You don’t have to choose a word for the year

If you read many blogs, you’ll find a lot of people writing about a word they’ve chosen for the year. I don’t know how long this has been a thing, but I’ve been reading about it for several years now.

For many, choosing a word for the year replaces a list of resolutions. That one word gives them focus for the year. Christians who do this usually pray about it leading up to the new year and feel this word has been given them or impressed on them by God. They often plan their Bible study around their word.

Many share that this emphasis has been a great blessing to them. Some have been amazed at how God intersects their study and circumstances around their word. Some, like my friend Lisa, purposefully read several books involving their word over the course of a year. Others, like Crystal, plan activities to incorporate their word.

But perhaps you’ve never felt led to choose a word for the year and you wonder if you’re missing out. Or perhaps you’ve chosen one in the past but, like a soon-forgotten New Year’s resolution, it faded out of memory.

I just want to assure you of a few truths.

God never tells anyone in the Bible to choose a word, a theme, or even a verse for the year. That doesn’t mean the practice is wrong. It’s just one method of focus and of studying and applying God’s Word.

God may lay on your heart to study a certain topic, truth, characteristic, etc. from the Bible, and that may or may not coincide with January 1 and may or may not last a year.

Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Commentary I’ve read for that verse said that with the lighting they had in Bible times, they could only see a step or two ahead. God may well prepare you for something that only He knows is ahead through a word for the year. But often you don’t have that much notice. God’s guidance and provision is often moment by moment, day by day.

What’s more vital than a word for the year is daily seeking God in His Word.

I’ve never felt led to choose a word for the year. I’ve often said that God usually has more to say to me than one word. And, to be fair, those who choose a word for the year don’t claim that’s the only thing God wants them to deal with. They do read other books and other parts of God’s Word as well.

A topical Bible study on a certain word or concept can be highly valuable. But we also need the daily reading of Bible passages in context. Drew Hunter says:

If you received a three-page letter from a distant friend, you wouldn’t just read page 2. You could spend all day “studying” that page, but until you read pages 1 and 3, you will not fully (or perhaps even rightly) understand your friend’s message.

The human authors of the Bible organized their books intentionally. So, we step back and think through the author’s flow of thought. Studying the Bible involves thinking paragraph-by-paragraph, section-by-section, and seeing how everything fits into the overall structure and flow of the book.

We need the panoramic lens to take in the beauty and wonder of the big picture of God’s Word. We also need the macro lens for close-ups, for camping out with a verse at a time and mining its truths. Tim Challies calls these reading for familiarity (reading longer passages in a sitting) or intimacy (slowing down and meditating on or studying shorter passages) and says we need both approaches. Kelly Collier calls these two methods plow work (which “moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly,” like reading the Bible in a year or two) and trowel work (“taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time,” like inductive Bible Study).

Choosing a word for the year shouldn’t replace contextual Bible study.

There are many who choose and study a word for the year and employ both these other methods of studying the Bible in context. That’s ideal. For some, the word for the year is their close-up, slowed-down study. That’s fine.

While many people find great value in choosing a word for the year, those who don’t use that method shouldn’t feel they’re missing out or somehow not as spiritual.

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Let’s be faithful to partake of that bread every day.

Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught (Isaiah 50:4).

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.  (Jeremiah 15:16)

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