New Year's Resolutions 2.0
The new year provides us with a natural moment for a fresh start. Many of us make new year's resolutions, yet, many of those resolutions don't turn into new habits. How can we do resolutions in a better way, setting us up to experience God's blessing and direction for in the new year?
Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!
I love how a new calendar year provides us with this opportunity to start afresh. At least, this is how it works for me, because my birthday is on January 2nd and so a new calendar year is also a new life year for me.
The new year gives us this natural opportunity to think with intentionality about what we want this new year to look like. We call those: new year’s resolutions.
January is the best month for gyms, and the worst month for the tobacco industry.
I think that resolutions are great. But I know, many are doomed to fail, and many of my new year’s resolutions haven’t survived for more than a week – yet, I do keep on making them and some have made it through and became new patterns in my daily life.
I think that all of us may have some things in our 2019s that we don’t want to take into 2020. Perhaps some habits crept in. I guess that we all have some things that we really wish to stop or to start.
One thing that I’ve learned about new year’s resolutions is that, if you make them only for your own benefit and try to achieve them purely in your own strength, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to see them through. In that sense, new year’s resolutions only set you up for a guilt trip. But if you involve God in making them and realizing them, you may be on the verge of a breakthrough.
We will look at a passage from the book of Joshua where the Israelites were on the verge of a breakthrough. I love how so often the things that happen in a very literal sense in the Old Testaments provide us with a spiritual understanding for what can happen in our lives.
We will be reading from chapter 3 today, where the Israelites are about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They are literally at the verge of a breakthrough. After crossing the Jordan River, they would begin to conquer the land. They were stepping into a new phase in their history.
Joshua 3:1-5 (NLT)
Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia Grove and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing. Three days later the Israelite officers went through the camp, giving these instructions to the people: “When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, move out from your positions and follow them. Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you. Stay about half a mile behind them, keeping a clear distance between you and the Ark. Make sure you don’t come any closer.” Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
I am going to give you three keys to turn your new year’s resolution into a breakthrough. I believe that God wants to bless you in 2020. You cannot earn this or achieve this, but when it comes to blessing, you can position yourself for it.
Joshua told the people: “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
A breakthrough doesn’t just happen. It requires preparation and intentionality from our end. Joshua told the people to purify themselves as a sense of preparation; getting ready for what God was going to do.
If you want to see a breakthrough in your life in 2020, there are certain things you want to do now at the start of this year.
a. Remove the barriers
Joshua told the people to purify themselves. This was done through a ritual cleansing – but had a deep spiritual significance.
The obstacle to a breakthrough is not only outside of yourself, but certainly also within you. When is the last time you prayed a prayer like this: “Oh Lord, search me, and point out what sin or thought pattern or habit I need to break in order to get to where you are leading me?”
Sometimes we may mistake God’s loving embrace of our incompleteness as an approval of our iniquity. But sin is still a very serious issue and God wants to cleanse you from it, not only for His sake but also for your sake.
I know this may be scary, but it is so good to just humble yourself before the Lord, and ask Him to point out to you what some things in your life may be that are barriers and blockages to where He wants to take you. In my experience, when God speaks to you in these areas, He does it in the most loving and truthful way.
b. Be specific
You have got to be intentional about what you want. If you don’t know what you want you can be sure that it won’t happen either. What do you want to be different this year? In what area of your life do you long to see a change?
Here’s the thing. God doesn’t usually answer vague prayers. And if He does, we will certainly not be to receive the answer because we don’t know what to listen for.
Specific prayer is so much more powerful than vague prayer. If you want to see breakthrough, you have to be specific about the area where breakthrough is needed, and what the change is you so desire.
God doesn’t usually answer vague prayers. And if He does, we won't know what to listen for.
Write down in what area of your life you struggle the most, or where you long to see a change. But let me warn you; only write it down in you are prepared to do something for that change, and if God can have a say in how to go about it.
Being specific also translates into setting goals. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with setting goals. I’ve always hated setting SMART goals for internships and other assignments at school. And even though goals may help to be a motivator, they can also crush motivation when you don’t make enough progress to achieve it.
