It is the time of year when our accumulated failures and desires for improvement commonly move us to lofty resolutions. We plan to fellowship our neighbors, consume less than 30% of our calories in fats, budget more carefully, get organized, exercise regularly . . . the opportunities for improvement are endless. We yearn to be better.
But there is a danger in this very sensible process of making resolutions. If we are not careful, we map out our lives and make plans that makes us less available to God. What right do we have to take charge of our lives if we have previously given ourselves to Him? Often, we act as if we held the power to transform ourselves on our own, hardly acknowledging our dependence on Him.
Jesus tells us a story of a wealthy man who tore down his barns so that he could build more spacious ones. It is popular to fault the man for greed. Yet he was being a careful steward of his resources. Perhaps this story is not simply a warning against covetousness. Perhaps the man’s greatest fault was that he failed to make God a partner in his planning.
“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-1)
It is easy for all of us to imagine that we are in charge of our lives. It is natural to start making sensible plans for ourselves. But if it is done without counseling with God and seeking His direction, it is wrong. We are not to covet even our own lives; we belong to Him.
Saul of Tarsus had plans for his life until God intervened. Alma the younger had a clear trajectory until God re-directed him. Once they had given their lives to God, they never took them back.
As we start a new year, we are wise to seek the renewal that comes from having God govern our lives. Rather than focus on goals and timetables, we may turn our hearts to faith and submission. Rather than rely on our own limited abilities and insights, we will be more effective if we seek guidance and power from Him. God’s plan for renewal is very different from the world’s recommendations.
- Renewal is less about setting goals than about submitting to His will.
Stephen Covey has given an insightful talk on developing an educated conscience. He suggests that we can regularly ask God specific questions and receive guidance for our stewardships. “What do I need to do to be closer to the Living Christ? What do I need to do to be a better family member? What do I need to do to be a better member of the Church? What do I need to do to be a better employee or neighbor?” As we ask the questions, God will give us impressions.
Sometimes His instructions will be just as we expected: “Make time to visit with Me. I have important things to teach you.” At other times He will surprise us: “Take Sister Allen a pot of soup.” The impressions are often subtle. If we follow them, we will find that His ways are indeed better than ours. One bowl of soup delivered under his inspiration is better than a hundred casseroles delivered because of our own anxious fretting or spiritual aspiring.
God speaks in a still, small voice. If we do not actively seek to discern His messages, we will not capture them. A worthy goal for this year and every year is learn God’s language of inspiration.
Sometimes His instructions have been given and ignored for so long that we have forgotten that He ever told us. For example, He may have told us through our consciences that our screen time is replacing family time and serving time. We can act on previous and repeated inspiration and resolve to better manage our screen time.
When we act under His inspiration, our deeds are likely to seem more modest but actually be more powerful. We can focus our love and faith to bring miracles to those who are lonely, pained, or lost. We can be His messengers of love, joy, and peace–if we are willing to do His bidding.
- Renewal is less about fixing ourselves than being fixed by Him.
God expects us to cheerfully do all we are able to do to make ourselves finer and wiser. But we must never forget that the mighty change of heart is a divine gift conditioned on our humility.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)
The enduring advantage of limitations, mistakes, and disabilities is that they can make us humble—more cognizant of our need for Him. It is He who makes us perfect (D&C 76:69). He gives us the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). He creates clean hearts and renews a right spirit within us (Psalms 51:10). He provides the precious gift of charity (Moroni 7:48). The most precious possessions of eternity are gifts from God. It is only under His influence that we will achieve the most meaningful improvements in our lives.
- Renewal is less about using psychology or time management than about using covenants.
We should prepare every needful thing. We should be wise stewards. But the real power of renewal comes through covenants. When we make and honor sacred covenants with God, He commits the resources of Eternity to refine us, protect us, cleanse us, and teach us. That is renewal!
I think of our dear friend Edna. I met her when she sat in on a missionary discussion in the home of friends in Opelika, Alabama. She was quiet but attentive. When her friends balked at gospel commitments, she continued the discussions in her own home. She listened carefully, committed gladly, and submitted wholeheartedly. She was baptized. Despite the challenges of single parenting and grandparenting, she exclaimed after her first years in the church, “I never knew I could be so happy.” That is renewal!
- Renewal should be on God’s timetable rather than the world’s.
Our flurry of resolutions commonly come as we start a new year. There may be merit in having some yearly goals. Of course many of those lofty New Year’s goals tend to be tossed aside by February.
But God uses a very different timetable for transforming our souls. He invites us to meet Him for reflection and renewal at the beginning of each week. At the sacrament table, we report on our imperfect efforts and we seek His counsel for the week ahead. Also, we humbly seek His power. There is simply no substitute for weekly covenant-making if we want to be changed into new creatures.
While the new year may find me setting goals to eat healthier, get more exercise and to save more money, the great desire of my heart is to be a better disciple of Christ. That calls for a weekly encounter with Jesus.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. . .” (Revelation 21:4-5)
May we enter 2023 more resolute to seek His counsel and follow it. That is the path to renewal.
Invitation: Learn how the gospel of Jesus Christ combines with good research to chart a path of personal happiness and family effectiveness. My latest book, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships, is available at LDS booksellers or Amazon. Get a copy for you or for someone you love.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful editing.