Be it Resolved!
by Steve Fair
New Years often begins with the making of resolutions. New Years resolutions are not a modern invention. They have been around since ancient times. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. The most popular resolutions people make include eating healthier, exercising, and resolving to lose weight or to quit smoking, working toward a better education, volunteering more, spending more time with family, and getting out of debt. How successful are most of us at fulfilling New Year’s resolutions?
According to a 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people, 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail. That is in spite of the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning.
According to the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, “45% of Americans usually make resolutions and 37% never make resolutions. Those in their twenties are three times more likely to be successful at achieving their resolution goal than those in their fifties.”
While most people resolve to do more in the New Year, Princeton psychologist Edlar Shafir and Harvard economist Senhil Mullainathan suggest the best strategy is to resolve to do less, not more. They argue when busy people get busier; it leads to ignored deadlines, disorganization and a vicious cycle of falling further and further behind. They do not discount the importance of a person staying busy and productive, but they caution against what they describe as “tunneling”: a laser-like focus on the tasks immediately at hand, which often results in a disregard for the bigger picture. They believe focusing on a deadline at the expense of long-term happiness is counter-productive.
In 2013, Atlantic magazine published several New Year’s resolution lists of celebrities. They included a list of 17 resolutions by Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, and a list of 33 by Oklahoman Woody Guthrie. Guthrie’s list included several goals revealing his socialist political leanings, but also included one about washing his teeth (if he had any) and waking up to fight. They also included a handwritten list of Marilyn Monroe’s resolutions.
In 1722, a nineteen year old boy named Jonathan Edwards, who was studying for ministry, wrote out his New Year’s resolutions. Edwards was the interim pastor at a small Presbyterian church in New York City. He wrote as the introduction to the resolutions: “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. Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.” Edward’s list had seventy resolutions that he used to guide him throughout his life. He read them weekly and resolved to keep those resolutions. Edwards ultimately became President of Princeton University and is famous for preaching, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The wisdom and insight of Edward's resolutions are still profitable today. To see a complete list of Edward’s resolutions, go to: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-resolutions-of-jonathan-edwards.
New Year’s resolutions most often involve self-improvement. They are rarely a resolution to improve one’s spiritual condition or relationship with their fellow man. Edward’s resolutions were basically ones that focused on his desire to please his Creator, not in becoming more satisfied with himself.As we enter into 2015, may each American, no matter their political Party affiliation, resolve to understand that we, individually or collectively, can do nothing without God’s help. No amount of well intentioned resolutions, effective debating, positioning, coalition building or proclaiming of the truth will be effective without His grace. If we understand that one simple principle in 2015, perhaps we will see God have mercy on America.