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Beyond Resolutions: Looking Backward on New Year’s Day

The start of a new year is an exciting time filled with endless possibilities. The practice of setting New Year’s resolutions seems to be heading the way of the wooly mammoth, but the flip of the calendar typically leads people to look ahead and imagine all the new year will hold.

It’s healthy to look ahead, pinpoint areas for growth, and set goals. Yet in some ways, looking to the future is the easy part. The future is abstract and can be molded by our imaginations. Few people think of the new year and imagine how much worse it will be. Not many people think that this is the year when they will be less disciplined, healthy, or motivated than ever before. In the future, we are almost always the ideal version of ourselves.

It’s often harder to look back. The past has already happened. The decisions we’ve made—including the bad ones—are unchangeable. The goals we set but failed to reach remain unobtained. Even the blessings we’ve received can lose their gleam as we are enticed by the thrill of new experiences.

The start of a new year is an exciting season to look ahead, but it can also be a valuable time to pause and look behind. In fact, sometimes the path ahead is only seen clearly when viewed through the context of the past.  

Christianity Backward and Forward

Christianity is both a backward- and forward-looking religion. The foundational events, whether a baby born in Bethlehem or an empty Roman tomb, have already happened. The Bible, as God’s special revelation, was inspired and written centuries ago. While scripture remains timeless (Hebrews 4:12), reading it constantly draws us into the past to historical figures who wrote historical documents to historical people in an ancient culture.   

At the same time, Christianity is also a faith built on hope. Jesus didn’t just come as a baby 2000 years ago; He is also coming again. While there is value in our earthly, mortal lives, Christians know this world is temporary, and one day we will spend eternity in heaven worshiping God.    

Christians live in the present, but the context of our life and faith only becomes clear when we look both behind and ahead.

Reflect Before Starting a New Year

New Year’s resolutions have become the punchline in annual jokes. Those still valiantly maintaining their commitments into the third week of January are treated as the mightiest heroes. Most people have abandoned all such aspirations by February, and by March few can even recall what their resolutions were. 

Perhaps one reason why resolutions almost always fail is because they are made without considering the past. When New Year’s hopes are divorced from the past, they become merely wishful dreams. We set lofty goals. When we fail to achieve them, we feel shame or disappointment, forgetting that reaching even halfway to those goals represents significant growth. For a person who once struggled to climb a meager hill, scaling halfway up Mount Everest before turning back is an emphatic victory, not a defeat. The past provides proper perspective on the future.   

By looking backward, Christians can learn from past failures or struggles. Of course, the beauty of Christianity is that our past doesn’t define us. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, Christians are not in bondage to their previous sin. But to understand the gospel, we must have a clear perspective of that sin. Christians should look back on the past year not to feel shame but to locate areas where Jesus can set us free this coming year.

Looking backward in January isn’t merely about reliving failures. It’s also a time to remember forgotten blessings. When the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River, they gathered twelve stones and created a physical reminder of a significant past event (Joshua 4). By looking back on what God had done, they could continue boldly into the future. A year is a long time, and our memories are short. Reflect on the good things God has done and claim the hope that the same, unchanging God will never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). He will be with you throughout this new year.   

What will this new year bring? A new year holds so much potential. Be intentional in how you live this year. Be disciplined to run the race that God has set before you (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). Yet, before you rush off the starting block, stop and look behind you. We may buy new calendars every year, but nothing magical happens between December 31st and January 1st. This new year is merely a continuation of the amazing journey God has planned for you. There are surely exciting days ahead, but don’t forget to also remember the good days behind you.

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