Close your eyes…
No seriously, participate in this little action with me. You can’t close your eyes (and still read this) but imagine nothing. Okay, I know that’s hard, but as best you can imagine empty space, no creation, vast blankness.
Now to this empty space, add a light (someplace, somewhere, somehow). Now add a little bit of water (or a lot of water, this is your imagination). Find a spot to add a plant or two. Finally, add some sort of creature.
Congratulations, you just created a world with nothing more than your imagination…and words. You took words on this screen, and you transformed them into a world in your head. The power of words, or even more specifically, the power of a word is really quite amazing.
Let me show you.
In the beginning
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ‘ Genesis 1:1-3
Let me back up for a moment. Before I go on to words, let me say something about God. It’s really more important than words or where I’m headed – the Word of the Year project.
It begins with God.
Not just the world, the universe, your life, but everything begins and ends with God. Too many times in my life, I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking perfection will lead me to what I want or need. If I can get this right or choose the right word, idea, wife, car, house, job, dog, then God can work.
That makes God too small. God isn’t someone I can reduce to my size (or quite honestly smaller). He’s vast. He’s omnipresent. He’s the creator. He existed before everything.
In the beginning, God.
My attempt to choose a word, a job, a spouse is secondary to allowing God to use the word or job or (fill in the blank). His work within my life (word, job, wife, etc) is what creates anything close to perfection.
In the beginning God…looked upon nothing. We can’t truly comprehend the first few lines of Genesis. All we’ve ever known is something. We’ve only lived a world consisting of things – both natural and man-made. We were born into a world of trees and grass and birds and animals (lots of somethings). As children of the 20th and 21st centuries, we know lots of technology – from refrigerators and air conditioners to computers, video game consoles, televisions, and cell phones
The closest we’ve ever experienced nothing is those amazing pictures of Mars and beyond from NASA. Even then, it’s difficult for us to comprehend a world 3 billion miles away.
Then God goes from difficult to understand to flat-out impossible.
Something from Nothing
Into this vast amount of nothing, God speaks a word. Light.
And into this nothing, God creates something. Not only does God create something from nothing, but He designs massively complex things with a word. Google “what does light consist of” and you’ll find articles on something called the Quantum Theory of Light. I skimmed through it, and it went way over my head.
God created light…with a word.
If we can’t understand “nothing,” we really struggle to create something vast and complex from it. On my best day, I can take two lesser materials to create something bigger, better. God did it with nothing.
We know the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is not true. Words inherently carry power. But I wonder if we really understand how powerful a single word can have in our lives.
Word of the Year | 2011
I began to understand the power of a word in my own life in 2011. Like many people, 2009 was a difficult year. The economy tanked, and with it the family business I worked began an abrupt decline. If you’ve ever worked in a family business, you know the strain that comes with working with family. Add on top of that extreme financial pressure, and it’s a flammable situation.
Financial strain. Relational strain. These can lead to other issues – emotional, physical, spiritual. For me, I asked God a lot of questions. Questions like, “Where are you? I thought You had more for me than this? Why did you let this happen?” This continued through 2010, even as we worked through some of the financial issues, the pressure was still intense.
If you would have asked me at that time, “What is it you’re feeling?” I couldn’t have put it into words. Looking back now, it’s easy to see. I was bound. I was locked up by fear and brokenness and confusion and hurt. Those emotional and spiritual chains were keeping me from the place God was calling me.
I needed freedom.
In late 2010, my wife met an old college friend. Over coffee, they decided to choose one word for the entire year. It wasn’t a resolution or even a goal. I was a personal project for growth. There was no blueprint or structure…just choose a word, commit it to God and see what happens.
Let me remind you of that phrase from Genesis 1, “In the beginning God…” I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew I something needed to be different. I had no idea what it was or how to get it. God did. He was chasing me, and into my darkness, brokenness, and pain He spoke a word.
Kia (my wife) came home from her coffee date, shared with me their project, and I did the most abnormal thing I could have done. I immediately jumped in. I didn’t hesitate; I didn’t ask questions. I just joined in.
I chose the word FREEDOM. Again, in the beginning, God. He knew what I needed, and I believe He guided my steps at that moment. In all of my questioning of Him, in all His quietness, this is how He spoke…a word.
2011 changed my life, and it started with a word.
I dove deep into my word that year. Everywhere I looked – songs, videos, movies, books, scripture – I saw my word. I learned lessons like searching for open space (blue oceans), living intentionally, and learning to say, “No.”
