As we move to the end of another year it is common practice to make goals or resolutions for the New Year ahead. It’s a good idea. The old adage is true: If you aim at nothing you are sure to hit it!
Common resolutions include things like: losing weight, saving money, getting more exercise, making certain travels, reaching a career goal or even get a new job. These aren’t bad things. They are good goals to make. However this morning I want to argue that we can make resolutions that pursue better things than these.
Look with me at a text in Isaiah 46:5-11. Isaiah the prophet contrasts two ways of living life. Isaiah is recording God speaking.
5 “To whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?
6 Some people pour out their silver and gold
and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
Then they bow down and worship it!
7 They carry it around on their shoulders,
and when they set it down, it stays there.
It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.
Approach Number 1: Create Your Own Gods
I hope that you can readily see the foolishness of this way of thinking. However people make this choice over and over. Rather than submit to the God who is over all, they choose to fashion a God they can control and will submit to us. Isaiah is talking about a tangible idol, something made of wood or metal. The gods we fashion are more subtle, they are ideas, beliefs, achievements to which we devote our lives.
The Lord makes fun of the idolaters who were active at the time.
- They spend lots of money to have their god made (if you are going to create god why not create one that is attractive?) It would be like building a bookshelf (a beautiful bookshelf) and then bowing down to it asking it to help you. I hope you see that you have power over the bookshelf (you can destroy it, move it, or refashion it); it has no power over you!
- This new god is dependent (they have to carry it around on their shoulders and when they put it down it is powerless to do anything). It is an inanimate (or lifeless) object. At times they must “prop” up this god so it doesn’t topple.
- The people pray to this god but he has no power to answer their prayers because the “god” is lifeless.
Once again, our society may not erect gods but we do bow down before false gods of various kinds. Just recently someone wrote me on the Internet claiming that we are all gods in human form. He said we must recognize that god-ness within us. He contended that Jesus is no different from the rest of us except that he was conceived by the seed of aliens! He contends that we choose what is good and evil. One of the authors he gave me to read state that the reason more people don’t embrace this truth is because they insist on rationality! People will go to amazing lengths to fashion god in their own image!
A much more acceptable idolatry in our day is to look to jobs, income levels, awards, achievements, academic pursuits, personal feelings, experience, pleasure, family, literature, appearance (or fitness) and various religious practices to bring meaning and fulfillment to our life.
These false gods are more pervasive than you might think. Think about the resolutions you make for a new year. Isn’t there a part of us that believes if we could gain (or lose) certain things, or achieve certain goals, then life would be better . . . we would be fulfilled? Is there not a sense that if we could eliminate all the problems of our life then we would be happy?
There is nothing wrong with trying to eliminate problems and strengthening areas of weakness. This turns into idolatry however, when we chase fulfillment through these things; when we trust these things to do for us what God alone can do. Only the Lord can save us. Only He can bring us true peace. Only He knows the true way of life.
Sinful human nature rebelliously wants to pursue every avenue other than putting our hope, trust, and reliance on the Lord. We do not want to submit to the Lord. We want to save ourselves! This attitude turns away from the only true and living God to idols made by men.
Follow the Only True God
There is an alternative.
8 “Do not forget this! Keep it in mind!
Remember this, you guilty ones.
9 Remember the things I have done in the past.
For I alone am God!
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 Only I can tell you the future
before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
for I do whatever I wish.
11 I will call a swift bird of prey from the east—
a leader from a distant land to come and do my bidding.
I have said what I would do, and I will do it.
The alternative is to remember that there is One God and He is alive and active in the world. He knows the future and controls the future. He is not dependent on us, we are dependent on Him.
God does not ask us to merely trust Him blindly. He challenges us to look at His track record. He invites (commands) us to see what He has done in the past and understand that just as He was Lord over the past, He is also Lord of the future. In fact, in verse 11 God alludes to a leader (Cyrus, the Persian King who was not yet in power) who would come and release Israel from the bondage to the Babylonians.
