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What decisions do you need to make to change your life?

A New Year’s revolution

By David Crabtree

He pushes back from the table, surveying the aftermath of the New Year’s feast. Skeletal remains of a huge turkey hold center court surrounded by crumbs and scrapings of seasonal delight. The table looks as though a small tornado has touched down. Gravy stains, scattered flatware and crumpled linens give testimony to a great gastronomical 21-gun salute to the New Year. Yes, he thinks, as Aunt Sarah hurries about dispensing antacids, that was a great meal. While the rest of the family pads off to watch the game, clean up the kitchen or slip into a food-induced coma, he settles into his favorite chair by the fireplace and considers his substantial good fortune.

The job is OK, the kids are settled, the marriage is stable, his health is good, and he is active in his local church. As he scrolls down the list of average achievements and mid-life comforts, it occurs to him that he is living within striking distance of excellence. The sudden halt induced by the holidays brings it all to the surface. If he can move up to the next level in his career; if he can better connect with his children; if he can rekindle the fire in his marriage; if he can make a new start of his devotional life and take his relationship with Christ to a new level, life can be better than good — it can be great.

He throws another log on the fire and thinks of what life would be like if he could raise the bar just one notch, across the board. Sitting back, he reaches for an old leather portfolio and prints a single word in bold block letters at the top of his legal pad: RESOLUTIONS.

Few thoughts so warm the heart as the New Year’s resolution. If good intentions alone could change the world, then New Year’s Day would throw open the gates to utopia. As it is, most New Year’s resolutions are stillborn.

Resolutions should offer a clear vision of our destination and a clear strategy for getting there. Change without clarity fosters confusion. After the great meal, we resolve to lose 20 pounds. Without a plan we might as well buy a bigger wardrobe. After the seasonal excess we determine to live more simple lives. Without a plan we might as well get used to the clutter.

A new calendar gives rise to new hopes, but most will fade within a fortnight. Our shiny new goals fall to dirty old habits, and the glowing embers of hope are suffocated under a wet blanket of guilt and past failure. Even when our tearful vows are made at altars, we often struggle to see them through. Our error is fundamental. We see the altar as a one-stop cure-all, when the altar should be a daily touchstone to keep us focused on right goals and on God’s power we need to accomplish them.

Resolutions are the essential first steps to change — but they are only first steps. Resolution must soon be followed by revolution. Just as faith cannot be separated from works, our resolutions do not possess stand-alone power. We must move beyond intention to implementation.

History is replete with men and women who thought themselves revolutionaries. Time revealed that they were only resolutionaries. They talked what others walked, and in the end they missed the revolution all together. They are like the fighter pilot who couldn’t engage. In the final analysis he was just a pilot — not a fighter. Paul had plans of missionary endeavor — grand plans and dreams. They would never have materialized had Paul not partnered with Barnabas and boarded a ship. Some ships won’t wait in port forever. That’s important to remember if you find yourself making the same resolutions year after year.

Make thoughtful, prayerful resolutions and craft a plan for implementation. Begin immediately. Start exercising; change the schedule; set the dates; open your Bible; say the hard thing; cut the old ties; fall on your knees; establish accountability; do it now. You might resolve that this year your marriage will rise from the ashes; but, unless you set aside the time, send the special messages and show renewed commitment and passion, the marriage will probably suffer another year of decline. Bear in mind that the steps you would take to save your marriage are the same steps required to strengthen it. Thoughts and intentions are only the seeds of revolution. Prayerful, deliberate initiative makes the seed grow.

Share your goals with friends and family. Secret goals usually remain secret — forever. Accountability and partnership are the twin towers of personal revolution. Above all, take your written resolutions to God in prayer, every day. It is not that God is forgetful; He just wants to be involved in every facet of your life. "In all your ways acknowledge him" (Proverbs 3:6, NIV). Submit yourself to examinations by God and man that beg the question: "How am I doing?" If you can’t measure it, you’ll never achieve it.

When resolution has become revolution you are well on your way. But revolutions are reversible, if they are not taken to the next level.

Your personal revolution must become a personal institution. New steps must become habit. New schedules must become law. New affections must be nurtured. When resolutions have created revolution, the revolutionary is faced with the daunting task of putting a new system, or government, or ethic in place to replace the one that has fallen. Herein lies our great weakness. Getting our momentary inspirations translated to godly character requires discipline, diligence and determination. Here again, we need divine collaboration.

King David knew he needed more than a fresh outlook and renewed strength when he wrote, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10, KJV).

David makes a profound statement in this prayer. He does not ask for changed circumstances or re-ordered priorities. He prays, "Create in me." No 12-step program or 30-day miracle could put David’s shattered life together again; he needed God. His broken heart needed the creative touch of the same hand that carved the mountains. He humbled and surrendered himself, and God carried David’s tearful resolutions all the way to fulfillment. Heart work is God’s work. Hard work is our response to His ability. For resolutions to move to revolution and institution, one must trust God and commit completely to His guiding hand.

The fire has been reduced to glowing embers when he sets his pen aside and examines a scribbled page of lists, longings and strategies. The margins are loaded with Scripture verses. A tearstain marks the lower left corner where he had written out how he might re-connect with his kids. His wife’s name is followed by a list of her favorite places and things. Under the heading "job" he has written, "Be a servant." The house is silent as he clutches his worn Bible to his chest. The presence of the Lord settles upon him like a father’s hand on his shoulder. "O God," he whispers, "this year I want to have life and have it more abundantly. Please give me the power. I give You my all."

David Crabtree is pastor of Calvary Assembly in Greensboro, N.C.


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