I don’t recall ever making a list of New Year’s resolutions. If I did, the goals were not memorable enough to stay with me. The year 2020, however, left many of us wanting a fresh start.
COVID-19 has taken a great toll on people around the globe. It’s affected our neighbors across the street and those we’ll never meet. Political divides are severe and lacking civility, with the bridge to connect that widening chasm in great need of repair. And those are just two of many concerns that beleaguered the year to which we said goodbye.
The problems looming before us are massive, numerous and not easily solved, but dwelling on such difficulties can be debilitating, robbing us of our collective faith in a more promising future. So, for 2021 I’ve decided to focus on a few personal areas where change is both needed and possible.
My initial thought was to find easy targets such as eating more dark chocolate for its potential health benefits. There are days when I only have a couple of bite-sized square shaped Dove dark chocolates that come in the red wrapper with the upbeat quotes inside. But this didn’t seem like the right year to aim at low aspirations so I’m looking upward instead.
There are three resolutions on my current list which will require significant effort. I can’t say with confidence that I’ll follow through, but maybe writing them down will help me stay on track.
First, I resolve not to rush through my daily devotions.
Sometimes I read without reflecting as my eyes race toward the bottom of a page or I hastily scroll down my computer screen. It’s easy to slip into a routine of going through the motions without absorbing the message, of being content to scan a formation of words rather than seek a transformation of heart.
I receive a daily email devotional titled “First15” which is consistently worthwhile. The name suggests that we give God the first 15 minutes of our day. That may not always be practical, and 15 minutes isn’t a formula for the perfect amount of time, but the concept is solid. Morning, noon or night will work if it’s a priority and not something we reluctantly squeeze into our schedules.
Second, I resolve to improve my prayer life by asking less of what I want from God and more of what God wants from me.
And I’ll try to stop talking long enough to listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s hard to still my wandering mind.
Selling computers with Burroughs Corporation in Tallahassee, Fla., was my first job after college. Burroughs provided quality training, which admittedly, I often ignored. One thing I recall being emphasized was how to close a sale. Their mantra was, “Ask for the order then shut up.”
When we ask for an order but get no response our tendency is to break the awkward silence by restarting the conversation. That’s also my tendency in prayer, jumping ahead with my own solutions rather than giving God the opportunity to answer. There’s no doubt I’ve interrupted His replies with my own suggestions. And there have been too many times when I asked for His input, but what I really wanted was His blessing on plans I’d already made.
Resolution number three, do more for those who can’t pay me back.
Heard George, son of U.S. Senator Walter F. George, was a member of my church when I joined in 1976. Someone, I don’t remember who, told me that he regularly prayed, “God help me to help someone who can’t do anything for me.” That prayer captures the essence of what Jesus taught. He even said that when we help the least among us, it’s like we’re doing it for Him personally (Matthew 25:31-46). When we think in those terms, serving others is not a burden but a privilege.
My approach to accomplishing these resolutions has changed while I’ve been writing this. I thought these were goals I could reach on my own but realize now I can’t do it alone. So, I’ll ask for some help, then try to be still until The Helper speaks. And occasionally, if my progress is substantial enough to warrant some reward, I may have an extra piece of chocolate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Neil Joiner is a member of First Baptist Church in Vienna, Ga., who writes a weekly column in several Georgia newspapers. The article appeared in The Christian Index.)