New Year’s resolutions are humanity’s best attempt at resurrection apart from Christ.
At least, that is what I used to think. To me, New Year’s resolutions represented the essence of the American myth of the self-made person: idealism plus gumption equals success. There is nothing biblical about this and, I thought, nothing biblical about New Year’s resolutions.
Then I read Nehemiah 10. Were it not for the long list of names that occupy its first 27 verses, I might have paid more attention to it sooner. Instead I had focused my attention on Nehemiah 9, a stunning corporate prayer that recounts God’s faithfulness and confesses past sins. Only recently, when I paused to question what exactly the prayer was asking from God, did I discover the New Year’s resolutions of God’s people. The list of names, as it turns out, were those who signed on to “enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord and his rules and his statutes” (Nehemiah 10:29).
In the verses that follow, the people articulate specific commands from the Law of Moses that they were committing to follow. Their resolutions were not vague expressions of self-improvement but particular commitments to walk in God’s ways. Yet their resolution was step number six of their resolution process. Here are the steps with a brief comment about how their example might inform our spiritual resolutions for 2015.
1. The people separated themselves from ungodly influences (Nehemiah 9:2).
Whether we are seeking to lose weight or kill lust, we must examine our environment and take steps to remove whatever influences us away from faithful living.
2. The people listened to God’s word (Nehemiah 9:3).
The flip side of ridding our environment of ungodly influences is allowing ourselves to be influenced by God’s word. The people in Nehemiah 9 listened to God’s word “for a quarter of the day.” Radical change may require radical seasons of hearing God’s word.
3. The people recounted God’s faithfulness throughout Israel’s history (Nehemiah 9:5-25).
Our faithfulness to God will only last as a response to his faithfulness to us. We must recount the story of God’s faithfulness to his ancient people as well as his faithfulness to us personally, all of which finds its greatest expression in the death and resurrection of his Son.
4. The people confessed their unfaithfulness to God (Nehemiah 9:16-17, 26-31).
We do not change by ignoring the past but by confessing it. Often this process reveals what Tim Keller calls the sin underneath the sin, that is, how our disobedience flowed from not believing the gospel and trusting God’s promises. Getting down to this root motive is necessary for a new season of faithfulness.
5. The people embraced their need for God’s mercy and empowerment (Nehemiah 9:32-37).
As followers of Jesus, we recognize that we can only be set free from sinful tendencies because Jesus died to liberate us. The power to change does not come from within us but from the Spirit who dwells in us and draws us nearer and nearer to our crucified and risen Lord. Any newness of life comes from him, which requires us to remain in a posture of dependance and relinquishment.
6. The people resolved to walk in God’s ways (Nehemiah 10:28-39).
Our resolutions will only be empowered by God if they fall in line with the purpose of God–to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). Thus we should make specific resolutions that tie in directly to being more like Jesus, whether from God’s commands or qualities we see in our Lord’s life.
May the example of God’s repentant people challenge us as we seek to walk more faithfully with God in 2015!
These meditations flow from the first week of our 2015 Prayer and Fasting Guide, which you can download here.