Better than a Resolution

transformationIt’s that time of year when some of us make resolutions we’re determined to keep, at least until we’re not determined anymore, which usually turns out to be around early February.

I’m considering a couple of different approaches this year.

• Make resolutions that are easy to keep. Like, “I’m going to eat at least one thing that’s bad for me every day.” Or, “I’m committing to walk upstairs to the bedroom at least once a day and call it ‘exercise.’” I can do those things; I've proven that over the years. So those resolutions will be successful, and though I’ll feel bad about myself for what they actually are, I’ll feel good about myself for keeping them.

• Make resolutions for other people. I mean, if mine aren’t going to be kept anyway, why not make them for others who won’t keep them? Then the failure is much less personal.

(I’ve already got a couple of resolutions in mind for TV channels:

1. ESPN. Stop showing poker. It’s not a sport.

2. History Channel and the Travel Channel. Actually show history and travel stuff.

These won’t even last until February, of course. The sports channel will continue to show poker, and the history people will continue to pretend that reality shows and speculation about alien contact fit their brand. But the failure of these resolutions is on them, and I can scoff at them guilt-free.)

I think one of the reasons resolutions fail so often—I’m talking about the real resolutions we make for ourselves now—is that we’re relying on human willpower to carry them out. There’s something to be said for perseverance; it’s a godly characteristic when applied to matters of character. But human willpower for behavioral issues has a pretty bad track record. One lapse can break it, and we find endless ways to dismiss it when it isn’t convenient.

Perhaps a better solution to making resolutions that depend on willpower is to seek transformation that lasts. That may not apply to a resolution to read more books or exercise more often, but it certainly applies to anything having to do with character and attitudes. Why? Because resolutions are like law—an external standard imposed on behavior that may or may not develop into a habit over time. It only applies to surface actions. Inner transformation changes the heart, so that the standard becomes a natural part of us. Then we just act naturally.

For example: You can resolve to love the people around you more intentionally because God tells you to. Or you can love people better because you’re a loving person who exudes love. Which of those is going to be more effective? Which will last? Obviously the second one because the first one is playing a role. The second is just being who you are. You may have to learn some ways to express it, but it’s still your nature. It isn’t difficult.

With the first approach, the difficulty is in behaving how you want to behave. That’s a lifelong battle if you’re going against your nature, and you can lose it at the end even after a lifetime of relative success.

With the second approach, the difficulty is in becoming who you want to be. That’s a battle that can be won up front, and when it is, it lasts forever.

The real question is this: In any given area of life, do you want changed behavior, or do you want a changed nature?

Your willpower will forever struggle to achieve behavioral change. Only God can accomplish the changed nature. And the only way for that to happen is to ask him, actively trust and rest in his power to do it, completely ignore the old nature, and step into the new every chance you get.

I’m not saying this is easy. It can be a process. But it isn’t a matter of exerting effort. It falls more into the realm of prayer and a shifting mindset—learning to see yourself as new and seeing God as a very active creator of the new you. You may have a few “not my will but yours” moments, but your will is in the process of changing. You focus on where you’re headed, not where you’ve been.

You can’t do this while focusing on every piece of evidence that change isn’t happening; that undermines the process at every turn. People who focus on their failures remain stuck in them.

Instead, you have to shift your focus to a vision of who you’re becoming. Then you grow into the change that really is taking place.

When that happens, you don’t have to swim against the current of your life; your life begins to flow in the right direction. You can resolve simply to be who you are—your true, God-given self that fits your original design. And that’s a resolution that isn’t difficult to keep.

Click to tweet: Focus on where you’re headed, not where you’ve been. 

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©2013-present by chris tiegreen