At the beginning of each year, advice about New Year’s resolutions and goal-setting pours in. Specialists recommend that your goals should be SMART:
Wanting to improve your health is a nice sentiment, but you have to spell it out. Frame the resolution this way: “I will eat 5 salads a week for the whole year.” You can hold yourself accountable to this. At the end of each week tally up your salads and you’ll know whether you stuck to your plan.
The drawback to SMART goals, though, is that they tend to deal with external things. Physical health is a blessing, but an unexpected illness can ruin that goal no matter how much organic lettuce you eat!
Churches emphasize matters of the heart, what’s inside a person. These have permanency which physical things lack. As Paul puts it,
“We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18
We should orient our New Year’s resolutions toward what Peter calls “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4) (NASB).
But how do we define spiritual goals? “I want to be godly” sounds as vague as “I want to be healthy.” And making these resolutions concrete seems to compromise their spiritual nature.
To compensate, we could say, “I will pray for 30 minutes a day.” Surely God would approve of this!
“These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” – Matthew 15:8
“Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, 29since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.” – Proverbs 1:28-29
Actions matter, but they’re no substitute for the condition of the soul.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
We’re stuck. In spite of their objectivity and specificity, our resolutions should emphasize spiritual over material matters. But spiritual realities don’t submit well to measurements.
So what do we do?
I suggest we tackle the problem from a different angle. Instead of striving to improve ourselves, let’s accept that we already have what we seek.
Take the virtue of courage as an example.
Tim Gray defines it as “the strength of will that enables us to conquer fear. It often happens that we know what we ought to do, but we’re afraid to do it because of the consequences we may suffer as a result. Fear makes our will disinclined to follow our reason because of some difficulty. Courage ensures that we will have the firmness of mind and will to overcome our fear and do what is right and good regardless of the difficulties.”
Harriet Tubman guiding slaves to freedom through the underground railroad. Martin Luther King calling America to live up to its creed of equal rights under law. Charles Lindbergh flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Jesus’ submission to death on the cross.
All these examples of courage are worth emulating, especially with New Year’s resolutions fresh on our minds.
But rather than crafting a SMART goal to develop bravery, we can recognize that we possess courage right now. We’re already courageous!
Don’t agree? You don’t see yourself that way?
How can we assert intrinsic courage when we remember how we’ve caved to fear and anxiety?
We bank on the resources of Christ.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” – Ephesians 1:3
“Every spiritual blessing” includes courage!
We’re as courageous as we need to be. But sometimes it morphs into audacity.
Have you ever doubted the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross? Or complained to God that your problem is too big to solve, even for Him?
These resemble confessions of cowardice, but in reality, they’re misapplications of courage. How gutsy must we be to tell Jesus that the tortures He suffered were inadequate? Or that God isn’t as great as the difficulties we’re wrestling with? Shouldn’t challenging the Lord scare us? And yet we do it! We’re daring, but not in the right way.
We have courage, given to us by our Creator and redeemed through Jesus Christ. We need only develop it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of the adventures of that await us this year, He will help us to make the right decisions.
“The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” – Proverbs 28:1