Here are two lessons about goal setting God has been teaching me over the years.
Make sure the motivation is pure If the motivation behind the goal that you set is impure, you are not positioning yourself for God’s blessing. For example, If you are setting the goal to bench press 100 kilos in order to impress someone, that’s an impure motivation. If you are setting the goal to lose weight because of insecurity, that is an impure motivation. If you want to read through the Bible in one year because you believe God will love you more, that is an impure motivation. These are all great goals! Yet, if our motivation behind the goal is impure, then you are also setting yourself up for an impure outcome, and God won’t bless that.
Try to set input-goals instead of output-goals
This is something I’ve learned through trial and error, and from listening to people wiser than me. Output goals are only targets. They may sound something like this: Loose 10kg, score an 8 or up on every test, get a promotion. But what happens when you don't achieve the goal? Did you fail? Output goals may help us to stay on track, but they can also set us up for a guilt trip.
Input goals focus on habits. They may sound something like this: eat healthy and workout regularly, improve my study-ethic so that I can score as high as I can on tests
or, become a promotable person.
Even though it may be very good to set some output goals, because they may help you to stay on track, your focus should be on what you put in. The true win is in the input, because that is where the true change is and where the perceived improvement is also made sustainable.
Joshua told the people: “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
There is this deep sense of expectation in this announcement. Tomorrow, God is going to do something new. Tomorrow, we will see the breakthrough. It is at hand. It is happening!
Whatever yesterday looked like, with Jesus, you can look forward with expectation to tomorrow today.
I think everyone reading this, is smart enough not to fall for the mantra’s of positivity gurus and pep-talk preachers. Shallow talk is not going to get you anywhere.
Yet, I firmly believe that there is something deeply spiritual about always being positive and being expectant, because our positive expectation is based in Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead. Therefore, we have a firm hope that whatever is currently dead, can be raised to life again. Any dream that is dead, any relationship that is dead, any health issue, job issue, finance issue or sin issue will not necessarily stay dead or stuck or broken, because we have a God that is in the business of resurrection!
Our positive attitude rests in the historic event of Jesus resurrection. It rests in God’s character – His goodness and His faithfulness.
Positivity is a deeply spiritual characteristic, because our positive attitude rests in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the goodness and faithfulness of God.
So, ask the Holy Spirit to shift something deep inside of you as you look to 2020, and let Him fill you with hope and expectation that tomorrow, God is going to do something new in your life.
Joshua told the people:
“Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
On their way to the breakthrough of conquering the land, God would set them off to this journey with a great miracle – letting them know that He was with them and showing them that it was by His power that the breakthrough would happen.
Joshua 3:14-17 (NLT)
So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground.
There’s a lot of things that I love about this story. One great lesson is that leadership means getting your feet wet. The leaders and the priests of Israel had to go ahead of the people, carrying the Ark – symbolizing the presence of God – into the river, believing that God would come through for them.
You may not think of yourself as a leader, because you may not be in a position of leadership. But every single one of us is given leadership and authority in some area. You carry leadership of your own life, your family, at work, in your neighborhood. I believe that, to receive the blessing of God in some of these areas in our lives, we need to take a step of faith.
We need to go stand in the river, with the presence of God, believing that He will come through. Often, this is done in prayer, this may be through starting a conversation or initiating something. Whatever it looks like, make sure that you carry the presence of God into it.
Look at your new year’s resolutions. Are they God-sized dreams and intentions? What do I mean with that? Are they so big and God-honoring and scary, that you are surely going to fail if God doesn’t come through for you?
1 dream - 3 commitments
Let me end this message with a small exercize.
Firstly, write down your one big dream for 2020. Let it be God-sized, positive, full of expectation, daring and a bit scary.
Secondly, write down 3 commitments on your end that will position yourself for God’s blessing. These are your resolutions, your input goals. What are you going to start doing or stop doing in 2020? What are things that you know God is asking from you, that you intend to commit to this year?