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Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

So here it is, the first day of the New Year. Around the world people are eagerly making new starts with honorable resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise regularly, spend less, save more --- and make other sorts of stops and starts that are sensible. Statistically, we're told by experts and polling organizations that most of these fail.

Mine have been no exception. I can't count the number of times I've woken up on New Year's day with a short list of things to do or not do that I considered highly important ... and believed were logically achievable. So what happened? Why couldn't my New Year's resolutions become realities? Why can't yours?

I've been thinking a lot these past few weeks about New Year's resolutions, and I think I've happened on two specific pearls of wisdom. First, I attended a recovery service the Friday after Christmas. The speaker was talking about goals. She made what I think was an important distinction between goals and resolutions. It seems that resolutions are not spirit-led. They are usually ours and ours alone.

Biblically, there isn't any evidence that God ever asked anyone to make a resolution. He did (and still does) however, ask us to set goals and work toward those goals. In fact, He promised to help us with our goals --- providing of course that they are in line with His will for us. I think that's pretty right on; the reason that most resolutions fail is that they don't have the Holy Spirit in them.

The next thing I have come to understand has to do with fruit. It's harder to understand, so bear with me on this one. Jesus talked a lot about being the vine and us being the branches. He said those who don't bear fruit will be pruned away. It seems that many of us buy into this logic --- and we focus on fruit. As Christians, we try to be fruitful ... full of good intentions and good works. But I think we may be getting the definition of fruit wrong. For example, losing weight is not fruit. But overcoming gluttony is fruit. Do you see the difference?

I've had a couple of guys this past week tell me what they want to accomplish in the New Year regarding being righteous and holy. But they described a list of things that they will do and won't do in order to accomplish that righteousness and holiness. It dawned on me that this is the problem. I can pursue righteousness --- but there is absolutely no way I can become righteous on my own power. I can pursue holiness --- but let's get real here --- the only way I can be holy is if Christ makes me that way. Apart from Christ I am not holy. Apart from Christ righteousness would never be within my grasp.

What is it that I should resolve to do? I should resolve to do nothing. That's right, make no New Year's resolutions. They are folly. Anything worth doing is not within my power. Only God enables me to accomplish anything in life that's of value. I can set goals --- look to righteousness and holiness and other forms of virtue. But God must take me there. The only thing I could reasonably do is try to respond to God. And there again, I can't even do that without His help! And if I make no resolutions, acknowledging that without God I can do nothing worthwhile, where is the fruit?

My wife has a greenhouse in our back yard. She raises tomatoes and other vegetables. She carefully tends the plants, feeds them, mulches, waters, etc. There's even a heater in the greenhouse to keep the plants warm in cold weather. But I notice something. No matter how good a job she does with the plants, sometimes they produce no fruit. In fact, my wife can do absolutely everything about those plants - including take their life away. But the one thing she cannot do is produce fruit.

And there it is, the elusive answer. Fruit can only be something that God produces. True fruit must come from God, otherwise it isn't real fruit. If I can accomplish it on my own, then it's not really fruit --- and I am being deceived (or deceiving myself).

If fruit then can only come from God, what can I do? Well, like my wife with her vegetable plants, I can become a good gardener. I can feed and nurture my spirit and soul with God's Word, with prayer, with Christian fellowship. I can mulch my mind with God's truths. But make no mistake, if there is any fruit in my life, God will have to produce it. So Lord, let me be a better gardener this year!

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