Get One Word is about identifying a succinct expression of what God wants to do in and through us, individually, this year.
A useful exercise is to look around.
The one word we discover may be a character trait, a discipline, a person, a spiritual focus, an attribute or a value. As you listen to God in your search for your own Word, look around you for a sign or symbol that carries meaning for your life right now, or for what you hope for. The Bible is full of signs that God used to speak to his people. The rainbow in Genesis 9 signified God’s eternal promise and covenant. The six-pointed star of David was said to be used on the King’s battle shield, to symbolise that God protects us from all directions: North, South, East, West, Up and Down. The cross of Christianity is a potent symbol of the faith. It was at one time considered a pagan symbol; some church fathers objected to its use. Now it has for centuries represented Christ's victory over sin and death, and the symbol itself has profound power over our thoughts and feelings. And when Christians began using the Greek word for "fish" as an acronym for "Jesus Christ God's Son, Saviour", it became a powerful secret sign of the followers of Jesus.
Some signs are a warning. The writer of the My One Word book I have used in this project tells about a hole in his church hall that reminds everyone of the folly of a certain youth group activity. He was the youth pastor when a student was pushed down the hall strapped to a skateboard, ending up in a terrifying crash, fortunately without serious injury, but leaving the wall damaged. The elders decided not to get the hole repaired, so it became a permanent reminder of a bad decision. Like that hole, dumb things we’ve done usually haunt us, and load us with guilt. But some signs are more of a promise. A New Year calls us to focus not only on regrets and guilt, but on facing forward, catching a vision of who God wants us to become. The challenge is to keep that hope in front of us. In Deuteronomy 6 the people of God were charged with remembering how they should “love the one God with all their heart, soul, and strength.” They didn’t have Post-it notes back then, so they wrote the passage on papyrus and placed the reminder into little boxes they strapped to their arms or foreheads. You still see them at the Western Wall today. Proverbs 7:3 refers back to this when it says Strap Gods instructions to your fingers and engrave them on the tablet of your heart.
Ashcraft and Olsen tell us that one person wrote her word FINISH on a card and stuck it on her dashboard. She saw it when she left for work, and on the way home. She saw it when running errands, visiting friends, or heading to the beach. It stayed in front of her. Someone else asked a woodcarver to engrave his word onto a wall plaque. Others make it a repeating event on their phone, or find a ringtone with their word. You could have a T-shirt or key chain made, or a stepping stone for your garden; our church has often painted a word on a stones to remind adults and children of a special theme.
An old hymn says “teach us how to read the signs”. Look for an object that reminds you of your word, it could even be your word. A seed, a stone, an open hand, a fish, a cup of water, a Celtic knot, an owl, a compass, a shell. Maybe you’ll find one you can carry in your pocket, or hang on your car mirror. You could even start a collection; after my dad died and we sang a hymn about the Dolphin Christ, I started a collection of dolphins that have deeply nurtured my faith. See if you can find a way to engrave your God-given word on your heart.
Thomas Bandy calls this a talisman, an ancient word that means something that accomplishes or brings into effect. As you spend time with your talisman, God brings to mind your word or its meaning, and what he wants to do becomes more deeply embedded in your life.
"Show me a sign of your goodness. When my enemies look, they will be ashamed. You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me". (Psalm 86: 17)
Keep on asking for a word.
This post is Part Three of a four-part series on my own One Word project.
A useful discipleship resource is available.