People feel strongly one way or another about having a word for the year. One friend says, “It’s Jesus!” noting it’s all about Him, no need for another word. Someone else has said we should focus on the whole Bible, not a word. I get their thinking and fully support following Jesus wholeheartedly and being a student of His Word!
I used to be against the whole “word for a year” simply because others looked down on it. I didn’t want to launch out into something controversial. But once I started having one, I realized it can be something really special.
A word (or theme) for the year is not intended to take away from focusing on Jesus or the Bible. It’s intended to magnify Him, to give an extra focus as you study the Bible throughout the year. For example, in prior years, I’ve had words with themes around prayer, Bible reading, “firstfruits,” the Lord being our Shepherd, “whiter than snow,” “God is Light,” the fear of the Lord, being steadfast, being still before the Lord, and others. I so often think back to that in-depth study of the fear of the Lord or what it looks like to be steadfast rather than anxious and unstable. When I consider tithing or not tithing, I remember what I learned when I studied giving our firstfruits, not our leftovers.
To me, it’s like doing a Bible study. You might spend several months reading about the Divided Kingdom (as I have been with Bible Study Fellowship this year) or researching something theological. Looking in-depth at a slice of theology or a book of the Bible doesn’t take away from your overall devotion to God and His Word. In fact, it strengthens it as we grow and learn. Bible studies, sermon series, personal devotional times and more have the potential to deepen and expand our love for God as we think biblically about all things.
Having given this brief apologetic for a “word of the year,” 🙂 I will share with you what mine is: Awake!
Several times over the last few months, as I would listen to a powerful sermon, I wanted to express “Amen!” or leap to my feet and raise my hands and rejoice, or even burst into tears with the beauty and accuracy of the message! Yet appropriately, we as a congregation sit so still, listening, surely each person absorbing it in personal ways, with God working in each heart. But I have wanted to shout at moments, first to myself, “Wake up! Don’t you hear it? Don’t you see it?” This warning, or this exhortation, or this needy world, or any number of other things. What am I to do with this that I’m hearing?! And then I walk away into my week, forgetting what was preached, seemingly unchanged by it.
Then, we have been visiting many churches this fall in our new community. Some have different theology on “non-essential” issues, like end times. These can be confusing things to study because we don’t know the day or the time of the Lord’s return. We have his Word to tell us about it, but people can interpret it differently. I take encouragement that even the disciples who walked with Jesus couldn’t always understand what He was saying directly to them until it later happened! For us reading it now in the Bible, it can seem pretty straightforward: “He was telling you… how did you not get it?” But we in our day are faced with the same sort of thing reading about future events; it can be hard to understand. So I’ve wanted to read and study more about these issues. I don’t expect I’ll figure it out perfectly or any better than the trustworthy people around me have, but it’s worth reading the Bible and giving it some thought, even while we trust Him and rest in all He has promised for those who know and love Him.
With all this as the background, I arrived at church on January 1, with two thoughts for words for the year: 1) Wake up! or 2) something along the lines of love, serve, give — if you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll understand why!
The service opened with this prelude:
Wake, awake for night is flying,“Wake, Awake for Night is Flying”
the watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices and at the thrilling cry rejoices:
Come forth, ye virgins; night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take, Alleluia!
And for His marriage feast prepare, for ye must go to meet Him there.”
This echoes Matthew 25:1-13 with the parable of the 10 virgins. It tells us the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, not taking any oil with their lamps; five were wise, taking oil. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, so they fell asleep. When he finally came, they awoke and trimmed their lamps, but the foolish ones did not have oil. While they went to buy oil, those who were ready went with the bridegroom to the wedding banquet, while the door was closed to the foolish ones. They said, “Lord, open the door for us.” And He replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” The passage concludes with, “Keep watch [be alert, awake], because you do not know the day or the hour.”
It’s interesting to me that they ALL fell asleep waiting, but five were prepared when Jesus came, and five were not. The commentary isn’t on the fact they were found sleeping (similar to the disciples who slept instead of prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was betrayed, Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46). It’s on the fact they weren’t ready. The stories in Matthew 25 reflect that there were people who thought they would be safe and saved and that they knew the Master, but He did not know them. That’s a sobering thought.
The New Year’s Day church service also quoted Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” How do we arise and shine if we do not awake?
As I came home and reflected on the church service, Bach’s prelude, Isaiah 60:1, and looked up Matthew 25:1-13 (the parable of the virgins), it brought to mind my desire to read the Bible and study more about what it says regarding end times, and these things all converged back to the thought in my head every so often last year of “Wake Up!” Awake!
Be awake to the things of God. Be awake to the things He wants to do in my life as I follow Him, how He wants me to spend my life and my time and my days, prayerfully filled by His Spirit to love and serve Him and others. Will I quench the Spirit or walk in the Spirit, allowing Him to awaken my heart to the needs of the world and how He might use me, being ready for the day I meet Him and for the day of His return.
Here’s how a word for the year works. I wrote this post above earlier this week. As I sat down this afternoon to read Joel for my Bible study that starts back this week, in Joel 1:5, it says, “Wake up…” He’s speaking to drunkards, while also talking about a locust invasion of the land, a judgment, and the Day of the Lord (a theme of this short book) being near. In Joel, God is calling His people to repentance, to “return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster” (Joel 2:13). As I study the Day of the Lord and what it is, as I think of God’s judgment but also His mercy, as I see the call to repent, I also see this admonition to “wake up” in light of these things!
Having a word for the year should not cause us to neglect God or His Word for some fanciful idea, but it should hopefully help us learn, to connect dots, to see a bigger picture and be deepened by a bigger vision. Do you have a word for the year? (No pressure now! 🙂 I respect all those who don’t like to choose one for many other reasons! But I also want to fortify those who like me once felt I couldn’t because others didn’t.) If you do have one, I’d love to hear in the comments! Blessings to you all this new year!