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Better than guilt or resolutions

Better than guilt or resolutions

I don’t have a love/hate relationship with new year’s resolutions. It’s more apathetic than that. I think they’re fine to make; they just don’t help very much. Research and my personal experience suggests this assessment is justified.

Mind you, I don’t think the source of the problem lies with the resolutions. The issue seems to be more to do with a lack of resolve in the actual resolvers. It reminds me of the wonderful computer help desk acronym PEBCAK, which stands for a diagnosis of “problem exists between chair and keyboard”.

As Christians, inclinations to resolve to do better next year unsurprisingly tend to crystallize around topics that generate significant feelings of guilt for many of us:

  • prayerlessness
  • not evangelizing friends and family
  • lust or porn use
  • lack of generosity
  • not reading the Bible (including with your family).

No doubt there are other topics, but let’s start with these five. And let’s start by noting that guilt is not a great motivator or help, and then by making one simple resolution for the new year:

Seek help.

Now, before you panic about having to admit your private struggles to someone, seeking help from your pastor, elders or Bible study leader is not necessarily the only way forward. That said, I suspect we underestimate how helpful it can be to make such an admission. Indeed, the help we can obtain (especially in prayer support) is possibly one of the rationales for the commandment in James 5:16 to “confess your sins to  one another”. So certainly don’t rule out personal confession to and seeking support from someone wise and trustworthy. 

But you can also do two other things: 

  1. seek God’s help by praying (always the best first action step)
  2. seek a biblically faithful resource to help, like a book, an app, a course or a podcast series. 

You won’t be surprised, regular readers, to learn that I have some suggestions on this second point…

Prayerlessness

Help for a Sick Prayer Life (MiniZine): The title is pretty self-explanatory. It’s three short articles in a magazine format.

Growing in Prayer: A four-week personal program of daily reflections for developing the habit of prayerful living. 

Prayer and the Voice of God: Explore what God has to say about prayer. Chapter four alone, ‘Why we don’t pray’, is worth the price of the book!

PrayerMate app: Some of the battle is remembering what to pray for, and this app will really help you if you invest a little time in setting it up.

Not evangelizing friends and family

Gospel Speech: A fresh look at the relationship between every Christian and evangelism. It will help you with the ‘why evangelize’ question.

Know and Tell the Gospel: John Chapman’s classic (but recently updated) book not only helps with the why question, but also with the how.

40 Rockets: This book offers 40 practical tips and lots of encouragement for those who'd love to see their workmates come to know the Lord Jesus.

Lust or porn use

Purity in the Age of Porn (MiniZine): Three short but very helpful articles.It’s cheap, so help your Christian mates and order a copy for them too.

Lack of generosity

The Generosity Project: Best done together with other Christians, this six-part course includes video input and will get you reflecting on God’s generosity and how blessed and glorifying to God it is to reflect that generosity to others.

Beyond Greed: This book is a challenging examination of greed and materialism in the Christian life, combined with a positive proposal for a biblical alternative.

Cash Values: Tony Payne’s five topical Bible studies about money and how we use it.

Neglectful parenting

Reading the Bible (MiniZine): This will help get you thinking about the who, what, where, when and how of reading the Bible.

The Daily Reading Bible: The all-in-one, take-anywhere package to help you feed regularly from God's word. Each of the 20 different booklets cover all sorts of different parts of the Bible and some key topics.

Bible Reading With Your Kids: A short, practical guide mainly aimed at Christian fathers on reading the Bible with their children—why it's essential and how to actually do it.

Short Steps for Long Gains (Family Edition): These 26 short Bible studies (starting with A for Alive and finishing with Z for Zeal) each have a Bible verse and several questions to spark family discussion and prayer.

Don’t just rely on your personal resolve in 2021. Seek help, get your hands on some resources, and, under God, turn good intentions into a marvellous reality.

May God grant you a wonderful 2021, perhaps with a few less trials than we’ve faced in 2020. (A hope I might well come back to reflect on in a week or two.)

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honourary consultant and editor for Matthias Media. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, one (gorgeous) grandchild, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney.