How strong is your will power? Making New Year resolutions is easy. Making them work is not. We intend to change, yet our ability to persevere over the long haul usually isn’t sufficient. It’s a frustrating human reality. As Jesus put it, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Some recent research begins to explain why we often fail to stick with our plans for self-improvement Will power, it turns out is biologically – and un-unnervingly – anemic. In one study, hungry people were put in a room with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a plate of radishes. Half were told to eat only radishes. The others were allowed to eat either. Then all were given a series of problem solving responsibilities that required significant concentration. Those who could eat only radishes were significantly less effective on this test. Translation: the energy the disciplined group expended resisting exhausted them mentally and emotionally. Saying “no” is taxing. Several other studies have demonstrated the same phenomena. Will power requires a lot of energy and in the end there is always one more temptation than there is strength to resist it.
Jesus realized that we all eventually tire of saying “no,” so he teaches us to pray about this in the model we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Say, “Lead me not into temptation,” he directs us. That is, “Father, steer me clear of dangerous lures.” If I’m away from what tantilizes me, I don’t have to fight against the pull. If chocolate is my downfall, I’ll get it out of the house. Then I can be proactive and say “yes” to a handful of almonds instead. “Yes” to something good works better than merely “no” to something harmful.
Behavior tricks like this can work for a while but in the end we need God’s power to prevail. We need God to steer us clear from our downfalls and also to work inside us with a will stronger than our own. This is the true premise of the Christian life, the only system in the world that takes seriously the reality of what the Bible calls “sin.” We humans are bound and crippled by sin. This is bad news, but also the sanest assessment of reality. Knowing we “can’t” before we try is our best set up for a genuinely successful resolution you’ll find anywhere. Only then are we humble enough to ask for outside help from the only ONE who can give it.
So, today we make our resolutions: to lose weight, to speak more kindly to our children, to break the grip of pornography, to work more diligently at our jobs, to manage our finances. We declare our intentions knowing up front that after 14 days we’ll likely backslide. Admitting this allows us to approach change as the Bible outlines. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus says.
I admit that I’m again taking the risk to write out my goals and intentions for 2010. I’m also beginning with prayer, asking God to give me power to step beyond me weak will. “Self control” is a fruit of the Spirit – that is, it grows from his presence, not my determination. This year I’m going to focus not on trying harder, but on making myself deliberately passive and dependent on his strength. I’m going to fill my mind with his words and sit still each morning while he fills my tank with his passion and energy. Instead of first working, I’m going to first wait, and let me work grow out of my rest with his strength. At itself is a resolution I probably can’t keep without his help…
“God, this day is just like all others. Yet as the official last day of our year, it’s a time to focus on a new beginning. There are things I know I must change, things I know I must accomplish, things I know I must realize. Today I set my plans and set my will toward success. But I also know I’m prone to – doomed to – fail. I know I need your capacity and strength. I ask now that you would wrap my in your love and strengthen me in your joy. Your joy is my strength. I need that energy to fulfill the things before me. Today, ask I release the debris from 2009, I open myself now to the power of your Spirit to live the days, weeks, and months ahead of me. I give you my own strength and receive yours. Thank you! In Jesus…
I’ve written a book about his process of genuine transformation called “The Karma of Jesus.” Explore it and let me know what you think.