RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--A week into the new year, I've already failed to make it to the gym five days out of five.
Hey, at least I'm consistent.
Why do so many people struggle with keeping New Year's resolutions? Too often, the whole exercise depressingly highlights our lack of discipline and commitment, not our desire to improve or achieve new goals.
You're setting yourself up for failure every year, resolution scoffers say. They've got a point. You pick a date on the calendar -- in the dead of winter, no less, for folks in the Northern Hemisphere -- to become a better person and do better things. Not gonna happen. Spring, nature's time for new beginnings, gives you a better shot at success -- unless you have allergies.
More than 90 million American adults planned to make New Year's resolutions for 2011, according to the Barna Group, a Christian research organization. Their aspirations fall into predictable categories: weight loss, financial advance, quitting various addictions, self-improvement.
But only 23 percent of Americans who made resolutions last year reported any "significant, long-term change" in their daily lives -- and some of them are probably fibbing. More than 70 percent said they experienced "minor change" or "no change."
"Americans maintain a love-hate relationship with New Year's resolutions: Millions of people make them, but they rarely report success as a result," said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president. "Maybe most problematic, Americans hinge their efforts at personal change by focusing on themselves, rather than realizing that lasting change often comes by serving and sacrificing for others."
But there's a bright spot in the Barna survey results:
"Perhaps less affected by past failed resolutions, younger adults emerged as far more likely than older adults to make personal commitments for the new year."
Thank God for youth! Hope springs eternal for those unfazed by the ravages of time and regret. Regardless of your age or track record, however, I challenge you to make at least one new commitment (or recommitment) in 2011. One thing is certain: If you aim at nothing, you will accomplish just that.
A few tips:
-- Set a goal to serve God and others, not yourself.
-- Involve others -- to serve with you and to keep you accountable. Kinnaman: "Churches and faith communities have a significant opportunity to help people identify what makes for transformational change and how to best achieve those objectives -- especially by relying on goals and resources beyond their individualism."
-- Above all, ask God for guidance and inspiration. He is the Lord of new beginnings:
"The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
"For His compassions never fail.
"They are new every morning;
"Great is Your faithfulness.
"'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul,
"'Therefore I have hope in Him'" (Lamentations 3:22-24).
His mercies are new every morning, not just every year. He is a far better "life coach" than all the self-improvement gurus trying to sell you their can't-miss programs.
Great resolutions respond to God's purposes, not our narrow priorities. Jesus got to the heart of the matter when He summarized the Law and the Prophets: "'... You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-39).
In John 21:22, Jesus told Peter, "Follow Me!" He told His followers to make disciples among all peoples (Matthew 28:19).
Do your goals relate in vital ways to those commands? If not, are they really worth pursuing?
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net