Tonight the calendar will lean slightly too far, and when it tips our system for identifying our chronological space in this world will reset. It happens, literally, every year. In reality and symbol we get a chance to begin again. We should be grateful for these markers. God is to be credited with time, seasons, cycles, and new beginnings; they were all His idea. For all of the current cynicism toward resolutions (that are never kept) and desires for change (which only last a little while) I find something compelling. I am, admittedly, somewhat jaded toward the idea that we can schedule a changed life. What I’ve found to be the case one hundred percent of the time is that when the clock strikes 12 and the new year begins I feel remarkably similar to how I felt at 11:59. The issue of change does not seem to be as reliant on a starting point as it is on a willing heart. Trying to write “life change” in our appointment books (or Google calendar) for midnight tonight betrays the fact that while we might be able to envision some benefits to losing, giving up, learning, or building whatever that “thing” is, we have not found compelling enough reasons to start sooner. I would think that resolutions made on December 27th or May 9th would probably be more likely to survive the difficult first season of change.
With that being said, and with the sincere hope that we all actually make wise resolutions and keep them for a long time, I wanted to make one simple point about change and then wish you a Happy New Year. Friends, change for the Christian is a constant desire and, should be, a perpetual reality. For those of us who follow Jesus change ought not be something that we only aspire to once a year, but over and over and over again. And the way that we see change is also different. Very simply I offer this:
If we narrowly define change as the abstention of bad things instead of the adoption of good things then we have both underestimated and misunderstood what new life is about.
While so many resolutions are made with the intention of stopping the bad habits or behaviors that we have begun or even grown addicted to, the reality of the Christian life is that we first look at healthy change as the presence of something, not the absence of something. What I would humbly suggest is that if we want to actually stop doing things that are bad for us the best way we do that is to flood our lives with things that are good for us. If anger is a default mode for you, the simple decision to not be angry as much will not bring about effective change in your life. However, if your goal is to see the value in hidden things, or to find beauty in unexpected places, or to grow in the knowledge of the patient love of our Heavenly Father then you will find, I believe, that your anger grows weaker and weaker.
Despite what you may have heard, the Christian idea of holiness is not the elimination of bad habits, it is the initiation and inauguration of good and pure and worthwhile patterns of life. Sin is most powerless in the life that is most enamored with the beauty of God.
So make your resolutions, and yes, I’ll inevitably make mine. But may we focus them on things that we want to be present, and then pray that God fills us with His love and grace to the extent that the remnants of evil in us have no room to reside. We don’t need an exterminator as much as we need a flood. Exterminators leave room for reentry, floods push everything else out of the way as they fill places with new substance.
Happy New Years to you. Sing tonight “for the sake of old times”, but also look hopefully into the coming year and choose first to be filled with the good things that Jesus died to make available to us.