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The Limitations of New Year’s Resolutions

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Resolutions are powerful things. We feel all the energy of a new year rushing forward, washing over past failures or shortcomings. I like goals and fresh starts and reset buttons. But they have their limits. And as with so many things, the better we are at recognizing their limits, the more likely we are to enjoy them for what they are.

Five years ago, I wrote a blog on why resolutions miss the mark. And while I may have been a little gloomy about the topic as a whole, there are a few thoughts worth repeating as we step into 2014 together.

Why does it seem that no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to make ourselves better? If Life gave out report cards, we would be lucky to hold a B average.

What if the whole approach is off target? What if life—and life with God—is not first about progress and improvement?

The Bible has two favorite word pictures for our life with God. The first is of a potter and clay. We are reminded that God is the potter and that we are the clay. Using this imagery, God rebukes Israel for trying to take over what only God can do:

“You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” (Is. 26:19)

Jesus picks up on this theme by pointing out the futility of worry:

“Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6: 27)

We cannot make ourselves more like Jesus any more than a lump of clay can make itself into a vase. We are not the initiator of change; we are the responder. From the picture of a potter and clay, we learn the first reason resolutions often miss the mark:

God is in charge of the process and the progress; we are responsible for our response.

We often defend our addiction to progress with the word “growth.” We need to grow this year—that’s why we have so many goals. The second biblical image speaks to the concern for growth. Life with God is often pictured as a tree planted by streams.

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