“Who cares?” That is not necessarily an expression of apathy or scorn. All of us need to feel like we have people in our lives who care about us and our wellbeing. Such people should do more than offer positive reaffirmation and reassurance. We benefit from those who keep us honest and are willing to say even the difficult things we need to hear. When we talk about goals and resolutions, we need at least someone whom we seek out to hold us accountable. Accountability, in its strictest sense, means “liable to judgment and punishment” when used of God’s holding mankind accountable (Rom. 3:19; BDAG 1037). Today, we typically mean by accountable that we are responsible to someone to explain or defend our actions. Am I succeeding or failing? Who will help me accurately assess that?
Augustine of Hippo, in his fourth-century Confessions, wrote, “A brotherly person rejoices on my account when he approves me, but when he disapproves, he is loving me. To such people I will reveal myself. They will take heart from my good traits, and sigh with sadness at my bad ones. My good points are instilled by you and are your gifts. My bad points are my faults and your judgements on them. Let them take heart from the one and regret the other. Let both praise and tears ascend in your sight from brotherly hearts, your censers. …But you Lord…Make perfect my imperfections.” We are well-served to have those willing to disapprove, to sigh, and to render gentle judgment as much as give their positive counterparts.
Do you have someone in your life right now who can help you stay accountable to your goals? Ideally, it would be your spouse, but maybe it’s a trusted friend, a sibling, a local Christian, a church leader, or a parent. Find someone in whom to confide your goals and then establish a system to have them evaluated. Just knowing that someone else knows what you’re aiming at may dramatically improve your likelihood of hitting it.
If this is not one of your resolutions, it is a part of all of them. It is almost a dirty word, if we ponder what it demands. “Self-control.” We call it will power, self-discipline, or restraint, but it invokes those difficult life principles like commitment, duty, and drive. It’s doing a little bit more of what it takes or doing a little less of what you want in order to reach a goal (paying off debt, 10 more minutes in the workout, passing up cake, choosing Bible reading over social media or TV, etc.). The Christian understands that God has called him or her to a life of self-control. In what is really God-control—submitting our hearts and lives to God’s will—we are to live lives that call for self-denial and lead to discipleship. Our resolutions probably take that central truth into consideration.
The word used in the New Testament can seem daunting. The word ἐγκράτεια (enkrateia) means “to exercise complete control over one’s desires and actions” (Louw-Nida 750). It is daunting because it is exhausting (“exercise”), exhaustive (“complete”), and extensive (“control over desires and actions”). It leaves no part of me unexplored and unchecked. It takes in the internal and the external.
Yet, it is a mark of the redeemed. You find it in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). You find it in the Christian virtues, which speak of all that is gained or lost depending on whether those things are incorporated into our lives (2 Pet. 1:6). You find it attached to judgment and eternity (Acts 24:25). So, it is something God calls for in our lives anyway.
Pray for self-control. Identify the saboteurs of your self-control and eliminate, avoid, and address them. Be intentional, thinking specifically about the area where self-control is lacking (tongue, temper, tastebuds, etc.) and considering ways to improve there. Acknowledge times when you have succeeded or are succeeding and appreciate how good that feels.
What follows the exercise of self-control is almost always tangible results. Be patient. If you stumble, get back up and keep trying. At the end of that road is success!
Well, it has been nearly a week. Can you remember what your resolutions were? The holidays are over and you’re back in your routine. Life happens and it can eclipse our view of the better self we intended to be. Hopefully, this can be a reminder to regroup and maybe rededicate yourself to those well-thought-out resolutions. One thing that can help is “hope.”
Hope in the Bible is “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment” (BDAG 319). Now, with resolutions, we can have a hope that the goals we’ve established can be reached. But in harmony with an earlier reinforcement, we can have a hope grounded in God’s ability to strengthen us and providentially provide for every legitimate goal we have. If our resolutions will make us better Christians and servants in the kingdom, there’s great reason to have hope.
Make sure your goals are reasonable. Otherwise, you cannot have much hope of achieving them. If you have $100,000 in debt and your goal is to be debt-free next month, you won’t have hope to help you. Have intermediate goals that will get you from where you are now toward where you want to be.
You read about hope not only in both Testaments, but in all the different time periods of Bible history. Job longed for it during the early days of earth (Job 7:6). So did Naomi in the period of the Judges (Ruth 1:13). David spoke of it (1 Chronicles 29:15). Hundreds of years later, near the end of recorded Old Testament history, Ezra (10:2) and Esther (9:1) did, too. It features prominently in Israel’s song book (cf. Psa. 42:11). The New Testament frequently talks about it–some 73 times! It is a central driver in people’s lives. Lean on it to keep you on track and moving toward your goals. Don’t lose hope!
No, I have not gone geographically goofy!
It’ll take more than a sack lunch to go from Florida to southern Asia, but because some pet owners have deposited their no-longer-wanted pythons into the Everglade Swamp there have arisen some interesting ecological dilemmas. The most spectacular one I have seen had pictorial documentation to prove itself. There, in the black and white of the newspaper, was a Burmese python that had burst in its attempt to swallow…an alligator!
What about you? Do you have big goals and dreams? Where do you see yourself this time next year? By retirement time? In eternity? What tangible things are you “biting off” to make those goals reality? Do you have soul-winning and other spiritual goals? Would you like to be a “lighthouse Christian” whose example motivates many to be like Jesus?
How big are you thinking? How big can you think?
Remember that Paul included Christ in the equation (Phil. 4:13), so he was ready to take on the biggest challenges. He evangelized the then-known world (Col. 1:23). He stood before the leaders of the greatest nation on earth, men like Festus, Felix, Agrippa, and ultimately Caesar, and he preached Jesus to them (Acts 24-28; Phil. 4:22; Luke 21:12). He traveled perilous seas, enduring multiple harsh treatment (see 2 Cor. 11), and credible history says he was beheaded for his Lord. Paul, through God’s strength, felt he could change the world with Christ’s saving grace. Even though his wonderful ambition put him in the same ultimate position of that dislocated constrictor, what a memorable way to go. Unlike the snake’s, Paul’s efforts yielded everlasting benefits.
What are you ready to do for Christ? How far are you willing to go? What have you done to get started?
Maybe we shouldn’t apply the cliche, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” to Christian aspirations. In fact, chomp away!