How many of us have made resolutions for the New Year? I was reading what some of the top New Year’s resolutions people make each year. They are pretty much what you would expect.
In order of most popular, here are the resolutions we make from year to year. Spend more time with family and friends, exercise, lose weight, quit smoking, enjoy life more, quit drinking, get out of debt, learn something new, help others, and get organized.
These are wonderful resolutions to have and there are many more we can probably name. One of my resolutions is to no longer put 2016 on my checks. I think I’m still putting the year 2014 on some of my checks.
It’s good to have New Year’s resolutions. They’re meant to help us reach positive goals in our lives. The problem isn’t that we can’t think of good New Year’s resolutions. It’s in trying to KEEP our New Year’s resolutions.
What if instead of calling them resolutions, we call them covenants? Here’s the difference.
A resolution is something we have to carry out on our own resolve. A covenant is different. A covenant is primarily about God’s promise to always be faithful. With God, you can never lose. God will always be faithful. Resolutions, on the other hand are based on our good intentions which are not always reliable.
This word, “covenant” first appears in the Book of Genesis when God establishes a covenant with Noah that his family and the animals will be saved from the flood. And just a few chapters later, God forms a covenant with Abraham in which Abraham would become the father of many people. And from there, God formed a covenant with Abraham’s descendents who were known as the people of Israel. God promised to be their God and that it would be through them that God would bring salvation to the entire world.
This covenant of God’s faithfulness continued when God sent Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Jesus suffered and died on the cross to fulfill God’s covenant so that our world would be made new again, and that we might have forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.
I John 1:9 reminds us of God’s covenant faithfulness when he writes, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The key word in that verse is the word, “faithful.”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they are invited to participate in this new life with him. Jesus uses the image of a vine and branches. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.
And because of God’s faithfulness in Jesus, we are given these words of assurance, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” A little later he says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
But that’s not all. Jesus then says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
What if 2017 is a year where we are filled with the joy and assurance that God will be totally faithful in each of our lives? It almost sounds too good to be true. All of this is possible because of God’s covenant that we see throughout the bible. God is consistent and God is always faithful and will never ever let you down.
Typical New Year’s resolutions rely on the level of our commitment which can be spotty at times. God’s covenant is about God’s resolve to remain faithful and to make our joy complete. I’ll choose a New Year’s covenant over a New Year’s resolution any day!
Whenever I meet with couples for pre-marital counseling, we talk about how important it is to know that God will always be faithful. And I say, “Whenever you face a difficult situation in your relationship, know that you always have God to turn for guidance and direction. God will always be there for you.”
I have a beautiful framed art design of a cross in my study and I point to it and say, “That shows you just how faithful God is. Jesus was willing to die on a cross for you because that’s how much he loves you and will be faithful to you to the very end. Nothing is ever going to change that.”
And then I tell them that it’s because of God’s faithfulness that they can take the risk of sharing difficult things that need to be shared. They can do this because their marriage is based on God’s faithfulness and not on our fickleness.
Knowing that God is always faithful can make a huge difference in our lives and how we approach this New Year.
But there’s more than just knowing that God is faithful. There’s another dimension of this word “covenant” that’s important for us to consider.
Like Abraham, Israel, and the disciples, God invites and calls each one of us to intentionally be in covenant with him. In other words, we get to choose if we want to accept God’s invitation to be on the receiving end of a life that is filled with joy, forgiveness, and God’s purposes.
In the Old Testament, there’s a wonderful scene in the book of II Kings. Josiah, was the King of Israel at the time and he was one of the good kings because he was committed to following and trusting in God, unlike many of the other kings of Israel.
Living during a time when the people of God were following after other gods, Josiah was amazingly able to bring the people together and make an agreement that they would obey and follow the God of Israel only.
We are told that everyone went into the house of the Lord and Josiah read all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And it’s the final part of verse 3 of this passage that really stands out. It says, “All the people joined in the covenant.” “ALL THE PEOPLE joined in the covenant.”
