Everybody wants to be better at something. 

I want to read more books. I want to run a marathon. I want to read the Bible in a year. I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to pray more. I want to build my business. I want to love my spouse better. I want to travel more. I want to be friendlier to my neighbors. I want to do family devotions every week. I want to stop biting my nails. The list goes on. 

We make resolution after resolution, buy gimmick after gimmick. We follow whomever is doing whatever it is we think we want on whatever app we like the best. But unfortunately, we forget to ask ourselves the most fundamental question: why? 

I can be kind to my neighbor just in case I ever need a favor from her. I can be a patient mom to feel better about myself. I can refrain from cutting people off in traffic in case I know them. I can make an incredible dinner so that everyone believes I’m skilled. I can lose weight so that I get positive attention. I can be nice so others will do what I want.  

You see, we can do great things for wicked reasons. We can want the right things for the wrong reasons. Our resolutions tend to go by the wayside because motivation for pure reasons only comes from the Holy Spirit. Righteous change, holy actions, good intentions, kind motivations, these good works flow only out of our perfect God (Jn 15:5). 

This doesn’t mean we quit seeking improvement, embrace unhealthiness and stop being kind. It means we check ourselves first (Jer 17:9). As you make goals for the new year, here are some questions to ask first.

What do you want to change?

We can change our habits and bodies. We can work on weaknesses and attitudes. What are the places in your life that you need to work on, the places you are uncomfortable with or the things you don’t like? What are the shortcomings that hold you back or the sin that doesn’t go away? Where does your life lack? What behavior or parts of your lifestyle are hurting you? 

Why do you want to change that?

The next question to ask is why. Why is this something you don’t like? Why do you want to change this? Why is this something you spend your time thinking about? Why do you think this part of your life is lacking? Why are you measuring yourself with this specific metric? The answer to why tells you what you’re really after (1 Sam 16:7). For instance, if I want to workout to get my cholesterol down and not be on medication to better steward my time and money for the glory of God, this is good! But, if I want to work out just to look better than other people because I’m vain, this is not good. You get the point. 

What do you think you’ll get out of changing this area? 

When we desire to change, it’s because we think it’ll be better once it’s different. If I read more books, I’ll be smarter. If I eat healthily, I’ll feel better. If I read the Bible more, I’ll be godlier. The benefit of changing is why I’m willing to do the work. However, am I trying to get something for myself apart from God? Am I seeking to be a god rather than reflect God? If the answer is yes, then we have failed to understand the fundamental ingredient for lasting change: Him. 

How will you respond if you fail? 

When I’m trying to develop new disciplines of thinking and doing, I should expect failure at some point. How I respond to failure tells me what my desires truly are. It reveals the genuine answer to “why.” If you fail and it makes you angry, your anger reveals what you’re wanting (James 4:2). If you’re doing it for reasons other than pleasing Jesus, then repentance is needed. If you fail and seek the Lord’s help in response, then humility grows. Failure is an opportunity for God to guide in what is right (Ps 25:9), to find wisdom (Prov 11:2), and to find God’s favor (Prov 3:34). A right perspective of God gives us a right perspective of ourselves, especially when we fail at what we set our minds to. If we have a wrong self-perception, it means we have a wrong God-perception. 

How will you respond if you succeed? 

How we respond when we succeed tells us just as much as when we fail. When we accomplish something that we really wanted to—something that challenged us—maybe something we didn’t know if we could do, do we become arrogant? Do we become know-it-alls? Do we flaunt it? Do we feel better because we look better? Are our feelings based on how well we do? If this is the case, success will be ungodly and possibly even short-lived. God shares his love with us, but he won’t share the credit for his glory (Is 42:8). 

How do I sanctify my “why”? 

How can I make sure my reason for change is a sanctified one? Only Jesus can sanctify our desires to grow and change. He is the most important part of any resolution. Want more daily time in God’s Word? Wonderful. Want more date nights? Good idea. Want to work out more? Have at it. But we must do this to the glory of God, not to the glory of ourselves. Pray and ask the Lord to help you (Ps 51:10). Next, seek accountability and be honest about selfish reasons with a friend who won’t shy away from speaking what’s true about you. Be ready to fail and prepare yourself for what to do when you falter. Be ready to succeed and to praise Jesus when he helps you. 

If I know Jesus and I’m motivated out of holy conviction, then change will come as I succeed and fail. Both my successes and failures then point to him. If I know Jesus and I’m motivated to glorify him, then he will help me do that. If I know Jesus and I’m motivated out of sincere love for him, then I will confidently ask for his assistance to achieve what he wants of me (Ps 37:5). 

Making a goal is only helpful in as much as you know why you’re making it. Is it to make yourself look more awesome? If you’re a Christian, God won’t allow you to succeed in making yourself great apart from him. What is certain is that he’ll sanctify you into the image of Christ (Phil 1:6). When you ask why and give a sincere answer, it’ll lead you to look more like Jesus . . . the one who considers others as more important than himself (Phil 2:3), while having perfect wisdom in how to use his gifts, his time and his body for the glory of God.  

So before you make your resolutions, ask yourself why.