Have you noticed how a lot of businesses and enterprises are moving to a one word name? – nosh, spark, neon, inspire.
It’s like they realise that a whole lot of meaning can be bundled up in just one word.
That’s the mentality behind a spiritual exercise I have been recommending. Its called One Word.
One Word came about in a faith community that realised that New Year resolutions don’t work. We often use January as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over, especially in New Zealand where weeks of summer holidays follow the excesses of Christmas. We want to lose some kilos, commit to daily devotions, spend more time with family, pay off bills, improve our health or pray for others more consistently. But the reality is that those resolutions rarely become a reality. 50% of them fail by the end of January and 9 out of 10 are forgotten by March.
One solution that has worked me is to dump the lists and timelines and boil it all down to one key word for the upcoming year. Instead of a whole list of resolutions, one word means focussing on one thing, one notion that represents what we most hope God will do in us this year. The project is easy to find on the web; google "get one word" or search for one of the many books on this theme. The one I've been using is My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen. Although some material is from the business sector, you’ll mainly learn about people who have asked God to show them just one thing, one word, to be the focus of their spiritual journey for a whole year. You’ll learn how the starting point is humility, openness to what might emerge, and a realistic sober assessment of your own capacity and limitations That’s why January is a good time to do this, the year is just opening up and we are curious what it might bring.
One Word is about listening to God’s voice, individually. In 1 Samuel 3 we learn that God spoke to a young boy personally, and through Samuel's obedience to that call began a pattern of using him to communicate his purposes for individual people and the whole nation. In John 10 we are reminded that Jesus the Good Shepherd wants us to be familiar with his voice. He offers us salvation, freedom and eternal life, but those gifts emerge as we depend on him in that intimate dynamic relationship that listens to, recognises and obeys his voice. In this New Year spiritual exercise you’ll see how by seeking God, by looking in, up and around, we can come up with a word. Examples of some that people have used are: trust, patience, love, discipline, focus, faith, surrender, peace, listen and joy. but there's no set answer, we are to find one that’s just for us. To look in means to be humble. Face reality. Expect to be challenged.
Here's Rebecca’s testimony:
I asked God for a word.
For about four days as I thought about it seemed that my word was LIGHT. Safe. Doable. I thought God would be so proud that I chose such a wonderful word. After all Jesus is the capital L light and we should all be lower case lights that point to him.
Good. Except that God did that thing he does when we ask him. He delivered. He delivered a word handpicked for this child. SHHHH.
SHHH means I don’t have to verbalise every thought that is in my head at that moment. SHHH means my quiet time in the morning is quiet, waiting in the gentle voice of my Savour, not me spouting off my laundry list needs of the day
SHHH means less gossip, harsh words, boasting or pride. Less opportunity to sin.
Thanks Dad for delivering. (Ashcraft and Olsen, 2012, p 49).
Like Rebecca, like Samuel, like the first disciples, we are blessed to be loved by a God who speaks into our lives. The journey of discerning One Word that will mark our faith life each new year begins with trusting that God wants to be involved in our growth. He already knows the word he has in mind for us. So start humble. Start expectant. Look in.
“Prayer is not our work, but God’s” (Andrew Murray).
Ask for a word.
This post is Part One of a four-part series on my own One Word project.
A useful discipleship resource is available.