Monday, January 16, 2012

No More Excuses!

Guest Blogger: Sten-Erik of  Theological Pursuits

The concept of the New Years Resolution has become a cultural icon for failure.

Fide, "New Year Lights" December 20, 2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution.
Let that roll around in your brain a bit. I have heard (and made) many sincere resolutions over the years, but the reality is that this concept has been reduced to an absurdity to be laughed at on television sitcoms and talk shows. I recently read some statistics in a January 2010 article from Psychology Today that stated that over half of New Years Resolutions have been abandoned within a few months, and by the end of the year less than 10% are still being held. My guess is that 90% of that 10% are lying to save face. And there is always an excuse or rationalization for our failure.

“Excuses are the nails to build a house of failure.” ~ Don Wilder

So what is the point? Why are we setting ourselves up for such colossal failure each year? It may have something to do with the nature of the resolutions that we make, and a lack of understanding of how difficult it is to break a deeply held habit. I propose it is because of our American “I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps” mentality. How are typical New Years Resolutions typically phrased? “This year I will lose 30 pounds.” “I will read the Bible every day for 20 minutes.” “This year I will commit 30% less felonies.”

Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that when man plans, God laughs. (Okay – that’s an unsanctified paraphrase, but you get the idea.) The typical New Years Resolution is made because we aren’t happy with an aspect of our life or being, and we desire to change it – but not enough to have already taken concrete steps to do so. Real change doesn’t happen in our lives because of a flippant (sorry, but it must be – it seldom sticks!) vow made on an arbitrary date on the calendar.

Real change happens when we hit a breaking point – an epiphany of some sort – that drives us beyond a passing thought of change to the point of a pressing conviction. And for the Christian, that means we don’t set forth as independent, self-reliant catalysts of personal change. It means that we embrace the reality that what is done in our strength is often ashes, but what Christ does through us in our weakness is beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we just lean back in our beach chairs with our hands behind our head and say, “Go ahead God – change me.” The Christian experience is one in which we respond to the Spirit’s work in us by cooperating in our growth and development. If we strive to do it all on our own, we fail. If we just passively wait for God to do it for us, we stagnate. But when the Spirit indwelt believer submits him or herself to the process of sanctification through active cooperation, amazing things can happen.

With that philosophy as the backdrop, I love the challenge from Henry Ward Beecher to “hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anyone expects of you. Never excuse yourself.” When I commit to do everything I do for the glory of God, what other choice do I have?

So this year, don’t make a flippant resolution that has over a 90% chance of failing. Instead, seek that breaking point. Where is that moment of epiphany? What is it that must go, and you are willing to submit yourself to God’s refining work in order to make the change? Persevere – and have patience. It may take a while. Indeed, the change we seek will take us the rest of our lives – but it is something worth pursuing!

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Kipling once said, “There are a million reasons for failure – but not one excuse.” So – No more excuses…or idle resolutions. Over several years Jonathan Edwards wrote down 70 of his resolutions. He didn’t treat these as flippant desires for self-improvement. Instead he viewed them as maxims by which he should live his life. It is my understanding that he reviewed these weekly. I commend them to you to read and consider as potential models for your personal resolutions both in content and intent. I close with the opening paragraph to Edward’s resolutions, as it captures the attitude we should each have as we strive to become the men and women God has called us to be:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

(Sten-Erik is currently on staff with the Department of Spiritual Formation at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he is wrapping up a Th.M. with a dual focus in systematic and historic theology as well as an M.A. with an emphasis in New Testament Studies. He is married and the father of four daughters.)

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