A Needed Disappointment for the New Year

We are addicted to self-sufficiency. Without even realizing it we are all junkies for independence. The beginning of the new year is often a time when this becomes even more evident. It’s the time when we are bombarded with encouragement to reflect and resolve. The hope is that in the New Year we will reach a greater level of self-improvement or attain a lasting commitment to live better. The turning of a year seems to put us on a quest to become all that we wish we could be.

I am not at all opposed to the New Year being a time of reflection and goal setting. I do this every year and find it helpful. In fact, I have already spent time considering what I things I hope to try to start or at least do differently this year. It was in my New Year planning that I stumbled on a much-needed disappointment from a passage of Scripture. The message I read loud and clear was: I cannot do it! I am insufficient!

Before you stop reading and before you think the Bible throws a wet blanket on all the New Year’s resolutions, let me explain.

In our effort pursue a change, develop a skill, or embark on a new self-improvement routine, God holds out this necessary disappointment. He gives a needed reminder that provides warning and perspective. It is possible that all our resolve and effort could be in vain. Here is what I read.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:1-2

Three times he says these efforts are in vain. He doesn’t say our efforts are bad, just that there is a way to do them that will prove pointless. When we seek to do anything in our own strength independent of God, no matter how good that thing is, it is in vain. We cannot do it. Why? Because we are insufficient.

We are not able to become our best selves on our own. Our best life comes in complete dependence on the God who made us. Yet we still try. Self-reflection is helpful and plans for personal improvement can be beneficial, but this can also lead to more striving, specifically when we resolve in our own strength.

So, in this dawn of a new year, embrace not being enough. Feast at the table of dependence where our heavenly Father provides all that is needed. With this mindset move toward your plans with open hands. Lay your resolves and aspirations before the Lord and remember that unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

Motivation, self-reflection, planning and goal setting can be fruitful. But in our own strength these all miss the mark and we end up only feeding our natural disposition to make much of ourselves rather than making much of Christ. Instead plan with a dependent disposition. Embrace the needed disappointment that your efforts are insufficient on your own and instead look to the Lord to establish the work of your hands.

8 thoughts on “A Needed Disappointment for the New Year

  1. I second this! Thank you! I love planning and setting new objectives, and I need to do this to help me keep focused and if I want to try to “improve” and learn from the past year. I’m glad that it’s not a bad thing to do either, but YES, we are insufficient and need to be reminded of this, that it is the LORD that will determine our steps and our plans, it is by His grace if we “succeed.” May I make more and much of Christ! Happy New Year to you!

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  2. Eliza – thank you! This is so important. Many folks poo-poo the idea of resolutions, mistakenly thinking that you begin with them. But if we follow the example of Jonathan Edwards, resolutions are the conclusion of the process. He read his Bible first, meditating on what he read and praying for enlightenment. Then as he desired to repent of a particular sinful pattern, he wrote down his action plan based on what he was confessing and repenting, his resolution as a result of all that went before. You conclude rightly that “in our own strength these all miss the mark.” The process of Biblical change begins with renewing the mind and then committing the heart, all the while dependant on the Spirit.

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