Making New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored road to self-improvement. Right now, the local gyms are full of people determined to lose 25 pounds before summer. The schools are full of students ready to get better grades this semester. Families are trying to get their finances in order. Churches see their highest attendance of the year because of people wanting to do something to improve their spirits.
That’s the way it goes almost every year. But we all know that nothing is so quick to disappear as New Year’s resolutions. Which is why some well known people describe those resolutions with an accurate degree of cynicism.
New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions. (Mark Twain)
Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to. (Bill Vaughan)
Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average… which means, you have met your New Year’s resolution. (Jay Leno)
Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account. (Oscar Wilde)
I try to steer clear of New Year’s resolutions, not because I’m a cynic but because I’ve had such a poor record of success with them. With one notable exception, and this is what I want to recommend this year. How would your life be different if you really devoted yourself to prayer in 2012?
I know that sounds like more of the same old most of us have heard all our lives. You know, pray for this or pray for that. Set aside an hour early every morning to pray. Follow this set of guidelines for prayer or that set. Read this book. Listen to what this preacher/teacher/writer/conference leader has to say. In other words, just do more stuff and then you’ll make God happy and he’ll bless you more.
Here’s a real New Year’s resolution. One with teeth and legs. What would prayer look like for you if you risked doing it without all the religious, church-y things we use to prop it up and make it safer and more predictable? What if we just got raw with prayer and cried out to God in our good times and bad times alike, with absolute honesty, laying out our pain and frustrations alongside our worship and love? And absolutely casting ourselves on Him to provide for our needs?
Chuck Pierce compares this kind of prayer to a tightrope. You know how a tightrope walker progresses slowly and carefully along its length? I would be clinging for dear life to that cable! I don’t like heights and if you put me on a high-wire I wouldn’t walk along it so much as cling to it with both feet and both hands like a squirrel on a tree. What Pierce says is that our lives today as believers are in fact lived on a tightrope, with uncertainty, danger and risk on both sides. And our main aim is just to keep our balance because we’re so scared of plunging off one side or the other to our deaths.
But then Pierce makes his point: the nature of biblical faith is not to just hang on for dear life, but to trust God enough to actually learn how to dance on the tightrope. That’s right: dance on the tightrope.
I love that! Prayer is so much more than preserving what we think we need to have to live comfortable lives. Instead, it’s what the Bible has been saying all along: prayer is how we dance on the tightrope, alive with hope and filled with the promise of grace. What would your 2012 prayers look like if you prayed that way?
How would you pray for your marriage? Would your prayers shift from just gritting your teeth and getting through another year with your spouse? Or would “tightrope” praying bring you to a new, exciting season of intimacy and commitment?
How would you pray for your job? Would your prayers step up from just praying for enough income to provide for your family to a more radical trust in God’s purposes for you?
How about your church? Would “tightrope” praying by the door by which the Spirit of God could come in power into your fellowship?
So what will you resolve in the New Year? More of the same? Or are you ready to learn to dance?