The New Year’s Resolution That Matters Most
What is the new year’s resolution that matters most? It’s the one most closely connected to our ultimate purpose as humans.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
It was Athens. The year was AD 51.
Leaders of the ancient city invited the leader of the new Christian movement, the apostle Paul, to speak to them at a special meeting-place known as the Areopagus. The Areopagus was a gathering place in their city with a certain authority for discussions about religion and morals. It was a perfect opportunity for Paul to describe the purpose of a human life.
“…a perfect opportunity for Paul to describe the purpose of a human life…”
Paul started with creation. He explained that God made the world and all humans came from one man. He then stated the reason God made the world and human beings:
“The God who made the world and everything in it.…From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth.…God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-28)
God made humans so that we would reach out and find God.
“God made humans so that we would reach out and find God.”
What does this mean? It means that everyone’s created purpose in life is to seek and know God.
Once Jesus was asked a related question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:36-38)
Jesus was teaching that the most important thing in life is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
Getting Clarity on Our Ultimate Purpose
“People with goals succeed because they know where they are going.”
Clarity on our purpose is important as we head into the new year. If we let them, passages such as Acts 17:24-28 and Matthew 22:36-38 are rich with insight on how we should frame new year’s goals and resolutions.
Here is what I mean. If you are like me, there are a lot of things I can and should work on in the new year. My natural inclination is to focus on my finances or my health (what I will eat) or my dress (my clothes) or other important parts of life. But Paul’s Athens sermon and Jesus’ response about the greatest commandment call us to cut through this focus on lesser things. The most important thing is God himself.
Jesus gives a stark contrast between my natural inclination and what God wants for me:
I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.…Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?…But seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. (Matthew 6:25-33)
What did Jesus teach here?
Although Christianity teaches the goodness of the physical world (Gen. 1:31) and good stewardship of body (1 Tim. 4:8) and finances (Prov. 10:4), Jesus taught that seeking God, God’s kingdom, and God’s right living (righteousness) is more important than money, eating plans, and bodies.
Again, this is important insight for my plans for the new year. It shows me what to prioritize.
Pursuing Our Ultimate Purpose like an Athlete
“All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do. ”
—Norman Vincent Peale
Let’s look at another of the writings of the apostle Paul. He too was clear on the importance of seeking God first when writing to his young protégé Timothy.
Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Paul told Timothy to train to be godly. Notice the contrast: Even though “physical training is of some value,” training in godliness (training to live for God) is more important than getting in physical shape. Timothy should pursue God and the things of God like an athlete in training.
“…pursue God and the things of God like an athlete in training…”
Again, this helps us to prioritize when making New Year’s goals and resolutions. Physical fitness, the most common new year’s resolution, should be secondary to spiritual fitness.
The apostle Paul makes the contrasting point even more strongly when he writes to the disciples of Jesus in the ancient city of Corinth.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
Paul says that we should run a spiritually focused race, like we are pursuing the spiritual prize of focusing on God. Paul uses athletic metaphors to picture living for God as rigorous, requiring self-discipline and perseverance. He says that we should adopt the same rigor for our spiritual lives that ancient athletes adopted for competitions. He goes on:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9: 25-26)
“They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Ancient runners went into strict training. In fact, athletes who competed in the games in the ancient Olympia had to swear an oath confirming that they had abstained from wine, meat, and sexual intercourse in the previous ten months. That required a lot of focus and commitment!
Paul advocated that kind of focus in pursuing God.
The point is not that we would abstain from food or sex, but that we focus dedicated effort on God. Runners focus on winning the prize, which in the ancient games in Olympia and in Isthmia was a crown, a wreath made of foliage. This goal of winning determined an athlete’s lifestyle.
So, what is winning according to these Scriptures we’ve been reading? Winning is seeking God, knowing God, and loving God. Thus, we create resolutions to train for with that goal in mind.
“Seeking, knowing, and loving God is the most important prize in all of life.”
Seeking, knowing, and loving God is the most important prize in all of life. It is the lifeblood from which all other important resolutions follow. We make disciples, love our neighbors, and steward wisely all because we know and love God.
So, as you contemplate New Year’s goals and resolutions, make sure that you focus on that which is most important. Don’t make your relationship with God just one of your resolutions. Make seeking God the most important of all your resolutions.
Two Ways to Make God-Centered Resolutions in the New Year
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”
Here are two concrete ways to make practical resolutions to seek God.
#1 – Learn to Seek God in Prayer and Fasting.
The Bible regularly shows how God rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 states it well: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Jesus taught his disciples to focus on seeking God’s presence in their lives through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s invisible personal being who works to draw us to God and make us like Jesus. The Holy Spirit transcends the known physical world but has the capacity to act within it. When we seek to be personally close to God, we are seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit and a connection with him in our Spirit/inner being (Romans 8:16).
Jesus exhorted us to seek the Spirit.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
“The one who seeks finds.”
