‘Tis the season for making resolutions and setting goals.

Perhaps you’ve already established your course for the year, or perhaps your resolution for 2008 is to make your resolutions before the new year has begun!

Perhaps you haven’t set any goals for the coming year because your experience with goal setting is an overwhelming sense of defeat. If so, perhaps you should consider one person’s suggestions:

  • Gain weight — at least 30 pounds.
  • Stop exercising — it really is a waste of time.
  • Read less — it makes you think too much.
  • Watch more TV. I’ve been missing some good stuff.
  • Get further in debt.

Well, those may be easy to attain, but they may not be so profitable, either in this life or in the life to come.

Some people resolve to make no resolutions and set no goals because they fail too faithfully in meeting those goals. And one reason we all are defeated when we set goals and make resolutions is because we tend to view them as singular events (or a series of singular events) rather than as a process.

So we view losing weight as a one-time (one day, or one week or one month) act instead of a change in lifestyle. We view sharing the gospel as a singular act rather than as an ongoing process in which we are always looking for opportunities to talk about Christ. We view trials and difficulty as singular in nature rather than ongoing and repetitious. We view prayer as something we do once or twice or five times a day (morning, evening and at each meal) instead of a continual attitude of repeated intercession through the day, each day.

We even say our goals and resolutions should be measurable, so we establish them as things that we can count and mark as completed (4 books read, 6 verses memorized, and 8 people invited to dinner), rather than considering whether a heart attitude has been changed. In this Albert Einstein was correct (he was speaking of something else, but it applies well to the spiritual life): “We live in a time of excellence of methods and a confusion of goals.”

Almost three centuries ago Jonathan Edwards clearly understood the significance of resolutions in a manner that is relevant today as well. The goal is not the completion of a task, but the cultivation of a heart that follows Christ more passionately. This is demonstrated by his first resolution:

Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

And it is demonstrated throughout the remaining 69 as well. For example:

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.
56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

So how do we make resolutions in a way that will keep our eyes on the prize set before us? Here are three principles I have found helpful:

  • Focus the goals on developing Biblical character more than engaging in activities.
  • Spend some time each day in self-examination. (Am I moving toward the intended goal or am I merely completing checklists?)
  • Keep the goals simple in orientation and realistic in number. Don’t overcomplicate your resolutions — even Christ said that the entire Old Testament law could be summarized into two — love God and love your neighbor. That too is our simple goal.

As you develop goals and resolutions for the coming week, month, year, or even decade, remember that our fundamental objective is to be as close to God as we can be, and that “every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be” (Tozer).

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