New Year’s is just a few days away, and many New Year’s resolutions will be made. Have you started thinking about yours? Will you aim to eat better? Or exercise more? Perhaps you will simplify your schedule or get more rest. Many will aim to be more spiritual – praying more, meditating, reading the Bible daily, and the like.
But there are also many who refuse to set a resolution because they know they will break it. I knew someone who struggled so much in school and discipline that he simply refused to set any goals. The fear of failing to meet them was so great and the guilt associated with it led him to remain as he was, as a guy in his late twenties. He said, “I would only be setting myself up for failure”.
It is true, any goal that is set is an opportunity for failure. But it is also true that unless we set goals or make an effort, nothing will ever be accomplished. It is true on the micro level: if you do not make a plan for the day, you will forget to go to the grocery store after work, or bring your workout clothes to hit the gym. But it is also true on the macro level: you have to apply to college and start classes to earn a degree, you have to send out your resume to get a job, and start lessons to learn a skill.
But the reality is that our relationship with God is more than just a goal. Our spirituality is more than just dedication. Goals, however, can enhance a relationship and a Spirituality. Even in the midst of our emotion-driven society that believes love should be easy and euphoric, most will ultimately admit that marriage is hard work, and relationships take effort to maintain. They might be born in emotion and initially driven by passion, but after time that can fade and commitment must mark our choices in order to maintain intimacy and happiness.
In the same way, there are times that our Spiritual walk and relationship with God will be easy and natural. But there are other times when we are distracted, too busy, frustrated, or over stimulated and pleased with our physical lives that we neglect our relationship with God, and it will take a conscious effort and decision to pray, read the Bible, meditate and listen to the Holy Spirit. And the nature of having discipline or a goal does not take away from the authenticity of the relationships – quite the opposite, in fact. It portrays our convictions and passions to intentionally set aside that time, even in the midst of everything else. A wife feels loved and valued when a husband takes time out of his day to call, to stop for flowers or to take her on a date where they can talk deeply. She actually feels more honored that he would value her enough to go through to effort of planning.
Not only is it not disrespectful or disingenuous to set aside a specific time to pray or have a quiet time every day, it is also not an expectation or sin for which God will condemn us if we fail. If you have a standing phone date with a friend, and you forget once or twice, that friend will forgive you if it is not your habit to forget. If you need to reschedule a lunch date with your wife, she will understand if you are not in the habit of blowing her off. If you consistently forget or blow off your relationships, however, there will grow a distance between you and a very real problem is established. The same is true with God. You cannot have a relationship with God and be Spiritually healthy if you neglect Him. If you oversleep one morning, however, or have a change of schedule and have your quiet time in the afternoon instead of the morning, He will not consider you a failure.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
– John 15.4-6
Jesus commands us to abide in Him. The term abide can be difficult to understand, as we rarely use it in day-to-day language. The Greek term used translates as “to remain, to not depart” and also “to continue to be present, to continue to be held or kept”. The implication is continual interaction and relationship. Jesus explains Himself with the imagery of the vine. A branch depends on the vine for sustenance and life. A branch cannot survive, produce fruit or grow unless is draws sap from the vine. So we, when we are Spiritually born, must draw our Spiritual life from Jesus. We cannot live, grow or bear fruit unless we stay connected to Jesus.
So as the new year approaches, let’s be bold to set a goal to go deeper with Jesus. He will not be mad at you if you miss a day or two, and will not consider you a failure. Quite the opposite, in fact, the commitment to and any progress towards greater intimacy with Him is a beautiful reality that will strengthen your Spiritual walk, health and maturity. Let us not put a weight on ourselves that He hasn’t put on us, but let us abide in Him and draw our life and strength from Him as our source, as our vine.
You will find that as you begin those habits, it will soon turn into a situation where you long for your time with the Lord and needing to reschedule from the morning to afternoon will leave you ready and excited for that time. Or missing a morning will leave your day lacking. Let’s change our attitudes about resolutions, not seeing it as an opportunity for failure but rather an opportunity to grow and change. Let’s not beat ourselves up and give up if we miss a few days, but find commitment anew by the encouragement and strength we draw from the days we succeed!
How will you commit to the Lord this year?