I appreciate my favorite professor, Dr. Lowell Saunders, who taught this class and passed on so many great life skills! Now he’s passed on to be with Jesus, but I owe him no small debt.)

I mentioned that I don’t make “resolutions.” I suppose goals are very similar, but somehow not calling them resolutions lessens the anxiety level associated with achieving them. A resolution is either pass/fail; and it’s easy to fail. But a goal is something you work toward, and celebrate when you achieve it.

I said that I set goals in different areas. I also attempt to prioritize these areas. For me, these include:

Spiritual: I am convinced that the first priority of each of our lives should be our connection with our creator, which is spiritual. Do we have a sense for what our lives with God’s input should be like? Are we hearing from Him? Communicating with Him? Committed to being on the path He desires us to be on?

Church family: My role in the Body of Christ is closely related to this first goal and therefore of secondary importance. What is my relationship with the family of Christ like? Am I serving and blessing others in the way that God wants me to?

Home family: My relationship with my wife and children flows from the higher level commitments and is therefore of next importance. Are the lines of communication open? Am I leading my family as I should? Is there peace and harmony and an environment in which everyone can thrive?

My health and personal well-being: My body is called a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Am I treating it with the respect God demands, and investing in my emotional, mental, and physical health and well being as best I am able?

Career and work: Most of us are called to a career, to provide income for our families, church and ministry. Am I growing in that career and doing the best I can to witness to Christ and serve others within that context? If retired, am I seeking God’s best use of my time in ministry and service?

Community service: We are each citizens … of our community (including our immediate neighbors and beyond), our village or city, our county or area, our state or region, our country, and our world. Are we serving faithfully as God calls us to submit and serve to governing authorities? Are we seeking to steward well all that He has asked us to steward?

These priority areas are all obviously intertwined, so I’m open to any necessary adjustments on where things fall on the spectrum. (For instance, many Christians would place our responsibility to our home family above that of our responsibility to our church family. Recently my reflection on this area has made me feel differently.) But the first priority is the most important and the one I am not interested in adjusting. As human beings we are clearly called in Scripture to make our very first priority our relationship with God. Jesus repeated the words of the Torah when He said:

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

As we enter 2023 and I am preparing to complete my 2022 annual report, God is once again impressing upon me the importance of keeping first things first. The communication lines with God have to be open. I have to be listening intently, or else little else matters.

In light of this, I have been reflecting on Christ’s challenging words to His disciples on the final night of His life here on earth:

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:1-15)

What really caught my attention is the last three verses in the quoted portion. Jesus had told His disciples hard truth, and they were wrestling with it. He acknowledges there are many more things that need to be said … but the disciples “could not bear them now.” But Jesus would say these things, in time, through the agency of the Holy Spirit (who fell upon the disciples in power, as we know, in Acts 2). The Holy Spirit .. the Third Person of the Trinity … would “not speak on his own authority,” even as Christ Himself (the Second Person of the Trinity) did not speak on His own authority, but only spoke that which He heard from the Father (the First Person of the Trinity)!

Think about it. There is a flow of communication of truth, within the Godhead: It originates with the Father, flows to the Son, who then passes on His truth to us through the Holy Spirit.

We have the privilege of reading and reflecting upon the words of the Father and the Son through Holy Scripture. But for us Christians, the real agency of truth is the Holy Spirit. Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit definitely uses the Word (and the words of Scripture) to impart truth to our spirits. The manner in which he does this is a mystery to me, and very “organic,” in a manner of speaking (see Hebrews 4:12). Thus I am continually amazed at how two different human beings can read the same words of Scripture (the Word of God) and come up with completely opposite conclusions. To one, reading through the lens of human sin, they mock and scoff at what they read. They see supposed “contradictions” and evidence that God is a phony or that His character is something wholly other (hateful and spiteful, for instance) than what Scripture reveals it to be (loving and holy). To the other, reading through the lens of the redemptive work of Christ and His Holy Spirit, those same words are life and truth and salvation.

How can this be? I think the key is the work of the Holy Spirit. In Revelation 3:20, the risen Jesus told the Apostle John (in a message intended for the church at Laodicea, and by extension us):

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

What’s clear in this passage is that Christ does not force Himself (through His Holy Spirit) upon us. Rather, He “stands at the door” of our lives (our hearts and minds) and knocks. As he knocks, He is speaking (through His Holy Spirit), and we can choose to hear, or not. If we hear Him, our next choice is to “open the door” and let Him come in and eat with us (break bread, fellowship with us, spend time, develop a relationship, share truth through His Holy Spirit). But this is entirely our choice. We can hear Him, and open the door and let Him in … or we can ignore Him (pretend like we don’t hear the knocking).

Eventually I think the knocking will grow quieter and less. And it may eventually even go away, at least for a time.

My commitment in this new year of 2023 is to listen carefully for the knock, for the voice, and to take whatever steps are necessary to open that door wide and let Him in. I want to connect with God, to eat with Him, to have that fellowship that brings relationship and helps me to understand the truth (even if it hurts … as it usually does! But He promises that “we can bear it now”).

How each of us does that, whether we make resolutions or goals, is up to us. But, do it we must! Will you join me in this goal?

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