A few years ago, making and keeping – or failing to keep – resolutions for the new year was more talked about than in recent years. But it is still important to set goals, and the New Year holiday is a great time to start fresh on a new journey.
Each year, I set goals in five areas of my life: physical, mental, emotional (relationships), spiritual and financial. I seldom share my thoughts or progress with anyone.
I know this method doesn’t allow for any accountability, but I do adhere to the idea that goals should be measurable, achievable, practical and specific (MAPS).
Do I achieve every goal I set? Not nearly. But I do make progress, and a little progress every year adds up. And I’m a bit closer to my aim than when I began.
The Bible, the Sermon on the Mount, for example, suggests we should have goals, whether they be started at the beginning of the New Year, or at some other time: Giving of alms (Matt. 6:1-4), fasting (Matt. 6:16-18), harsh judgment of others (Matt. 7:1-6), being the salt and light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16). And the list just keeps going on.
In thinking along those lines, the strongest admonition for Christians might be the one found in Second Peter, third chapter, verse eighteen: “… But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Most of the Christians I know want to grow in their walk with the Lord, even knowing growth is a process, a process where not much change can be detected over a short term.
And a great number of the people of faith who want to be a better Christian, and thereby, a better person, at the end of the year, start out by resolving to spend more time in prayer.
But is prayer really the “gold coin” that God can’t refuse as we bargain for the things we want in life? As admirable as prayer might be, I’m convinced prayer in general has become overvalued in the spiritual society in which we live.
Prayer is conversation with God, and as such is made up of many facets. Prayer might be a praise or it might be a word of thanksgiving. It might be a question, or it might be a promise.
Most often, prayer is thought to be a petition, and it probably is. And my concern is about certain requests we make to God on our behalf or the behalf of others. Especially those requests where we ask God to do what we are already capable of doing.
Several years ago, Charles Schulz drew a cartoon strip that speaks to this very subject.
It was in four panels, depicting Snoopy shivering in a snowstorm.
Charlie Brown and one of his friends, upon seeing Snoopy so cold, agreed he needed some comfort. They go over, and one of them, almost prayer like, says to him, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy,” and the other repeats, “Yes, be of good cheer.”
The last panel shows the boys walking away through the snow, in their long heavy coats, mittens, boots and caps, while Snoopy continues to shiver with a huge question mark over his head.
Perhaps we, like Charlie Brown and Linus, don’t want to be the answer to our prayers.
I have to confess, many times I have asked God to help someone when I had the resources and abilities to help them myself.
I have also, on occasion, asked God to do something for me or stop me from doing something, when the decision to do or not to do was mine to make.
What right do I have to believe God will intervene and grant my desire, when the result is not worth me spending my own energy, time, or resources?
And perhaps the people I’m praying for do not want or desire what I’m hoping comes their way.
So, at the end of this year, I want to be a better person than when the year began. So, I am going to pray a bit more for people. I am also going to pray I will recognize where I could be an answer to my own or someone else’s prayer and then become that answer.