New Year’s resolutions for individual, congregational spiritual growth

By Carolyn Tomlin
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

As 2020 begins, many people will optimistically make New Year’s resolutions.

Historians aren’t certain when this custom started, but the practice was recorded more than 4,000 years ago by the early Babylonians. They believed that whatever a person did on the first day of the year would affect the next 12 months. 

Although the success rate of most resolutions is very low, almost half of Americans set at least one goal in honor of the New Year. The most common goals in the United States are to eat healthier, exercise more and save more money. However, about one third of Americans are more realistic — they say they won’t be setting any resolutions for the coming year.

For the Christian the New Year is a time to rededicate one’s life to Christ and to follow His teachings. It is a time to honor the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and to live a Christ-like life. 

That’s what Chuck Anderson, pastor of Shawmut Baptist Church, Valley, focuses on when it comes to resolutions.

“I don’t want to miss a single daily blessing that God has planned for me and my family,” Anderson said. “As I stand at the doorway of another new year I stand earnestly, purposefully and resolutely on the promise of His abundant provision and never-ceasing forgiveness.”

Anderson said he finds encouragement in Lamentations 3:21–23 that God is always faithful and will never fail us, even when we sin and fall away.

“What if I break my resolution with Him? No worries. God never breaks His for me,” Anderson said.

Scripture provides not only encouragement but also a reason for resolutions, according to Tom Richter, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cullman. 

‘Fulfill every resolve’

“In 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, God’s word gives Christians a proper perspective on resolutions,” Richter said. “Paul prays for Christians that they may ‘fulfill every resolve for good.’ We fulfill resolutions by His power.”

Though guilt may motivate a lot of resolutions, Scripture reminds us that we are already called, Richter said. 

“The best resolutions are not for our glory — looking thinner, making more money, etc.,” he said. “We make resolutions, according to this passage, so that the name of Jesus may be glorified.”

To that end church congregations also can set goals, said Keith Smyser, pastor of education and administration at First Baptist Church, Athens.

Church members are encouraged to grow in their commitment to giving and going, Smyser said. 

“We want our people to grow in the grace of missions. We ask our people to share the gospel with at least two people this year,” he said.

Church leaders also want people of all ages to be engaged in God’s word, Smyser said.

“At First, Athens, we encourage our members to be regular readers of the Bible,” Smyser said. “We want them to read daily, make communing with God and His word a practice and not allow other things to get in the way.”

A 2017 LifeWay Research study found that just 32% of Americans have read most or all of the Bible. Often people start reading and become overwhelmed by the number of chapters (1,189) and the verses (31,102). However, many people do not realize they can read the Bible in a year by reading fewer than four chapters a day.

Reading programs

To help people follow through, First, Athens, suggests several programs that encourage people to read the Bible daily, including: 

71 Days in Isaiah — Work your way through Isaiah in 71 days to experience the full impact of the prophet’s word. Plan length: 71 days

Book Order — Read straight through from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Plan length: 365 days

Chronological New Testament — Read the New Testament in three months in the order the events happened. Plan length: 92 days

Classic — Read 3 passages each day, starting with Genesis, Psalms and Luke. Plan length: 365 days

Daily Gospel — The plan focuses on the record of the life of Christ. Read through all four gospels in 45 days.