God’s “word for the year” for you?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 January 2024

Every year, all sorts of people decide what’s the word for this year.

No I’m not talking about dictionary publishers. They pick the word for the year, at the end of the year. Usually it’s a word that’s been in the zeitgeist… or a word they hope to put in the zeitgeist for a few moments, either to encourage people, or warn ’em. It’s useful, free publicity for dictionary publishers.

Nope. It’s a word—one word—which is meant to be the theme of this new year.

If the word for the year is “Beginnings” or “Proceed!” or “Starting” or “Launch”—or the conveniently biblical-sounding “Genesis”—it suggests the theme for the year is maybe we’ll begin something new. Or maybe stop doing something we shouldn’t, and start over.

If the word for the year is “Dynamic” or “Powerful” or “Mighty” or “Forceful,” maybe we’ll try something we consider dynamic. Or try to be dynamic. Or invest in utility companies. However you choose to interpret “Dynamic” or the other potential words for the year; however you choose to implement it in your life.

Y’might be thinking, “Oh yeah; my church does that every year. It's a Christian thing, right?” Actually it’s not. It’s a human thing. Plenty of people do it! It’s meant to inspire themselves, and others, to be better people. It’s like a new-year resolution. It’s self-improvement. Nothing wrong with self-improvement!

What Christians have done, of course, is Christianize it. How might we take this optimistic self-improvement practice, and make it nice and Jesusy?

Hence certain Christian leaders come up with a word for the year, based on what they see as something we Christians oughta work on. Or based on something they oughta work on, and since they’re struggling with it, maybe they’re not alone; maybe everybody oughta struggle with it; hey, we can struggle together! Misery loves company. Or, more optimistically, maybe we can support one another. Yeah, that sounds better.

In continuationist churches, in which the Christian leaders strive to hear God, frequently they try to get God in on this. “Hey God, what’s your word for the year?” Surely God knows the best word for the year. Plus it’ll save us all the trouble of actually getting to know the people of our church, and wisely discern what word they’d need. Nah; let’s just get a shortcut from God. We might pick the wrong word, but he’ll always pick the right one.

And maybe, certain Christians figure, just maybe this word for the year will be a prophetic word. By “prophetic” they don’t necessarily mean what prophecy properly means, i.e. God telling us stuff through one of his kids, and confirming it through more of his kids. Nope; they mean predictive—this’ll be a word which tells us our future. If the word for the year is “Prosperity,” it means God’ll make us prosperous! And if the word for the year is “Famine”… well, y’notice somehow it’s never “Famine.” Hm. Wonder why that is?

Now look; I’m not knocking words for the year. Go ahead and pick yourself one. Feel free to go along with your church’s word for the year, if they have one; or bible verse for the year—so long that you remember, unlike some random word, we don’t get to spin a bible verse however we please; it’s got a context.

But I do take issue with anyone who claims God’s behind any particular word of the year. Because words for the year are wildly open for interpretation. But God’s messages are not. He doesn’t do vague. Humans do vague. Fake prophets do vague. Devils do vague. But God doesn’t bother to give us a single word… without giving us a whole paragraph explaining just what that single word means.

Fr’instance.

You might already know these stories from the bible. There’s that time in the year 539BC when the neo-Babylonian ruler Belšarusur (KJV “Belshazzar”) threw himself a party, drank from cups previously used in the LORD’s temple, and had a vision of a hand writing מְנֵ֥א מְנֵ֥א תְּקֵ֥ל וּפַרְסִֽין on the wall—and since these guys spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew, they didn’t get what it meant till Daniel came in and explained it.

Daniel 5.25-28 NKJV
25 “And this is the inscription that was written:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
26 This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”

I mean, Daniel coulda came in there and did a straight translation: “It means ‘Number number weigh divide.” Then left it to the Babylonians to figure out… and knowing human nature, they’d’ve tried to claim it was some kind of divine blessing upon them. “God’s gonna give us innumerable riches! Once we weigh them, we’ll be able to divvy them up for all the people, and everybody’ll be rich!” It’s the way every Mammonist loves to spin words of the year. But Daniel wanted Belšarusur to know better: This empire was passing away, and the Persian Empire would take its place for a few centuries.

In the very next book of the bible, the LORD had his prophet Hosea ben Beeri make some kids and give ’em super-weird names. Each of these names was a prophecy to the people of northern and southern Israel. Like his daughter Lo-Ruhamah, who no doubt went by a nickname as soon as she could get one.

Hosea 1.6 NKJV
And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him:
“Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, [no mercy]
For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel,
But I will utterly take them away.”

Again, God doesn’t just order the kid to be named a certain thing, and leave the interpretation open for any yutz to speculate. He told Hosea exactly what he meant by it. He does that.

And if God ever gives you a one-word prophecy, obviously the very next thing you need to do is ask God what he means by that one word. Because odds are, your guess is gonna be wrong. Mine usually are.

I mean, if it was obvious, God wouldn’t need to say anything at all, would he?

Grains of salt.

Certain wannabe prophets are in the bad habit of taking anything God tells them—namely things he’s told them personally, which are meant for them, not everyone!—and sharing them as if they are for everybody. I know one in particular who’s fond of taking her own personal anxiety, and declaring, “If you’re feeling anxious, God has a message for you!”—then sharing God’s message for her. If you ever wanna know how she’s doing or what she’s feeling, give her time; she’ll hoist her “prophetic” flag up the flagpole in front of everyone, and never realize it’s really her undies.

And last week she shared her word for the year, which she claims she got from God. And yep, it’s most definitely her word for the year. Is it mine? Well, if I choose to adopt it for myself, maybe. But maybe God has a better word for me. If I ask.

And this is just as true for you. If the leaders of your church are declaring a word for the year for their church, it’s up to you to decide whether that word’s gonna likewise be your own personal word for the year, or whether you’re gonna adopt a different word. Or seek a word directly from God.

Or go with no word for the year whatsoever. It’s what I usually do. I have plenty enough resolutions, and self-improvement goals for myself, throughout the year. My years don’t need themes. I just need to keep following Jesus, and dismiss silly distractions like that one.