As we approach the end of 2004, there will be many who will try to make "New Year's Resolutions." Such resolutions to me are funny things, since they can be considered tacit admissions of failure. For some, the drive to do something differently than last year, or to do something we did not last year stems from a sense that what we did this past year just did not work, or did not work satisfactorily.
Funny, but I don't often hear people reflecting on why things did not work. Maybe they do, but I don't hear about it, and that leads me to wonder whether folks actually engage in that kind of reflection. I have to wonder at the value of resolutions that don't have a reflective foundation; motives may be more at fault for the past year's failures than we realize.
God certainly seems to think that motives matter. In James 4:3 we are told that wrong motives are the reason we don't get what we pray for. In fact, that verse is very enlightening for us: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
When we make New Year's resolutions I think we are implicitly asking for things to go better this coming year than in the year just ending. But are we asking for that with the right motives? Are we looking for a better year just so we can please ourselves, or are we looking to have a better year so that we can please people other than ourselves?
If we really want a fresh start for the year, we probably need to decide first who we want to please. We are going to be pleasing someone, maybe several someones, throughout the year, so we may as well be intentional about it. We really should be out to please God. As Rick Warren says in his book "The Purpose Driven Life", this life isn't about us. Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all the things which we usually think will make us happy be given to us (Matt. 6:33).
It seems to me that one of the first resolutions we need to make is to seek first what God wants, to live for Him and not ourselves. That isn't easy, and don't let anyone tell you it is. The pleasures of this world can easily entice us to please ourselves first, and they are often more immediate in our lives than God. No, we need God's help for that. Thankfully He really wants to give us that help. Paul writes in 1Co. 10:13: "You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations."
Get a fresh start with God now, and I guarantee that next New Year you'll be trying to figure out how to build on the previous year's successes rather than lamenting its failures.