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JOHN PEARRELL: Following our desires, not God’s, leads to failure of New Year’s resolutions

John Pearrell

John Pearrell

It is Friday, Dec. 27 and to my Christian friends, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and to my Jewish friends, I hope you had a wonderful season of Hanukka.

It is hard for me to believe that another year has come and gone. The next holiday in sight is New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day. Traditionally, we celebrate the New Year with New Year’s resolutions — promises that we make to ourselves that we hope will make the coming year better.

Many of those promises never get beyond the first week of the new year before we are right back into our old pattern of living. That is not a condemnation; it is merely an observation. So common is the failure rate that a myriad of jokes about the practice has arisen.

Somewhere around 3,000 years ago, the Prophet Jeremiah gave us the hard truth regarding the reason our resolutions often fail. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV84). Now, before you stop reading and say something like, “See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Christians are always putting people down!” read on.

Jeremiah doesn’t say that the human heart is depraved beyond cure. He says it’s deceitful, and the truth is, he’s right. We have this uncanny ability to deceive ourselves.

As a minister, I have to visit people in jail from time to time. I have never visited one person in jail who did not say to me, “I’m basically a good person.”

In fact, most of the people I visit in jail claim that the only reason they are there is because someone else turned them in, and it’s their fault they are now incarcerated. Yes, they did the deed, but it is the other person’s fault for not letting them get away with the deed. The sad fact is, most really believe that.

Along those lines I’ve talked to inmates who have said, “Well, yes, I did murder that person, but I thank God I’m not a thief. I didn’t steal anything from them.” Or the thief says, “Yes, I did steal from that person, but I thank God I’m not a murderer.”

On and on the list goes. There are some people in prison for pretty horrendous crimes who are thankful that they are not guilty of lesser crimes, and that seems to make them feel good about themselves.

How can that be? Well, they’re self-deceived; or as Jeremiah put it, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

You may object and say, “Those are extreme examples, they might be deceived but I am not.” Let me ask you, have you ever bought something and then later wondered why you bought it? Could it be that you were deceived maybe by another initially, but you bought into that deceit for the moment and convinced yourself that you just had to have that item?

Or maybe you found yourself in a destructive relationship and you knew that it was not going to end well, but you wanted it, so you found a way to convince yourself that what you knew deep down in your gut, was somehow not going to come about? You were self-deceived. That is all Jeremiah was saying when he penned those words.

Maybe the reason we fail in our resolutions to do right is because we are so easily deceived by our own wants and desires.

Maybe the authors of the ancient manuscripts are right; maybe we do need help, but not just any help — Divine help.

Maybe the only cure for our tendency to self-deceive is to get honest before God and admit that maybe His way is the right way.

We’ll look more at this next week. Until then, happy New Year to all and thank you for reading my columns.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email john.pearrell@gatewaycommunity.org.