“We are not as Christ-centered and cross-cherishing as we should be, because we do not ponder the truth that everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good, was purchased by the sufferings of Christ.”
― John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ
Have you heard them yet? Scores of people talking about “New Year’s resolutions?” Have you tried making those kinds of promises to yourself, only to find that they usually never last beyond January 31st?
Shortly after becoming a Christian, I began making resolutions “before God” and declaring everything from losing weight and eating better, to reading more good books and turning off the television.
Dare I say it? They didn’t last long. What happens? How do our good intentions derail so easily? Should Christians even engage in the practice of making resolutions? We would probably all be surprised how many do not.
Obviously, resolutions are helpful and productive when they are accompanied by heartfelt “resolve.” This is perhaps the problem that confronts too many of us — we are simply not serious enough to change. We get caught up in the moment, making some declarations we don’t really mean, and are not willing to follow through to fulfillment. But we desire to change. We sense a need to change. Every January 1st brings another opportunity to effect change. So, what happens to the change?
For centuries, January 1st has marked more than the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. This date holds an almost spiritual sense of completion (of the previous year) and expectation (of the coming year). There is a natural awareness of change at this time of year. Even those tradtional symbols of year end — the old man with the long beard, and the baby in diapers — spell newness and impending change. But how does this relate to the believer? Can we anticipate change just because of the new calendar year? Is God motivated by our calendar observances?
“For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6, NKJV). We take great comfort in knowing that the Ancient of Days never changes. The Alpha and the Omega has no beginning and no end. We rejoice in the revelation that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 12:8). Changelessness is part of the very nature of God. But change IS part of the nature of man. God has created us to change, and His revealed will for mankind changes, not because of a character flaw on His part, but because our nature requires and thrives on change.
Consider God’s revelation to Jeremiah (29:11):
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Imagine God thinking about our future! He desires us to have hope — a confident expectation of blessing and provision in the days ahead. Hope causes us to walk forward into our future with faith and anticipation, even though we don’t know every detail concerning our future.
Someone once said that if God showed us every detail of our lives, all at one time, we would sit down at that point and refuse to face another day! We were not created to contain omniscience (the quality of knowing everything) like God. So, He reveals our future to us in portions we can digest — like a loving parent feeding their child only the texture and amount of food that their child can sustain. God wisely only reveals what we can understand, perceive, and apply at that time.
Knowing this, I am intrigued by the scriptures that speak of God declaring and doing “new” things:
“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
“Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ … indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Careful and thoughtful study of these scriptures show us that God is not intending to do something capricious or whimsical. He is deliberately leading each of us to specific moments of destiny with which He is already completely familiar!
Several years ago, I listened intently to a Christian teacher ministering from Habakkuk 2:1-4 concerning living by vision, and learning to establish God-centered goals for our lives. This teacher very passionately taught that we must first discern the vision of God for our lives by taking time to hear God’s voice in prayer. From that point, as Habakkuk records, we should “write the vision and make it plain…” so that “…he may run who reads it.” The teacher taught that God’s vision is His will for our lives, and that we should write on paper what we perceive His will and destiny for us to be. We must also be careful to note that:
“the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (forever).”
From this place of perceiving God’s will, the Christian teacher suggested that we should all begin to establish God-centered goals from His perceived will as a means of ensuring accountability and productivity. I began then to see that setting goals wasn’t about what I wanted to do, but what I believed God could do through me!
We must understand that God is sovereignly in control of our today and our tomorrow! So then, He enables us by grace to point ourselves toward the target of His perceived will for our life. With His will in mind, we can make a measurable impact in His Kingdom and significantly change our world by making goals that agree with God. What about Providence, you ask? All the time that we pursue our goals, we remain mindful that He has ultimate say in our destiny. His destiny for us doesn’t change each day. But our destiny is a journey, and our perception may become clouded by sin, doubt or ungodly assumptions. These areas must be corrected — minor course changes along the journey.
The Apostle James taught us to make plans with the qualifier “if the Lord wills” (James 4:13-17). Surely we’ve heard that response from someone asked about their plans: “Well, Lord willing, and if the creek don’t rise!” We must understandably make sufficient room in our goals and objectives for God’s course changes and adjustments. But the sovereignty of God is no excuse for human inactivity, procrastination, or irresponsibility. God is much bigger and mightier than our missteps. Wouldn’t we all rather be pursuing a spiritual goal that might need adjustment, than to be doing nothing for the Kingdom out of fear that we might miss His will?
Will this year be full of spiritual milestones and accomplishments, or another year of “shoulda-coulda-woulda?” Someone once said that “Goals are the rudder of our lives, and God’s wisdom is the wind filling the sails.” I suggest that our year will be more fulfilling if we are able to recognize significant Kingdom exploits (Daniel 11:32) made by setting godly goals! If we will challenge our hearts to trust in what we perceive God’s will to be for our lives, and write down several motivating thoughts concerning His will, in January 2016 we will sense His peace and pleasure.
We are not just spiritual or just physical beings. Our goals should encompass many areas of our life: spiritual, physical, mental, social relationships, and stewardship. Now, formulate one or two goal statements for each area and write them in the your prayer journal.
Remember to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. — Specific (not just lose weight, but instead “lose 35 pounds”); Measurable (can you tangibly show you met the goal?); Attainable (“bring about world peace” is WAY too lofty!); Realistic (“never eat chocolate again” — gallant thought, but better to say limit it to one day a week!); and Timely (set a date — not too soon, and not too late — but time constraints are helpful to bring about change).
Ready to set a goal focus for this year? Make this faith declaration with me:
“In agreement with God’s Word that says God intends to give me ‘a future and a hope,’ I offer these goals and plans to Him as a gift from my heart. I challenge myself to see exploits done for His Kingdom through my life. I will ‘redeem the time’ during this next year. I fully understand that all goals are subject to change and to the perfect will of God. By His help these dreams of my heart shall become reality!”
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
― Ezra Taft Benson