I am the sort of person who likes having a guide.
I like having a plan. A direction. When I play video games, I play with one eye on the map and another on a walkthrough. When we travel overseas, I make an itinerary of what we’re going to see and when. When I make multi-course dinners, I set up a timeline so that I can know what needs to go in the oven at what time.
I like this because when I don’t have an area of focus, my attention scatters quickly. I end up trying to do everything at once, and then doing nothing at all. Or I get sidetracked or distracted and forget something vital. Having a reference point for me is a way of staying on track to accomplish a goal.
And it’s one of the reason I find “theme words” useful in my spiritual walk.
I do it on a small scale with my Bible study all the time: I pick a word to focus on, and I let that word become the guide. If the word is “ministry,” for example, then I read a passage of Scripture with a careful focus on how that passage relates to ministry: either what it says about ministry or shows me about ministry, or how I can integrate what I’m reading into my daily life of ministry. Focusing on a word helps keep me on track, gives me something to engage with, and applies to something I can put into practice.
So why not try it for the new year?
This year, I’m picking a “theme word” – two, actually – to guide me through the year. For me, those words are going to be “prayer” and “purpose.” I really, really want to enrich my prayer life and shake it up, and I would like to pray like Jesus prayed, and so that’s going to be one word that I keep in mind as I go throughout my studies and spiritual activities this year: how can I add prayer, always, into what I am doing? How can I pray differently? What does Jesus do in prayer that I don’t? How do I make my prayer life richer?
As for “purpose,” I’m choosing that word because I want my focus this year to be on fulfilling my spiritual purpose and becoming the person God wants me to be. I tend to get lost fulfilling a lot of other purposes without paying as much attention to the spiritual, and so I want to always be able to pull the focus back to who I am as a child of God and a worker for the Lord. “Is this fulfilling a godly purpose or not?” is a good evaluative question to put things into perspective – at least for me. And because I have the quiet sense that this year is going to be meaningful and significant in terms of who I am and what I am doing as a Christian, it feels appropriate to choose “purpose” as a theme.
Now I should clarify: the practice of choosing a theme word is only a way to guide your focus throughout the year and nothing more or greater than that. It could be that you choose one word and God wants you to focus on something else; in that case, go with God! Don’t become a slave to this one idea or let it overpower everything else. God has a multitude of things to teach you and saying to Him, “Whoops, no, this doesn’t line up with my theme for the year” is a great way to miss out on something wonderful. A theme word is simply a guide, a way to get started.
Because here’s the honest truth: we need one. We need a reason to get moving and a direction to move in. A lot of us, convicted with the idea that we should be “better” Christians, often try to accomplish that feat without making steps in any meaningful direction. We read the Bible for 5 minutes longer than usual, take up a new ministry or two, and then our resolution scatters to the wind and we wind up more or less where we started even after a lot of time has passed. We don’t go anywhere, and half the time we don’t know where we would go even if we tried.
Choosing a theme word doesn’t let you do that. Choosing a theme word forces you to do two things: 1) to really think about an area in your spiritual life that needs work, help, or attention, and 2) take steps in your daily life to engage with that area and work on it. And so, to that end, I find it helpful in guiding me to take steps toward become a believer who is actively engaged with her spiritual life: I want to mold it into what God wants it to be, and not just passively let it become what happens when I’m distracted.
So if you feel like you might need a little guidance this year yourself, spend some time with God talking about what you want to work on this year, what needs attention, where you want to grow, what you want or need. And then prayerfully choose a “theme word” to get you started on the road to growing spiritually: our energy and our enthusiasm is almost always more useful when we have a proper guide to hand!