Faith versus willpower for the new year
I’m a resolution guy. Making and keeping track of resolutions annually helps me track my forward progress in certain areas of life.
So every January, I evaluate my resolutions from the previous year and make new ones. For some time now, I’ve been dividing these resolutions into categories: financial, spiritual development, family and ministry.
The New Year provides a good occasion to look back at how the previous year shaped up in these categories and then evaluate what the next step might be.
But here’s the thing about making resolutions like that: Often when you look back, you’re disappointed by your lack of effort in the previous year.
You look at those goals—those resolutions—and you think to yourself, I really could have saved more. I could have exercised more. I could have read more. If only I had tried a little harder.
Then, when you look forward to what you want to accomplish and put your time and energy toward the next year, you do so with the attitude of, I’m really going to try harder and get it this year.
Take a physical goal, for example. Let’s say that you want to lose 20 pounds. So you resolve that you’re going to try hard to do it. You try hard by throwing away all the leftover Christmas cookies in the house. You try hard by looking up all the low-calorie recipes you can find.
You try hard by signing up for a gym membership and purchasing a second alarm clock you set and place across the room so when you turn off the first one, you still have to get up because the other one is ringing. Effort abounds, and you do try hard.
Or you do for a while. Then you take a day off. You eat a little more. You find a reason not to follow through, and slowly but surely, your resolve weakens and your effort wanes.
The problem with trying hard like that is you run out of steam. Always. But what if there were a better way to try? This year, I want to try hard, but I want to try hard at the right thing. I want to try hard at that which God prizes in his people. I’m going to try hard to believe.
We often make the mistake of thinking that resolutions are about willpower. Though certainly that’s a big part of it, the truth is every decision we make is, at some level, driven and maintained by faith. What we believe will in the end determine what we do. Think about it again in terms of the diet.
In the case of losing 20 pounds, instead of just trying harder to eat right and go to the gym, I’m going to focus my primary effort elsewhere. I’m going to attack the root of the issue at the faith level.
Instead of focusing my effort on the weight, I’m going to try hard to believe my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m going to try hard to believe God will empower me to honor him with my body. I’m going to try hard to believe he’s my sustenance—not another bag of potato chips.
There’s a huge difference. One is centered on sweat; the other is centered on faith. One lifts up the power of humanity; the other lifts up the power of God. One is about me; the other is about the gospel.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking, “Why can’t I try hard enough to accomplish the things I have resolved to do?” Maybe we should instead be asking what we should be trying hard to believe about God and his work in our lives. Perhaps it’s that belief—that faith—that can result in the change we need.
This year, resolve to try hard, but to try hard at the right thing. Faith is the center of all things—even trying harder.
This article originally appeared on NewChurches.com and is reposted here by permission.