I’m generally a failure when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. Based on the statistics I’ve seen, I am not alone in that. We tend to be good at making resolutions, but fewer than 10% of us actually keep them for more than a week or two. If you’re the sort of person who always follows through on your January commitments to get healthier, to save more money, or to organize your time better, congratulations: The rest of us admire you, but we also don’t like you very much. Our antipathy toward you is rooted mostly in envy, though. We just aren’t sure how to be like you.
We ordinary mortals fail at resolutions for a number of reasons. Maybe we just lack willpower, but there are other factors at play, as well. For one thing, creating new habits is just plain tough. Changing our lives usually requires extra time, extra money, and a reserve of physical and emotional energy. Some people simply don’t have those resources available to the degree necessary to make lasting changes. And to make matters worse, a sudden change in our circumstances can easily derail our best-laid plans. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t always control our own lives. There are many forces and events in this world that are outside of our control. When we make New Year’s resolutions, we’re often operating under the assumption that we can shape not only our own character and daily habits, but also that we can control the world around us to some degree. But the reality is that we are far less powerful than we like to think we are.
When we abandon our grand ambitions by the end of January, we often heap shame on ourselves. After all, if we made the resolutions ourselves, then there’s nobody else to blame when we can’t keep them. We find ourselves condemned by our own standards of self-improvement. What a terrible predicament we create for ourselves!
This year, then, I’m going to try something different, and maybe you’d like to join me. Instead of making resolutions, I plan to pray for God’s grace. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to abandon any attempts at personal transformation. I don’t plan to throw up my hands and say that change is impossible, or that I’m at peace with my sins and weaknesses. Instead, I want to remember that, as a follower of Jesus, my failures are forgiven and my relationship with God is unbroken. And I also believe that truly significant transformation is impossible without God’s power in my life. Forgiveness and change are both gifts of God’s grace.
On a practical level, that means I must first trust God to show me where I need to change. I don’t want to manufacture my own artificial standards of goodness and try to live up to them all year long. That’s exhausting. Trusting in God’s power means that I remember how incapable I am of making any meaningful long-term changes, unless the Holy Spirit works in my life. Sure, I can make superficial adjustments to my diet, my bank account, or my schedule, but the deeper work of personal transformation requires God’s strength, not merely my own.
Beyond that realization, however, I want to remember that my failures are what should drive me to pray for God’s grace on a daily basis. It’s because of our failure to live up to God’s standards of righteousness that Jesus Christ died for our sins. Our failure to live up to our own standards – our inability to even keep our own resolutions – is simply a reminder of how desperately we’re in need of His forgiveness and mercy. We need grace because we have all failed to fulfill our obligations to God, let alone our promises to ourselves. Our failures can remind us of how deeply God loves us, and how lavishly He has poured His forgiveness on us through Jesus.
So this year, instead of making sweeping promises to myself that I am almost certain to break, I want to wake up each morning and simply ask for God’s grace and mercy. I’ll ask Him to show me where I fall short of what He desires for my life, and I’ll plead with Him to give me the strength that I need to obey Him. I’ll admit that my own plans for transformation are often rooted in my own self-centered agenda rather than in God’s purposes for me. And I’ll ask Him to forgive me when I inevitably fail. The good news of God’s grace is that failure never has to separate us from God’s love and presence. God’s mercies are new every morning, and He is always willing to give us more. His grace is not in short supply.
Perhaps my commitment sounds suspiciously like a New Year’s resolution. I suppose it is, but I’d like to think it’s different from the typical promises we usually make to ourselves, to grit our teeth and become better people before next January. Instead, I’m resolving to listen to God’s Word more carefully, to ask for His power more diligently, and to rely upon His forgiveness more fully when I fail. It’s a resolution to let God change my life, rather than trying to change it on my own. More than a resolution, then, this is a commitment to fall on His grace every single day. God’s grace, as you might know, is more powerful than our New Year’s resolutions. In fact, grace is the most transformative force in the universe.