Jesus contrasted human fathers with God and how human fathers respond when their children make requests. In rural Galilee of the first century, fathers would have been asked for fish and/or eggs because these were good foods to give to one’s children.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12)
Of course, Jesus was implying that human fathers would only seek to give their children good food, not snakes and scorpions. But his point was deeper: If human fathers know how to give their children the good kind of food that they need, how much more would God, our Father, give us the good kind of spiritual food we need.
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13-14)
“Seeking God should be at the center of our prayers.”
It shouldn’t be surprising, but we sometimes miss it: Seeking God should be at the center of our prayers. Prayer is a way of seeking the presence of God and fellowshipping with him through the indwelling power of his Holy Spirit.
In addition to prayer, fasting is a key to seeking God and his will through the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he fasted and prayed (Luke 4:1-2). And the earliest Christians in Antioch were worshipping the Lord and fasting when the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Paul and Barnabas for the first missionary journey (Acts 13:2).
Most of us need to learn how to seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially through a deeper focus on prayer and fasting.
Here is a recommended resolution for seeking God through the Holy Spirit’s leadership: Start January with a simple prayer and fasting plan. Commit to carving out just 10 minutes each day for prayer to begin with. Also, pick a day and try fasting from one or two meals on that day for each week in the new year.
Here are two recommended books to read on the topic:
- Prayer and Fasting: Moving with the Spirit to Renew Our Minds, Bodies, and Churches, by David Roadcup and Michael Eagle
- Holy Spirit: Filled, Empowered, and Led, by David Young
#2 – Get Into God’s Word Daily
“If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us.”
God promises a blessing on those who delight in his Word. Psalm 1:1-2 states it this way: “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Notice the regularity involved: the Psalm describes meditation day and night.
Studies of spiritual growth have proved the truth of these words over and over again. For example, about 15 years ago, there was a study called Reveal. It was the largest study of church attendees in North America at the time. It showed all the key factors in one’s spiritual growth.
And what was the biggest single predictor of spiritual growth? It was daily engagement with the Word of God!
“…the biggest single predictor of spiritual growth…was daily engagement with the Word of God…”
The Center for Bible Engagement also engaged in a study of over 400,000 Christians. They discovered that someone who engages with Scripture 4 or more times a week looks radically different from the life of someone who does not. In fact, the lives of Christians who do not engage the Bible most days of the week are statistically the same as the lives of non-believers.
The American Bible Study has also completed massive studies on the results of regular Bible reading. They have found that people who engage personally and consistently with Scripture have distinctive character traits.
“People who engage personally and consistently with Scripture have distinctive character traits.”
These studies combine to demonstrate the difference made for those who follow Psalm 1 and mediate daily on God’s Word.
- They give 10 times more to charity than others.
- They pray to God 2.25 times more in a typical seven-day period.
- They attend church 2.9 times more in the typical month.
- They are 228% more likely to share faith with others
- They are 407% more likely to memorize Scripture
- Additionally, they are more likely to volunteer, forgive others, avoid pornography, and have a sense of divine calling than others.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 summarizes the transformative power of engaging the Scriptures. It tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
We need Scripture. It is God’s Word for us. It is how God teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us in how we are to live.
Scripture is how God teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us in how we are to live.
Here is a recommended resolution for how you can regularly engage Scripture this year: commit to engage the Word of God daily in the new year and pick a plan that will help you to follow through on that commitment.
Two Recommended Plans:
#1 – Read the New Testament in One Year – Reading through the New Testament in a year takes only 5 minutes a day. If you read one chapter a day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (weekends off) for 52 weeks, you will read the 260 chapters in the New Testament in one year. If it helps you to see plans written out, check out The New Testament in a Year Reading Plan or Bible Project’s New Testament In One Year or Bible Gateway’s Reading Plan.
#2 – Read the Whole Bible in One year – Reading through the entire Bible in a year takes about 15 minutes a day, seven days a week. You can read the Bible chronologically or use the Bible Project Reading Plan or Bible Gateway’s Reading Plan.
Making resolutions to seek God in the New Year as your top priority is the best plan you can make. It will help you focus on the ultimate direction of your life. We were made to be in relationship with God and so God invites us to seek that relationship as the top priority while we are living in this world. But this world will come to an end.
“This world will come to an end.”
At the end of human history, everything will be restored to God. No more seeking and feeling after God. No more hiddenness. God himself will be present, close with us, and he will give us joy unimaginable.
At that time, we will experience the ultimate fulfillment of seeking a relationship with God.
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…he who overcomes will inherit all of this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:3-4, 7)
I cannot think of a more inspiring vision that gives meaning to all the resolutions we will make for this coming year. May all your resolutions bring you closer to this ultimate fulfillment in God.
 American Bible Society, “What Difference Does Bible Engagement Make? 8 Characteristics of Bible-Engaged People.”