The Bishop of Durham has issued a hard hitting message for the New Year.

In it, Bishop Justin calls for confidence, optimism and hope based on God's love and urges generosity and courage to make a stance against the downturn in the economy and the impact on jobs.

"I'm setting myself three New Year Resolutions to seek at all levels, generosity, care about moral values and spiritual renewal," he said.

"These are key messages for all of us to take to our hearts in what is sure to be a very challenging new year in 2012.

"But, if we all work together for the common good, we can turn these difficult times into something that can have a significant beneficial effect.”

The Bishop’s New Year Message comes as the North-East faces further difficult economic and social hardship.

Bishop of Durham's New Year's message.

A New Year is always hoped to bring a new beginning.

We make new resolutions, hoping to use our gym membership enough to make it worthwhile, or keep in touch with friends, or simply get those shelves put up.

Of course, it is mainly illusion. We are the same people (perhaps with more of a headache) on January 1st as we were the night before.

And most resolution do not last January out. Yet, drawing lines and making fresh resolutions is important.

Here are three that I would wish on people, including myself, if I could.

* First, get the priority of finances straight. At a personal level, live within our means after having given away 10 pence in every pound to worthy causes.

We always think of generosity as benefitting the receiver, but the Jewish Rabbis tell us (as does Jesus and St Paul) that giving generously benefits the giver. It can be to someone you know of, anonymously, to a church if you go to one, to a good cause that matters to you.

And at the business level, we need to break the tyranny of finance that has us all in its headlights.

We need confidence, and confidence needs leadership. I would love to see business leaders making sane plans for expansion, investment and creation of jobs.

Lets remember that investing in people is the very best asset any business can possess. Jobs creation might mean creating opportunities through apprenticeships and internships, even through local business investment initiatives.

But importantly we want generous and imaginative major companies not just seeking to pay more to senior executives but to start pulling more weight in turning round our society.

Locally we are doing well, but more can be done. Then at a national level, that is where finance went wrong and where it needs to be put right.

Society needs to have generosity in the system, which means protecting people on the edge. The Roman Catholic church calls it solidarity.

So, first resolution; set personal, business and national finances to show leadership in generosity and courage.

An African perspective helps. I stayed not long ago with a friend, an Anglican parish priest, who lives in the middle of a war zone in central Africa.

We had spent the day rescuing refugees, caught in no-man’s land between the lines of rebels and government forces.

It was a desperate scene. Beneath a searingly hot sun, in the shadow of a ruined school, we raced around, helping the refugees to gather their few belongings, to round up their children and help the old.

I did my best to look useful - and failed. I did my best not to look scared - and failed again.

Shaming as it was, I missed the comforts of home; and it didn’t help things that I realised how spoilt I was being.

My Anglican priest friend had the right attitude – In the dim evening lamplight, he talked of Jesus, and of the mingled hope and joy he felt for the future of the refugees – who had, it’s true, been momentarily saved from a worse fate that day.

That was confidence in the face of an extreme economic and financial catastrophe. Yet because he gave, and the society gave and had giving in its DNA, there was hope and purpose and energy.

* Second resolution; each of us and all of us together need to care more about personal and general morality.

Our culture has for years been saying “you do what’s right for you, and we’ll all get on fine”.

But we don’t. There really are many things that are absolutely right and wrong.

I’m not just talking about greed, or looting, or riots and obvious criminality.

A friend of mine who is a police officer talks about total policing. It means nothing is too small to matter. The same applies to us as individuals.

I easily become careless about small issues that no-one else could know about. They could be as small as bad language, but they set a pattern, which says that I do what I like. And that corrodes everything. The harder the times are, and they are certainly hard at present, the more we need clear standards. Of course, just condemning people is wrong, that is what used to happen. But not caring is equally bad.

One of the shocking aspects of the Leveson enquiry is how many people went along with what they knew to be wrong in the media.

The same was true the of Parliamentary expenses situation. The same has been true in the church. Moral renewal is about saying that none of us, individually or together, will collude with what we know to be wrong. We start with ourselves. But we don’t stop with ourselves.

* Thirdly, my last resolution wish, spiritual renewal. Nothing is renewable without God. He gives the power, and courage and will.

He changes our hearts and determination. Spiritual foundations make a bright future possible. I know that many people will disagree, but is it coincidence that as we have lost confidence in our Christian roots we have seen such extremes of despair, division and behaviour?

Of course there was no golden age in the past, and if we are talking about bad behaviour the church has plenty to own up to, but most of the great reforms of the last 200 years have been driven by Christians or Christian values. Spiritual renewal starts by admitting to God that we need His help and cannot help ourselves.

That seems to me to be a fact that is hard to disagree with.

I look round this area in North-East of England and see phenomenal work being done in communities by people who do it because they are called, empowered and given vision by God.

That sense of spiritual life is needed everywhere, and it is there for the asking, for each of us.

Things have been extremely difficult for Britain this year – and for the last three years, in the worst recession in a generation.

But – as my friend felt in Africa and, as he encouraged me to feel then and now - this is a time of great opportunity and hope, because of Christ.

Here in the North-East, people’s worries about the national economy, and their own household budgets, are particularly intense.

Still, there is consolation. We have dealt with worse before.

Many have survived times like this down the centuries, and not just in the North East.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah lived in a wealth-obsessed society, where God was taken for granted and his priests and prophets were bribed with gold. The weak went to the wall. Justice was only on the side of the rich.

However bad things have got in Britain in 2011, they haven’t got that bad.

Still, the message we need is similar to Micah’s:  “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”

Understandably, these difficult times make us fearful. But it is particularly at times of fear that Jesus calls us and makes us the merchants of hope. He has given Christians the keys to a more stable future, and the stones that make the foundations of a great society, a good country and a renewed future.

We are called to be light in this dark world.

Our past greatness and our future hope was not, and cannot, be based on wealth, nor the worship of materialism. That will let us down again and again.

Yes, things are hard but God is good and we can find Him.

I wish each and every one of you a happy New Year full of opportunity.