It put me on the path to find purpose, hope, and true freedom.
God took all of my nothing’s (hurt, pain, brokenness, anxiety, anger, and shame), and He turned them into something. I believe He can do that for you too. I believe God can take all of your brokenness (your nothing) and use it to create something.
Are you ready?
3 Steps to Find and Grow from Your Word of the Year
That first year I had no guide on how to do a Word of the Year. Since then I’ve learned a lot on how to be successful with this project. I’ve also learned that some years bring amazing depth, but other years are disappointing. However, over the course of 8 years of doing this project, my life is richer for it.
Here are three steps to enrich your Word of the Year project:
Ask | Wait | Listen
Right now, I expect (if you’ve made it this far), you are in one of three places. You have a word. You don’t have a word but want one. You’re not even sure if this project is right for you. Here’s my encouragement for you…
Ask. Ask God (no matter which place you find yourself) for wisdom.
‘If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. ‘ James 1:5
In the beginning God. Start there. Ask for wisdom. Ask questions like, “God, what is my word? God, what do you want me to learn? God, should I even try this?”
The second part of this step is a little harder – wait and listen.
‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.’ Psalms 25:4-5
My 2019 Word of the Year is COURAGE. I’m learning to wait can be the most courageous thing I can do. After you ask, wait. Wait and listen.
In the waiting, don’t overthink it. The actual word you choose isn’t the key. The key is God. If you choose to give whatever word you choose to God, allow Him to work through it, then you will find meaning and purpose in your word.
Listening is important because it’s a tool you’ll use throughout the year. Listening can take place in a multitude of ways. You may hear through a movie or YouTube video or book or online article or scripture.
One important skill to learn is hearing the “still small voice of God.” It’s very difficult to describe if you’ve never experienced it. It’s not an audible voice. It’s not even a voice in your head. The voice of God is a cross between a feeling and a loud thought. You feel it in your heart, but it’s thought in your head.
It’s in this way, I most often hear God speak to me. For any question you ask of God, it’s most often in the quiet place between your heart and head where you will find the answers. So wait for it.
Believe and Share
If you have your word, it’s time for some faith. First, you need to believe. Not a lot, just start with a mustard seed of faith.
‘“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”’ Matthew 17:20
For perspective, in our non-agrarian society, the mustard seed is one of the smaller seeds. It ends up growing to be a larger garden plant. Faith starts small. Many times it starts with a choice – even a small choice – a choice to believe.
Choose to believe God is in this. Make a choice to believe your word is from Him. Believe something good will come from this project. Take a small step of faith.
Then take a little larger step; share your word with someone. We don’t truly believe something until we share it. Saying a belief out loud puts validity to that belief within our hearts and heads. Telling someone else your word kicks off your process of growth from the word.
‘But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” ‘ 2 Corinthians 4:13
Share with someone your word, and how you hope to learn or grow from it this year. It could be over coffee or at the dinner table. If you are a person who enjoys writing, it could be a blog post or something on Facebook. It might be an image on Instagram.
Take this small step of faith. Put it out there.
This is the place where growth really happens. It’s time to put your faith into action. This is where you get to begin using your creativity.
‘But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. ‘ James 1:22
How you act will look different than how I act, but here are a few ideas. Begin looking for your word in stores. One year, I found a set of oversized scrabble letters, so I spelled out my word, VISION, and put it in my office. Many years, I’ll design and print a t-shirt displaying my word. Kia found a set of 12″ raw wood letter in Target one year and hung her word, OPEN and my word, BOLD on our office wall.
You get the idea. But there are tons more. If you write, spend a day a month (or more) writing about your word. Some of you draw or paint, create images that depict what your word means to you. For those who love to read, find books and articles about your word.
One important reminder for me is to make sure I work in both the digital realm and the physical realm. I find I learn in both settings, but I see and hear differently depending on the medium I am using.
The last thing, I’ll say about taking action is to be consistent. I stated earlier, not every year has been a banner year with this project. I’ve found the most successful years are the years I am most consistent in working through my word on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be daily or even weekly. However, it’s important to do something focused on your word at least monthly if you want to gain the most out of it.
The final word
God delights in taking the “nothing” of your life and creating something with it. It begins with Him, but it rests in you. Will you let Him in. Will you work with Him.
The Word of the Year project is like anything else. The more you put into it, the more you will receive from it. You must ask, wait and listen. You need to believe and share our words. It’s vital you act.
But remember, God.
In the beginning, God.