Instead of Resolving, Pray
By Joe Holland | December 31, 2022
Topic: Applied Theology—New Testament—Pastoral Theology
December isn’t just the time of year that annual planning is done. It is also the time of year that resolutions are made. And whereas I’m grateful we possess the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, let me suggest that they aren’t the best guide for making our own resolutions. First, he was rather odd, in part due to his astronomical intellect.1 But second, duplicating other people’s practices can be as harmful as they can be helpful. After all, you are not Jonathan Edwards. For this very reason, Robert Murray M’Cheyene was known to be reluctant to share his own practices of personal piety. Even if they were helpful to him didn’t mean they would be helpful to someone else, or so he argued.
So, does this leave us avoiding resolutions for the new year? Maybe. Studies have shown that very few people continue with resolutions throughout the year. We might better call them hopes or aspirations rather than resolutions. But then there is the whole thing about timing. If God is calling you to change something about your life, why wait until January 1? Why not make the resolution today?
I want to suggest that there is a simple way forward. When we discussed annual planning in my last post, we looked at the Decalogue as a picture of all reality. Planning should be made aligned with reality. As we look forward and long to see changes in our personal lives and families, there is another guide that the Lord gave us: the Lord’s Prayer.2
The Pattern Jesus Gave
When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he provided a model prayer (Luke 11:1–4; Matt. 6:9–13). Should that prayer be prayed verbatim? Absolutely. Should that prayer serve as a pattern for the main things for which we should pray? Absolutely. And by mentioning “daily bread,” there is good reason to believe that Jesus intended us to pray this prayer or about these themes daily. When we pray the Lord’s Prayers (as a prayer or a pattern), we are aligning ourselves with the will of God. We don’t have to wonder what resolve God wants from us; he’s told us and told us how to pray for it.
“No day passes that doesn’t march us one confident step closer to the completion of God’s kingdom coming.”—Joe Holland
Where does this get us with resolutions? Instead of making resolutions, what if we resolved to pray the Lord’s Prayer daily and work our way through each of the six petitions it contains? Many of these things we could or would resolve actually fall under one of those six heads. And when we change our resolving to daily prayer, we practice bringing our desires before the face of God and seeking the will of Christ.
How Might this Look?
Traditionally and catechetically, the Lord’s Prayer is broken down into eight parts: a preface, six petitions, and a conclusion. So if we used that suggested breakdown of the Lord’s Prayer and resolved to pray it daily or multiple times a week, how could that replace the usual practice of resolutions making?
The Preface: Our Father in Heaven
Resolve to remind yourself often that through the finished work of Christ, God is both your Father and in heaven. You are his adopted child through faith; he rules and reigns over everything. How might 2023 be different if you just concentrated on this simple fact: the sovereign God is your heavenly Father and is orchestrating all things for your good and his glory?
Petition One: Hallowed Be Thy Name
Hallowed is an older word that means to make holy. In offering this prayer, Jesus isn’t saying that God’s name isn’t holy already or that there is some need in God for us to subsidize a lack of holiness in him. Praying this teaches us to petition God to make his name holy to us, to make it unique and set apart, to make his name the most precious name, the most precious word to us. Resolve to cherish God by asking him to make his name more and more holy to you this year.
Petition Two: Thy Kingdom Come
God’s kingdom is here, and it is coming; it is now and not yet. Jesus inaugurated the coming of God’s new covenant rule through his death and resurrection. He will bring all things to a conclusion at his second coming. We live between those two comings, especially as members of a local church, the means by which God’s kingdom is coming. Each day you are an emissary of the king to your family, to your friends, and to your coworkers. No day passes that doesn’t march us one confident step closer to the completion of God’s kingdom coming. Resolve this year to ask God to bring his kingdom rule to bear in your life and this world.
Petition Three: Thy Will Be Done
Around God’s throne right now, as I type this and as you read it, there is perfect accord between God’s will and what the angels do. On earth, this isn’t true . . . not yet. And so we work and pray that God’s revealed will be more and more done in our own lives, homes, churches, communities, and the world. Resolve in 2023 to pray for God’s will to be done more and more on the earth just as it is done in heaven.
Petition Four: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
We have daily needs, and our God is the giver of every good gift. He is a good Father who gives bread and fish when we ask for them, not rocks and scorpions. And God continues to provide for us even when we don’t thank him for it. So this prayer is as much about asking for daily provision as it is about cultivating a daily attitude of confident dependence on God. Resolve in 2023 to ask God daily for your needs and to respond with gratitude when he graciously provides.
Petition Five: Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Forgive Our Debtors
Between the two comings, one thing for sure is that we will continue to sin and be sinned against. If we ever say we have not sinned, we lie and deny that we are Christians. So we have a daily need for God’s grace, a grace that will always outpace our sins. Jesus was clear that a sign of receiving grace is giving grace to others. And so he wanted us to pray that God would make us forgiven forgivers and so prove to ourselves and others that we haven’t received the grace of God in vain. Resolve in 2023 to receive and rest in God’s forgiveness to you offered in Christ even as you freely forgive those who sin against you.
Petition Six: Lead Us Not Into Temptation; Deliver Us From Evil
Our enemy lies within (our flesh) and without (the world and Satan). We have need for God’s protection. Temptation is very real. We must fight against it and avoid it at all costs. Satan hates God’s people and does not cease to try to undermine God’s work in them. But we have in Christ, the King, the Anointed One, the Almighty. Resolve in 2023 to pray for God’s protection and know you have it.
Conclusion: For Thine Is the Kingdom, Power, and Glory Forever
And then, almost to reiterate God’s great power and provision echoed through the entire prayer, Jesus taught us to conclude the Lord’s Prayer proclaiming God’s eternal kingdom, power, and glory. This reminds us that God is sovereign and hears our prayers. Resolve in 2023 to pray with confidence, a confidence that isn’t rooted in your ability or worth but in God’s great power and love.
So, if resolutions help you, make them. If New Year’s resolutions aren’t a helpful practice for you, don’t make them. But Jesus commanded us to pray specific themes to remind ourselves of who our God is and what he’s up to. If that type of prayer isn’t already your personal practice, resolve in 2023 to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
- There is also the whole matter of his bent toward subjectivism and, in this author’s opinion, an unhealthy level of introspection. ↩
- This Decalogue and Lord’s Prayer pairing isn’t new. These two Scriptural guides have been a part of Christian piety for centuries and are key parts of our Reformed confessional heritage. For more, read through the Westminster Larger (and Shorter) Catechism. ↩