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The Key to Making Resolutions That Stick

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It’s a new year, and many of us made new resolutions. We’re only a few days in to this new year, and chances are some of us are not as committed as we thought we would be. Why is that?

A disclaimer: This is not one of those articles about why new year’s resolutions are a bad idea and don’t work. I like new year’s resolutions. There’s something about the beginning of a year that gives us a blank slate, a freshness and a sense of new opportunity. I have made many new year’s resolutions…and I have broken just about all of them. Why is that? Why is it that we (or at least many of us) don’t seem to have the follow-through that is needed to accomplish our resolutions?

If you’re like me, you’ve focused on making the wrong thing. We get to the start of a new year and think: I am going to lose weight, save money, tithe more, manage my time, finally take a vacation or finally quit loafing around. We focus on what we want to do, but not how we’re going to do it. Having big goals is a great (even necessary) thing, but our goals are not the most important thing.

Jesus implemented patterns and routines in his life that would shape him into the man we needed him to be.

The Power of Habit

When you think about it, nothing is stronger than our habits. It’s been said that we make our habits and then our habits end up making us. I wholeheartedly recommend having goals, dreams and visions that we are striving to achieve, by the grace of God. Yet, without focusing on the needed habits to move into that specific direction, we won’t get anywhere.

So, before thinking about the power of habit, some of us need to honestly consider, “What is God calling me into, and what is God developing me into?” Without the destination, the daily disciplines won’t matter. Once we get a grasp on the kind of man or woman that God is growing us into we are then ready to think about how to get there — to think about our habits.

Jesus Was a Man of Habits.

When we want to think about what it means to take habits seriously, we need look no further than Jesus. Jesus was a man of substance, depth and destiny — and he was a man of habits. In Luke 4:16, early in his life, we learn that Jesus went into the synagogue “as was his custom.” We tend miss this humanity when we focus on the deity of Jesus, but he was a creature of habits. It was his custom to go to the synagogue. By God’s grace and for God’s glory Jesus implemented patterns and routines in his life that would shape him into the man we all needed him to be.

At the end of his life we also see Jesus living according to his habits. In Luke 22:39, Jesus went out “as usual” to the Mount of Olives to pray. There again we see Jesus doing something according to habit, on routine, as was his custom. At the beginning and end of his life, Jesus lived as a creature of habit. What can we learn from him? We see that Jesus had spiritual rhythms that allowed him to step into his spiritual destiny.

We often focus on the outcome without giving any attention to the process.

Where We Go from Here

Whatever the Spirit brings to your mind as you read this article, there are a few ways all of us can respond that will lead us to fuller and more developed lives. Here are four suggestions.

1. Set your sights on a vision for your life.

First, we need an idea of where we’re going before we focus on the necessary habits to get there. The picture is amazingly clear: We want to look like Jesus. The Father will conform us to the image of the Son. God’s Spirit will show us the incremental steps that are ahead for all of us as we gather with our local church, submit ourselves to preaching and shepherding, give ourselves to confession and community, study the Word for our own souls and pray. The Spirit will use the context of discipleship to show us what is next.

While we’re being shaped into the image of the Son, that shaping often takes place one chisel strike at a time. We need some idea of what we’re working on next.

2. Cultivate the needed habits to move into that vision.

Next, we don’t simply need ideals about what we’re going to do and we who are going to be. We need practices that are well-designed and intentioned to help move us into those things. This is where so many new year’s resolutions falter: We often focus on the outcome without giving any attention to the process.

What if we started with thinking of the destination and then also gave time to figuring out practical steps to get from here to there? It sounds so obvious, but if we’re honest we usually don’t give this kind of attention and care to the process.

So much more could be said about what these kinds of habits are, and how you can cultivate them. At their core, most Christian habits are merely detailed application of the spiritual disciplines such as prayer, scripture reading, generosity, worship, evangelism and so forth.

3. Resist the impulse of impatience.

All of us struggle with impatience, but millennials (like myself) often struggle with this the most. We struggle with faithfulness in our habits. We want the story but not the spiritual sweat required to get from here to there. We want the destiny, but we don’t want the long days and nights of discipline required in order to walk into it.

We want the instagrammable moment that shows we have made it, but we don’t want to be honest about the fact that our addiction to social media in particular and technology in general is a serious issue. All of this is true because we have bought into a false vision of progress. We’ve lost touch with how the world works because we’re caught up in a false narrative that reveals a photoshopped, instant, and easy existence. As instant as everything seems to be, life must be grinded out, often in obscurity and with little notoriety for doing the right thing the right way.

4. Abide.

At the end of the day, becoming a different you doesn’t depend on you. It is the Father who works within you for his own good pleasure (Philippians 2:3). Yet, mysteriously, God mixes his sovereign grace with our spiritual sweat and changes us.

This whole conversation about resolutions and habits can be boiled down to one word: Abiding. Where are we abiding? Where do we find our identity? Where are our souls at ultimate rest? Wherever that is, that is the life source from which all of our creative energies will flow.

So, as we consider we need to do to get from here to there, we conclude by hearing the words of Jesus which form the soil in which all of this grows,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

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  • vocation
Thomas West

Thomas serves as the Discipleship Pastor at Providence Baptist Church. He holds a PhD from Southeastern Seminary. He's passionate about bringing Lesslie Newbigin's thought to bear on today’s life and ministry. He and his wife Elizabeth live in Raleigh with their two children.

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