Sweet Resolutions for a New Year
by David Sliker
The great Jonathan Edwards coined one of my favorite phrases from church history. He spoke of the “sweet resolutions” of the soul that one makes before the Lord, and at age 18 he began to write them down. He ended up, over the course of time, with 70 of them, each deeply serious, challenging, and powerful; yet each was fraught with pitfalls, difficulties, and near-impossibilities. They were not the kind of New Year’s resolutions we make today. Number 56 expresses his resolution to wage war against his own sin and brokenness: “Resolved,” he wrote on August 17, 1723, “never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Number 28 spoke of his view of Scripture and submission to the Word of God so desperately needed in this generation: “Resolved to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”
Just as critical, however, is the manner in which he opened his 70 resolutions: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.” This is a critically important statement if we endeavor to emulate Edwards’ wholehearted and sincere reach for Jesus and the fullness of what was possible in and through Christ. Why? I find that, in today’s world, many live between two extremes in the natural cycles of life and time. They vacillate between idealism and shallow, unbiblical optimism, or fatalism and defeatism regarding their longing for personal growth, maturity, change, and self-improvement. Therefore, they either make New Year’s resolutions habitually and lightly, making trite declarations to change deeply ingrained poor habits and negative behaviors; or they refuse to make any resolutions at all, as past failures and an inability to change have left them feeling broken, frustrated, and ultimately passive in the face of necessary change.
Our fundamental problem and glory is that we were born with deep longings of the heart for greatness, impact, and wholeheartedness (amongst many others). This is why Jesus declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:3–4). We were made to reach, to progress, and to improve ourselves. Restlessness, boredom, and stale, passive, halfheartedness are destructive to our souls. When we settle for less than what we were made for and begin to withdraw out of pain, shame, hopelessness, or immaturity, something breaks on the inside of us as we begin to give in to compromise. We were made for “sweet resolutions” and the grit and the will to ache and reach for the impossible. Therefore, there is something profound, healthy, and beautiful about our desire to make New Year’s resolutions. Interior declarations before the Lord saying that we want more are some of the most powerful things we can cry out to Him in prayer. It delights God immensely that His people long for more, even though they are absolutely powerless apart from His help to lay hold of more.
This brings me back to the “critical statement” of Jonathan Edwards that I identified earlier. As a young man, Edwards understood that the grace of God gives us access to limitless power from heaven to step into life and godliness as God defines it. Paul states this plainly in Ephesians 1:2 and Romans 5:2; Peter said the same thing in 2 Peter 1:3. God has given to us all things pertaining to life and godliness, therefore, all things are possible in Christ Jesus. Jonathan Edwards’ profound resolutions that touched every area of his life were the expressed prayers of a man who chose to take Paul and Peter at their (Holy Spirit-inspired) word. God said it, so he believed it—that which would have been impossible for him apart from God was now possible by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. If that is true, and God desires to release the full measure of His every spiritual blessing, then how far can we go in the grace of God? How far can the love of God take us? Edwards’ 70 resolutions took that invitation of God to give all seriously, and he began to diligently apply that invitation and requisite power to the details of loving Jesus wholeheartedly.
In that light, I want to encourage us as a new year dawns (a year I believe to be a very significant one): If you have made New Year’s resolutions in the past that were trite, shallow, or flippant, I want to urge you to consider taking your faith, your future, and your destiny (and possibilities) in Christ far more seriously and soberly. I want to challenge you to begin aiming at living a life without regret, knowing that at the end of your days, your ache and longing for all God wants to give were answered during these years with real faith and obedience. On the other hand, if you have long since given up on making New Year’s resolutions, and you find yourself fighting a quiet but growing battle against cynicism, hopelessness, and passivity, take heart. There is a fresh start, new mercies, and a glorious future ahead for you beginning today. We can refuse to settle for less than what the grace of God offers us in fullness. In fact, that can be our first fresh, new resolution for the new year.
The book of Revelation tells us that the end-time church overcomes—which means that it overcomes internal compromise and failure as well as external temptations and pressures of life, refusing to quit. I don’t believe that anyone wants to “quit” on their faith, on Jesus, or on their friends and family. However, I have seen many who quietly quit because of shame and failure by settling for less. I want to believe the promises of God—all the days of my life, with a tender, faith-filled heart on the other side of the disappointment, conflict, pain, and trials of this life. I have found that the zeal of my youth can be quickly overtaken by disappointment, disillusionment, or cynicism. It becomes all too easy when my heart is wounded, disappointed, or angry to settle in and settle for less. In His perfect leadership and love, Jesus is jealous to bring us into mature love and the fullness of true joy. This joy is found in a heart that is rooted and grounded in His affections, unshakable and unmovable. I have found my way in my lifelong quest to lay hold of this kind of love that it comes one sweet resolution at a time, followed by small moments of grace and help from Jesus that keep moving me forward in Him. The changes are small, they are often weak, and at times the delay and process are very frustrating. But the process is also very real, very sweet, and very powerful. Most importantly, the end result of His love and grace will be very worth it.
What resolutions are stirring in you for this upcoming year? Let’s lay hold together of fresh faith for God’s grace and help in those areas of life!
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David Sliker has been a senior leader at the International House of Prayer Missions Base in Kansas City, Missouri, for the past 20 years. Ministering and serving with his wife, Tracey, and their four children, Riley, Lauren, Daniel, and Finney, David’s primary ministry calling is as an intercessor. Additionally, he ministers internationally, equipping saints in prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, passion for the Word of God, and the proclamation of Jesus’ return. He is the president of International House of Prayer University, where he teaches about prayer and intimacy with Jesus, missions, biblical studies, and the return of Jesus. He is the author of End-Times Simplified: Preparing Your Heart for the Coming Storm, The Nations Rage: Prayer, Promise, and Power in an Anti-Christian Age, and The Triumph of Beauty: God’s Radiant Answer to the World’s Growing Darkness.