“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13) Think of the difference that one teacher who is merciful can make in a school. Think of the difference in a business or a church or a family when there’s one person with a tender heart who...
As a copywriter, one of my tasks is to write marketing materials. Something I’ve learned writing ads, emails, and more is that every goal has another goal behind it. This is called a motive.
You may think your goal is to lose weight this year. But what’s the goal behind losing weight? Your motive may have to do with self-image, your health, or having the energy to go on an adventure you’ve always dreamed about.
New Year’s Resolutions tend to get many of us thinking about goals, but our motives aren’t typically the focus.
God’s attention to motives suggests we might be approaching our resolutions backward:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
How do we purify our motives as we set New Year’s Resolutions this year?
1. Watch Out for Selfish Ambition
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Ambition isn’t unbiblical. God Himself makes plans and has goals. Many people whose stories are commended in the Bible set out to accomplish things. Jesus once disappointed an admiring crowd because He had an ambition, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
God warns us in our ambitions, though: the heart is deceitful above all things and He searches our very hearts and minds (Jeremiah 17:9–10). It isn’t hard for us to do right things for the wrong reasons—or wrong things for the right reasons. Your goal might be good, but your motive might have more to do with your own glory than God’s. It may also be more focused on you than on serving others, which is another one of God’s priorities.
Ask God to purify your heart as you set resolutions this year. Consider if your motives line up with God’s purposes.
2. Grow in Dependence
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7)
One thing that sets a believer’s life apart is growing dependence. Sin in our hearts and in the world makes self-sufficiency seem like a sign of maturity and accomplishment. God, meanwhile, commends those who grow in reliance on Him.
Jesus sets the example for this as He does nothing apart from the will of God. He commands us to do the same: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Apart from Jesus you can do nothing of real value. You might accomplish something temporal, but all the elements which build into eternity will be absent. Reaching your goals won’t lead to authentic worship. The process won’t show you the goodness of God. If you haven’t prayed, you won’t have answered prayers.
If you’re going to pour effort into a resolution, wouldn’t you like it be one with lasting effect? Tackle “whatever you do” leaning on God’s understanding, laid out in His Word. Acknowledge Him in prayer and praise.
3. Consider Good Examples
As you weigh your motives in regards to resolutions, examples of God’s priorities might help.
- Read Colossians 1:9-14 or Ephesians 1:15-23. What did Paul pray for those he loved? His prayer requests offer ample examples of priorities we might resolve to seek ourselves or for our loved ones.
- Reread James, an action-driven, goal-oriented letter about faith having effect. For example, James offers plenty of wisdom on bridling the tongue.
- Read Philippians 4:8 for examples of the kinds of things Christ wants us to focus on.
- Read the Sermon on the Mount, starting in Matthew 5, to review several of Christ’s calls to action for those who would follow Him, like purity, peace, and honesty.
4. Consider What’s Fruitful
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Have you ever noticed how antithetical the fruit of the Spirit is to many modern goal-setting strategies? Current culture caters to our sinful natures. Forget patience, there are ten million ways to change your life in less than five minutes. Drop the idea of self-control: you can have your cake and eat it, sans calories, too.
The results of worldly resolutions are fragile, fickle things in comparison to the treasures of eternity. Thankfully, we can lay up our treasure in heaven even as we live our very-real lives on earth (Matthew 16:19-21). Our earthly accomplishments can also be investments in what endures forever.
Set your resolutions with the goal of being fruitful. Ask: how will this open my heart to the work of the Spirit so He might produce fruit in me? How will this testify to others about Christ?