If you contrast the LORD with the gods of our own construction we see
- He made us, we did not make Him
- He is Sovereign over all, not powerless like lifeless gods
- He responds to his people, rather than merely sitting there like a lump
- He is strong and immovable unlike the gods that have to be propped up so they don’t topple.
- His Law is based on His moral purity and not our personal preference.
There is a choice to be made: we pursue our idols or we pursue the Lord. If we understand this it will change the way we evaluate the year past and the way we plan for the year ahead. As we look back we must ask: Have I grown in my relationship with The Lord? Have I allowed God to address issues in my life that have kept me from growth? Have I invested in God’s Kingdom and have I pointed others to Christ?
In the year ahead we should resolve to do whatever we can do to draw closer to God. To that end, let’s think this through and come up with some resolutions that may help draw us closer to the Lord.
There are a number of spiritual disciplines that are helpful to your spiritual growth
- Resolve to read the Bible Every Day. It is helpful to use a Bible Reading Guide (many Apps have a variety of guides, daily devotional books often contain Bible reading schedules). You can find guides that are topical and which take you through the Bible at a variety of paces. Remind yourself that the goal is not to get an “assignment read”; the goal is to hear from God.
- Resolve to worship weekly so that your thoughts will be directed to the Lord and you can receive help from, and give help to other believers.
- Resolve to keep working at prayer. Start by setting aside a regular time and place for prayer. Accept the fact that you will struggle with prayer because Satan will fight you every step of the way. Don’t give up! Learn to talk to God not only about others but also about the struggles of your own life and the thoughts that lead you astray. Strive for honest communication with the Lord.
- Resolve to honor God with your stewardship. Work to honor God in giving Him priority in your time and in your finances. Learn to view stewardship not as “contributing my fair share” to the work of the church; view it as a way to practically declare and show that the Lord is King in all of your life. How we spend our time and money reveals what is most important to us.
- Resolve to hide God’s Word in your heart. Keep working at memorizing the Word of God. You can do this within a Bible memorization system or on your own. As you memorize, you will read the Bible more carefully.
- Resolve to make time to pursue growth. Work at learning more about God through reading good Christian books, watching seminars, or listening to tapes or podcasts. Become a part of a good Bible Study or discussion group. Be intentional about your Christian growth.
- Resolve to share your faith to some degree with someone every day. This doesn’t mean you need to bring everyone to a point where they pray to receive Christ. Look for opportunities to share about your faith in even the smallest ways.
But just as you set goals and resolutions regarding Christian disciplines, don’t forget to also set goals that have to do with character development. You might include things such as,
- I want to work on contentment this year. Rather than looking at what I DON’T have, I want to live more gratefully for what I DO have.
- I want to listen and work to understand the criticism others bring before me rather than immediately making excuses to defend myself.
- I want to labor with the Lord over the issue of forgiveness. I will try to act toward others in a manner similar to how God has treated me.
- I want to be an encourager in the lives of others. I want to draw attention to strengths rather than spotlighting weaknesses.
- I want to live every day in the reality that this could be my last day before The Lord calls me home.
The great Puritan preacher, University President, and Missionary, Jonathan Edwards wrote some 70 resolutions for the way he wanted to live his life. The whole list is made up of these kinds of resolutions. Edwards read through the list every week of his life. We might be wise to do the same.
Here’s the point: our natural inclination is to fit in with those around us. We desire to conform to and win the praise of men. So by nature, we are idol makers. We will instinctively follow the path of creating our own gods. If we don’t want to follow that course we will have to plan to do otherwise. That’s where setting goals or resolutions come in.
Go ahead and set goals for your health, for things you would like to do, or for money you would like to save. It’s good to make those plans. I challenge you however to also make goals to grow spiritually. The reality is this: if you don’t make plans to grow spiritually you will slowly die spiritually.