As far as we can tell, the idea of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back to the Babylonians in 2000 BC. During a 12-day New Year festival, they would make promises to their gods to repay their debts and return borrowed farm equipment. They believed that if they kept those promises, their gods would favor them with healthy crops in the coming year.
Today, New Year’s resolutions are more about achieving goals and turning around bad habits than appeasing any gods. In a 2022 YouGov poll, 37 percent of Americans had a resolution they wanted to accomplish in 2023. These included things like:
- Making positive changes to health
- Saving money
- Eating healthier
- Being happy
- Losing weight
As Christians, what should we think about setting New Year’s resolutions? Is it a harmless practice? Does God care about resolutions?
The importance of self-examination
Self-examination is a theme that runs through Scripture. The biblical writers encourage us to look at our lives and ensure we genuinely pursue God’s ways. A couple of examples include:
Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40).
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test (2 Corinthians 13:5)?
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load (Galatians 6:3-5).
While we should always be open to correction and assessing our behavior, there is something to be said for having a rhythm to our self-examination. If we learn anything about the way God set up nature, there is a time and season for everything. It makes sense that at the end of the year, we might consider the year’s highs and lows and what changes we should make to love God and others better.
Making changes that matter
When it comes to growth for Christians, it’s essential to consider the purpose of our goals. What is our motive? What’s driving the things we aspire toward? Do we want to get healthy so we can live better and serve more passionately? Or do we want to slim down for beach season? Do we want to save money to improve our lifestyle, or are we aspiring to be better stewards of our resources?
The goal is to become more like Jesus and join Him in building His kingdom. So it seems wise to use the annual resetting of the clock as an opportunity to take stock of the last year and be thoughtful about positive changes we can make or spiritual disciplines we can adopt.
Obviously, we don’t need to wait until January when we recognize changes that need to be made in June. But in the same way that we rely on the rhythm of the day to help set our devotional schedule (quiet time in the morning and prayer in the evening, for instance), we can use the annual rhythm to assess our behavior and values and make adjustments for the coming year. And these kinds of thoughtful modifications help us draw nearer to the Lord.
If you’re interested in developing helpful spiritual disciplines, check out the following articles: