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)


(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, BOSS Blog Share, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, HeartEncouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

41 thoughts on “You don’t have to choose a word for the year

  1. Love your thoughts on Scripture reading here, especially the challenge for close reading alongside panoramic reading. I find it difficult to make time for both, but am always blessed by the effort.

  2. I agree, there is so much value both in looking at Scripture in context to get the big picture but also taking time to zoom in and study certain sections in depth.
    I have had a word for the year for a few years now, and I was surprised by how helpful I found it, but I totally agree that different approaches work for different people. For me, I think the key thing is continually being open to God. Sometimes the word I’ve had is definitely not one I would have chosen myself but it has seemed to be where God is leading, and I’ve often been surprised by how he has used it in ways I’d never have expected.

  3. We are walking to the beat of the same drum this year, Barbarah! Thanks for pointing us back to the Word! You are a blessing!

  4. Such a balanced post, and it needed to be said! I think some Christians, perhaps women in particular, can do such only because others do it (it is trendy), and they end up with something contrived. As you said: “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.”
    “I’ve often said that God usually has more to say to me than one word.” – I relate, and once had a similar post about having a “life verse.”

    • Yes–I felt that way about life verses, too. If you have one, great, but we’re not necessarily called to do that.

      Early on I was tempted to think of words for the year as a fad perpetuated by the Internet culture. But I have read marvelous testimonies of how God has worked through them. So I changed my thinking. I am sure He doesn’t require it of everyone, but He does help some grow that way.

  5. Great post, Barbara. I like Drew Hunter’s quote too that we wouldn’t just read page 2 of a letter. We always need to keep our eyes open for the larger picture that God is wanting to show us, and not confine him to any period of time or word(s).

    Sometimes my one word has dwindled out before a year is finished, and sometimes God has kept it going much longer than a year. We can’t predict what he wants to do; we just have to go with it. Maybe with a word, maybe without.

    Like you say here, it’s just one way among many that God can work in our lives. I’m thankful he keeps his options open! We can too.

    • You’re one of the most thorough and focused that I’ve seen, Lisa. I like reading how you explore and learn about and incorporate your word through the year. I’ve felt led for some times of focused study on one topic, but I don’t think it’s ever been for a whole year (although some, like love, could be a focus for a lifetime). It’s interesting how God works to take each of us the next steps He has for us.

  6. I like your common sense thoughts! I’m not a word choose, and I’m also not a journaler. I tend to “rebel” against things that are trendy/popular. That’s probably not altogether good, but … it keeps me away from many trends 🙂 Our church even chooses a word. I have nothing against anyone who does like to choose one, but it’s just not my thing. I like to just go with the flow and see what God brings to light in my life as I journey along.

    • I’m like that, too. My Christian college even started choosing themes for each year and asked chapel speakers to give messages touching that topic. I imagine, or at least I hope they left some space for messages laid on someone’s heart that might not fit the topic. Of course, God can work and lead through a theme like that in an institution or an individual’s life. But I can’t say I’ve ever felt led to follow a certain theme for a whole year.

  7. I am choosing a word this year for only the second time. Actually, the word, “humility” chose me. I don’t believe there is anything in Scripture that says we need a word, but I sometimes like the focus of thinking about one topic for a while, whether it’s for a whole year, 6 months, or even just one month.

    • I agree, Laurie. I’ve spent some focused times studying particular topics (usually when I find a lack in myself, like when I studied biblical love). But I have no idea what time of year that was or how long I spent on them. I tend to do them as the need comes up and as I feel led.

  8. Barbara, Thank you for your thoughtful words. I have several Christian friends who have chosen a word of the year and I began thinking what “my word” might be. I prayed, read ideas, prayed some more and came to the conclusion that I didn’t need a word. I thought perhaps I was too old for this popular practice. Then I realized that my love of Bible study and history has placed me in a place to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

  9. Pingback: Your One Word - Why it’s okay to not have one | Courageous Christian Father

  10. I was literally having this exact thought when I saw your post over on the Instaencouragments Link up. Not having a word doesn’t make you less spiritual – Amen! We’re running the risk of placing burdens on ourselves that Jesus never meant for us to bear. I didn’t choose a word for the year this year. I chose Joy and Peace and Truth the past couple of years, but nothing jumped out at me. Maybe the idea of being still is that God wants me to major in the majors and quit majorly stressing about the minors. Thanks for sharing, Pinning, Tweeting and Sharing on FB!

  11. I chose a verse this year. “Follow the old paths…” I’m your neighbor at instaencouragements I also pinned this post.

  12. Barbara, I did the choose a word thing and my word for 2020 is Gather. I’m not sure what to make of it honestly. The only thing I’ve gathered so far is all the junk food to throw it in the trash.

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

  13. Your thoughts are insightful and necessary. Too often we get caught in trends and assume it is God when many times it is not. I chose a word this year. I prayed about it and it just jumped off a page for me. I have an assignment from God that I have been sitting on and He gave me the word ACCOMPLISH. I have an accompanying scripture I have studied briefly but my word is really motivational for me. I believe in in-depth study. I preferred style is inductive but I occasionally study topically. I love the idea of plowing. Never looked at it that way, but I totally agree. That’s what is needed to dig up all God would have us to get from His word.

    • Thanks so much. I hope you “accomplish” everything God wants you to this year. This verse often comes to mind for me when I need to move beyond thinking and planning to doing: “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have” (2 Corinthians 8:11).

  14. Thanks for saying this. I think it’s important to always know your why. If you don’t have a word, it’s actually not a big deal. I think its the sharing of the word that might leave others feeling meh. There are many who have words or thoughts that never share publicly. But the point is – spend time in the word, take time to commune with Him, listen to what He says and act.

  15. I am a one word of the year person and find God uses the word to teach me in a broader way throughout the year. It’s a way to focus and hone in on an area that God knows I need more practice with. Spending time with God is part of my daily routine and He has been pointing me to read and dig deeper into certain books of the bible. More recently I have been going through Isaiah. I love this post because God leads each of us in unique ways because of how He created us.

  16. I chose the word peace this year because John 14:27 has so resonated with me for a long time. I usually end up with more than one. I do themes on my blog, whatever is inspired. I never promise to read through the Bible or make resolutions.

  17. It is such an interesting concept Barbara and one that I have not considered before. I have often heard of choosing a word for the week but not for the year. This is something that I think I would find challenging but I will definitely give it some consideration. Thank you for sharing your positive outlook on #globalblogging!

  18. Pingback: Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible | Stray Thoughts

  19. Pingback: January Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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