It’s New Year’s Day, and if you’ve been using social media at all, you may have seen people posting about their “word for the year” for 2021. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here’s an explanation from an advocate:
Each year, you should choose a word to represent the year you have in front of you. Think long and hard about one word that will serve as a guidepost for what you want to do and be in the year to come… One word that will remind you of what’s important when you need it most. One word to mean everything you want your year to be, and one word that will be a guiding light when times get tough and you’re not clear on what your priorities are.Claire Diaz-Oritz, “Design Your Day,” p, 16.
Many Christians invest this practice with spiritual significance. They look to God to “give them a word” or a phrase for the year, perhaps by seeking to feel an impression in their heart or by looking for something to pop up repeatedly around them.
Because Romans 8:28 is true, I won’t deny that having a “word for the year” has sometimes been helpful for people. I’m sure there’s been situations where it’s reminded them of something important. But in general, I would suggest that it’s not a great idea. It’s highly subjective, it borders on superstition, it’s inherently self-focused, and—more to the point—it’s not something God has ever told us to do.
God has not promised to give us a “word” for this upcoming collection of 365 days we call 2021. He’s already given you a lot of words, and they are found in a book called the Bible.
And as we were reminded again this past Sunday, the Bible is not about you. Life is not about you. 2021 is not about you.
Instead, the Bible tells us that we are supporting characters in a grand drama centred on Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all God‘s promises and the main character of the biggest story ever told (Ephesians 1:9-10, Hebrews 1:1-2).
Therefore, if you were to choose a word or a phrase to focus on in 2021—based on everything God has told us in his word—it would not sound like “determination” or “moxie” or even “rest” or “peace.”
Instead, it would sound like “Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ must be the focus of your 2021, because Jesus Christ is God’s focus for 2021. Jesus Christ has been God’s focus for every single year since the world began. The Father’s passion is to exalt his Son through a worshipping people called the church (John 17:1-5, 22-24), and thus our purpose in 2021 is to know, trust, love, obey, and proclaim Jesus for the glory of his name among all peoples.
And there is no better way to prepare yourself to do that than to regularly spend time in God’s word, the Bible. Your love for Jesus, your knowledge of Jesus, your ability to be a disciple of Jesus, your passion to make Him known to others—all of this will rise or fall with your knowledge of God’s word and your time spent with Him in that word.
So don’t pick a word for 2021. God has already done that for you. Determine instead to soak yourself in God’s word this year, allowing your heart and life to be shaped by it. Refuse to put the Bible on the shelf; refuse to allow the distractions of a noisy world to drown out the God who is there and who is not silent.
Several weeks ago I posted a few links to some excellent daily devotionals which can help you not only spend time in God’s word this year, but also help you understand it. Here’s that link again: Getting Your Daily Bread.
One of the more significant of those devotionals is “Read Your Bible” from The Gospel Coalition and Crossway. This daily resource, available by text or audio at the link above, is also available by email subscription (and podcast). It uses the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan, which walks you through four different sections of the Bible at a time. If done in a year, you would read the New Testament and Psalms twice and the Old Testament once.
The daily readings are also paired with short devotionals by D. A. Carson which help you understand how the passages connect up to the big story of the Bible. This plan would be an excellent way to read the whole Bible in 2021, especially if you’ve never done that before.
Alternatively, perhaps you’ve done a Bible-in-a-year plan once or twice already, and you’d like to try something a little bit different this time around. Reading the whole Bible more slowly—perhaps over two or three years—and taking the time to study what you’re reading can also be an excellent method.
In that regard I would comment D.A. Carson’s “For the Love of God.” (Amazon links here and here.) These two books contain the exact same readings you’ll find in the “Read the Bible” plan above, but by having them in book form, you’ll be able to go through them at your own pace. Pairing these volumes with a good study Bible would be an excellent way to dig in to the Scripture with a focus on understanding what you’re reading.
Whatever you plan on, make a plan. “I want to read the Bible more in 2021” is not a plan. That’s a wish, and a wish that will likely go unfulfilled if you don’t turn it into something more concrete.
“I will set my alarm 15 minutes earlier on weekdays and spend that time reading the Bible, using this specific resource and/or reading pattern” is a good plan. It’s specific, measurable, actionable, and realistic. It’s a plan you can share with a friend who can help keep you accountable. It’s a plan you’re likely to do this year.
So, let’s review: you don’t need to pick a word for 2021. Instead, you need to spend time in God’s words in order that you might better glorify His son Jesus Christ.
Do this, and you will do well this year, whatever 2021 has in store for us.