Make Your Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Each January, we feel the allure of a fresh start.

It’s the same feeling I used to get with an unopened box of Crayolas. So many possibilities were inside that little box. I just had to crack it open and discover what was inside. But as soon as I used them, they’d lose their appeal. Gone were their pretty pointed tips; they’d soon start to break and stood unevenly in their box. Suddenly, the Crayolas were no longer special, and my interest in them would wane. 

Maybe that’s how we feel about making New Year’s resolutions.

In early January, our resolutions seem wonderfully optimistic and full of potential. But after living in their reality for a few weeks (okay, days), the appeal starts to wear off. We get discouraged by our lack of willpower and motivation, and so we cast our resolutions, along with our crayons, into the garbage.

Where Our Resolutions Fail

Often, we give up on our resolutions because they are disconnected from our main overarching purpose. We may call our purpose in life our ‘why,’ but the Puritans had a better name; they called it the chief end of man. They said man’s chief purpose (his highest purpose) was to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

If the highest purpose of your life is to glorify and enjoy God, how could you ensure that your thoughts, actions, and deeds align with that goal? That was the dilemma an 18-year-old Connecticut-born preacher wrestled with back in 1722. You might’ve heard of him. His name was Jonathan Edwards.  

The Hellfire Preacher with a Heart on Fire 

Jonathan Edwards is best known for his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In it, Edwards used vivid illustrations of hell and the peril of a Christ-less future to plead with people to consider eternity and receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. God used Edwards and this sermon to spark a spiritual revival, which spread throughout the colonies and was known as the Great Awakening.

But Edwards wasn’t all hellfire and brimstone. Many argue it’s unfair to tie his name solely to this sermon because his writings reveal a man thoroughly captivated by the glory of Christ. 

The Foundation of All His Resolutions 

Edwards wrote 70 Resolutions from the time he was 18-20 years old. At the time, he was an inexperienced pastor, leading his congregation through the throes of a church split. He knew he needed to anchor his life to some fixed rules or resolutions. In the midst of the uncertainty, he went to his diary and began to write.

But before launching into his list, Edwards wrote a very important preface. He said…

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

Edwards was a brilliant man, a persuasive speaker, and a prolific writer. It’s easy to find him extraordinary, even three hundred years later. But perhaps behind all of his accomplishments, this sentence was the key to Edwards’ success.

Edwards knew he couldn’t disconnect his resolutions from the foundational truth, and he was unable to do anything without God’s help. He wasn’t merely bending his will or strengthening his resolve to accomplish his goals but rather humbly submitting himself to God. 

What Did He Resolve?

Many themes emerge from his list including personal holiness, time management, moderation in eating and drinking, and how to have healthy personal relationships. 

Here are some of my favorites.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live. 

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

28: Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

The Irony of Seeking Self-Fulfillment

You might be tempted to try harder in this new year, especially after reading Edward’s list. You might believe that you can accomplish what you desire if you set your mind to your resolutions. And the truth is, you may succeed. But this sort of self-help, do-it-yourself approach to life is the opposite of the gospel that Edwards espoused. 

He recognized he was unable to do anything apart from God’s help.

Keeping his resolutions wasn’t Edwards’ goal. His goal was to ascribe more glory to God no matter what life threw at him.

The irony of seeking self-fulfillment is that we might find what we seek only to lose our eternal souls. Jesus told us that by losing our lives for his sake, we actually gain it (Matthew 10:39).

Do Your Resolutions Reflect Your Chief End?

Edward’s Resolutions challenge and convict me every time I read them. Mostly because they reflect a lack of zeal for personal holiness in my own life.

Do I take my faith as seriously as he did, or do I toy around with it like a used box of crayons?

Is glorifying God and enjoying him forever my chief end?

If it is, do my new year’s resolutions reflect and bolster that aim? 

While I can look back over the last year and see growth, sadly, I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be. Instead of wallowing in discouragement or lowering my expectations, I will follow Edwards’ style and set my aim even higher in 2024.

Maybe my inability to stick to my resolutions is not that they are too high but that my gaze is too low. I’m more concerned with personal projects than I am with remembering that my chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Like Edwards, I’m resolved to be sensible, remembering that no amount of willpower or self-discipline will produce the results I crave. Only the assistance and grace of God can do that. That will bring God more glory, and isn’t that the whole point? Friend, are you ready to go all-in on your chief aim this year? Let’s do it together.

Resolved, with the energy, grace, and help God supplies, I’ll live intentionally for his glory, knowing that pursuit will bring me the most enjoyment in 2024 and beyond.

Sola Deo Gloria,


How to Use “The Resolutions” in Your Life

There are lots of ways you can consider Edward’s resolutions and how you might apply them to your own life. Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

  1. Read them in their entirety.
  2. Read them by theme:
    1. Life Mission Statements (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 22, 62)
    2. Good Works (11, 13, 69)
    3. Time Management (5, 7, 17, 18, 19, 37, 40, 41, 50, 51, 52, 55, 61)
    4. Relationships (14, 15, 16, 31, 33, 34, 36, 46, 58, 59, 66, 70)
    5. Suffering (9, 10, 57, 67)
    6. Character (8, 12, 20, 21, 27, 32, 39, 47, 54, 63) 
    7. Assurance (25, 26, 48, 49)
    8. Study (28)
    9. Prayer (29, 64)
    10. The Lord’s Day (38)
    11. Personal Righteousness (30, 42, 43, 44, 45)
    12. Sin-killing and Self-Examination (23, 24, 35, 56, 60, 68)
    13. Communion with God (53, 65)
  3. Read 5 per day with your family over a meal or devotion time (you’ll finish in 2 weeks).
  4. Find scriptural support for your favorite resolutions. For example: #36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. (Ephesians 4:32)
  5. Frame it and place it somewhere you’ll see it and revisit it often. 

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