Aside from “happy new year”, the next most common phrase that you’ll hear is probably “new year new me”.

Why do we tend to expect that things will be different once we step into a new year? The bad habits we have built over the months or years, the irresponsible eating we’ve done over all the Christmas feasts, the Bible reading plan we dropped during the school holidays… do we think that January 1 gives us a magical boost to correct these?

Researchers have termed this phenomenon as the “fresh-start effect”, where people use significant dates like New Year’s to make new goals and change their behaviours.

Yet, research has also found that New Year’s resolutions tend not to do great. According to a US study, the failure rate is estimated to be 80%, with most people losing their resolve and motivation just weeks later in mid-February.

So, what is the point of making New Year’s Resolutions? Is there even a biblical or “correct” way to do so? Here are five things you should first consider and reflect on.

1. Right perspective

While New Year’s resolutions often involve setting goals, it is important for us to remember that they are not necessarily KPIs of how well we are doing in life and our relationship with God.

Instead of simply aiming to check off a list that “fulfils” our resolutions, perhaps it would be wiser to see them as reminders and signposts for what we hope to focus on in the upcoming year.

This is because having resolutions that are too “simple” might cause us to be complacent; we might lose the motivation to work on the areas that we had hoped to once we think that we have done enough for the year.

For example, instead of just writing down “sign up for gym membership”, writing down something like “cultivate a healthy lifestyle” allows you to think more holistically: you could look into your eating habits, exercise routines and so on.

Similarly, instead of “read the Bible more”, writing something like “grow in my love for God’s Word” would prompt you to explore more opportunities for growth such as Bible classes, fellowship groups, Quiet Time habits and so on.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

We must always remember that these resolutions must never be an attempt to earn God’s love or favour, but simply a response towards and a result of God’s grace for us.

2. Right focus

It can be easy to treat new year’s resolutions as a mini bucket list of sorts.

  • I want to travel to Japan this year
  • I want to get a driver’s license this year
  • I hope to get attached this year

… the list goes on. While there is nothing wrong with these hopes and aspirations, we should also try to include some resolutions that are less superficial and physical. These are resolutions that will require us to look deeper into our hearts and put in effort to see changes.

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

“Try bungee jumping” sounds exciting, but “reconcile with (a friend)” sounds jarring and dreadful. “Pick up a new language” sounds interesting, but “learn to be more patient with my parents” sounds boring and difficult.

As we prepare for the new year, one question to ask ourselves is this: are we willing to put in the hard work for things in our lives that truly matter?

Or do we actually want to just sweep the problems under the carpet and live under the facade of fun activities for another year? 

3. Right expectation

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” ” (James 4:13-15)

In today’s society, many of us have been hardwired to be results-driven. We are especially impatient when it comes to results; we want to see the fruits quickly once we feel that we have put in the effort. That is why we sometimes feel like we have to complete our New Year’s resolutions as soon as possible.

But the Bible reminds us that God’s timing and God’s plans are different from ours; His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

At the start of this year, I was hoping for a “better” year. After dealing with mental health challenges for a few months, I thought that things would definitely get better, and perhaps life would be a little smoother.

What I didn’t see coming, was that I would be asked to step down from pastoral ministry and transit to a new ministry and a new cell group. I also didn’t expect to be dealing with all the friendship struggles and church hurts that came as a result of the transition.

However, as I reflect deeper on 2023, I realise that God has still moved powerfully and evidently in my life – though not in the ways that I expected.

  • I found some new friends who are now journeying closely with me because of the transition.
  • I got to go on an internship that I’ve always been interested in because stepping down freed up my schedule.
  • I learned to be patient with the journey because I am still dealing with my struggles…

When how God moves seems to digress from our New Year’s Resolutions, or when God’s love comes in the form of discipline (Hebrews 12:7) – let us not be quick to conclude that it is a “bad” year or a bad season in our life.

Who knows, one day you might look back and realise that these were actually the most significant and fruitful seasons in your life!

4. Right people

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

What I’ve learned in 2023 is that we are really not as strong as we think, and there is beauty when we allow ourselves to be weak and borrow strength from God’s people.

New Year’s resolutions might seem like a personal thing and we might not even think of sharing them with anyone. But choosing to involve the right people allows them to spur us on when things get rough, and keep us accountable when the excitement for the new year wears off.

Think of some people you trust and can be vulnerable to. People who can sharpen your thoughts when you feel lost, people who dare to speak the truth in love when you are heading in the wrong direction… these are people whom with you can share your resolutions and journey with in the seasons to come!

That’s not all – think of people to whom you can offer a listening ear and be a friend. Make it a commitment to invest in these friendships and journey with them in this upcoming year!

5. Right Source

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Lastly, remember that we are not going through the year alone or trying to achieve these goals through our own efforts. We can achieve nothing apart from abiding in Jesus.

The Bible tells us that without God, we are unable to do what is good and pleasing to God (Romans 7:18-19). Therefore, we need to always stay connected to Him, and return to Him for grace, guidance, wisdom and empowerment.

Don’t give up if some of your resolutions take weeks, months or even years to complete. Don’t be discouraged by your past failures because we are made new through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

Find the strength and courage to try again day by day, step by step, knowing that His mercies are new every morning.

Praise God that His steadfast love never ceases (Lamentations 3:22-23)!

  1. Have you made New Year’s resolutions? Why or why not?
  2. In light of God’s plan for your life, what are some things you can aim to stop or start?
  3. Who can you invest in and journey with in the upcoming year?
  4. What is one thing you can be thankful for in the upcoming year?