If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know that the people of God didn’t always live out their part of the covenant that they made that day. And there are times when we don’t keep our end of the agreement. But here’s the difference. God is always faithful. God never gives up on us. Even when we don’t keep our end of the covenant, God continues to be faithful.
We’ve already mentioned the many common resolutions that people make for the New Year. Getting more exercise, eating right, paying off bills, just to name a few. Those are all important resolutions we can make for this New Year. Instead of calling these resolutions, what if we would use more biblical language and call them covenants instead?
I don’t know about you, but I like my chances a whole lot more if I know that God is faithful and will give me the strength to hold up my end of the covenant. Knowing that God will never fail me and will give me the strength to live out my commitments can make all the difference in the world.
If you’re still thinking about your New Year’s resolutions or as I’d like us to call them, our New Year’s covenants for this year, here is a sampling of covenants that some Christians have made. They have made these covenants knowing that they need to depend on God’s faithfulness and strength to live these out. Here’s a sampling.
I will practice daily devotions, including reading scripture and praying for myself and others.
I will prayerfully pledge to practice responsible stewardship of my God-given resources: my body, my artistic abilities, my finances, and my intellectual gifts.
Knowing that my body is the temple of God, I will prayerfully plan my work and leisure time.
I will be faithful in attendance and participate in worship on a regular basis.
I will witness to my faith in Christ at least once each day.
I will be intentional in recognizing and sharing with others the “thin place moments” where God is made present in my everyday life.
I will spend some time each month helping disadvantaged people in my community.
I will express genuine appreciation to at least one person each day.
At least twice weekly, I will seek to offer compassionate service and encouragement to those outside my normal circle of contacts.
When I go to a restaurant, I will encourage those who are serving me.
I will faithfully participate in a small group where I share how God is at work in my life and encourage others in the group.
I will intentionally invite friends, neighbors, and co-workers to attend worship with me.
I will get to know at least one person of a different ethnic background at my place of work.
I will express disapproval of racial, social, and sexual prejudice and become more aware of my own prejudices.
I will seek to help a family in need somewhere else in the world.
Every day, I will pray for my church, our ministries, the people we serve, and specifically, our governing board and staff.
And this one is my favorite New Year's Covenant - I will laugh at all of my pastor's jokes even if they are only mildly funny.
Those are just a sampling of many covenants that we can make for 2017. What are your New Year’s Covenants?
In our Methodist tradition, we have a way of renewing our covenant with God each year on New Year’s. It’s called the Wesleyan Covenant Service. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism encouraged those early Methodists to participate in this service on New Year’s Day. In that service, there is an incredible prayer that some Methodists pray every single day during the year. It’s called the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan tradition.
Today, we have the opportunity to allow this prayer to become our prayer for 2017. It’s a prayer of surrender as we invite Jesus Christ to be first in everything we do this year. It’s a covenant prayer in which God promises to be faithful and we respond by offering our very best to God.
There is a beautiful contemporary song that is based on this particular covenant prayer. Listen to this song and then we will be invited to pray this prayer together.
Let’s pray this pray together:
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
A New Year's Covenant
Small Group Questions
II Kings 23:1-3 & John 15:1-11
January 1, 2017
People make all kinds of resolutions this time of year related to exercise, eating healthier, saving money, helping others, etc.
What are some of your New Year's resolutions for this year? Share with your small group.
Pastor Robert spoke about the difference between a "resolution" and a "covenant." A resolution puts the focus on our faithfulness. A covenant puts the focus on God's faithfulness and our response to God's faithfulness. I John 1:9 is a verse that reminds us to keep our focus on God's faithfulness. "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness."
Share how God is has been faithful along your faith journey.
Pastor Robert shared several examples of New Year's covenants that some Christians have made for the New Year. These include faithful worship attendance, being generous, participating in a small group, praying for the church and its leaders, etc.
Brainstorm some other New Year's covenants that we might want to make for this year. Does your small group have a covenant? Review your small group covenant together.
The Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition is found in the United Methodist hymnal. It's a prayer that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism encouraged Methodists to pray often and especially around New Year's.
Take time to pray this prayer silently and then in unison with your small group.