For the first few days of the new year, I struggled to find the one word to describe what I hope will transpire in 2017. As I thought harder and longer, all I could see were the clearly visible "mile-markers" ahead. It's as if someone handed me a map for this year-long journey, and I chose to mark the milestone moments in sharpie. I started to think, "Well, I'm planning to graduate in May. I need a full-time job after that. I want to go deeper in my relationship with the Lord, and then there's my girlfriend."
Somewhere in the middle of all that, my dad shared with me his word for the year: compass. He shared with me how everything we do is guided by a "true north" and that, for my dad, his true north is Jesus and the truth of the Gospel. Pretty cool, right? I think we could all use a dose of that. Which led me to think my word for the year would be something along those lines.
God Changes Our Perspectives After He Changes Our Hearts First
But God did a pretty humorous thing. Amidst my thinking concerning all of these milestone moments for the upcoming year, He changed my perspective, and ultimately, my heart. Instead of thinking about what is ahead, I started thinking about how and why these moments will be mile-markers. And how some of these might not happen. And how there will be other milestone moments, too, which I cannot see right now. But I must run the race to encounter these mile-markers.
Since then, I've become less concerned with what's in store and more concerned with the manner in which I approach this upcoming year. The Bible has much to say about living our lives according to a certain manner. The apostle Paul urged Christians to do so in his letter to the Ephesians:
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-2)
Likewise, he shared a similar message with the Philippians:
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you." (Philippians 1:27-28)
The Gift of Love
God gives us a gift that binds all things together. Though we are imperfect creatures, the perfect Creator bestowed upon us a faultless offering for our lives to be marked by. And it's not just some mystical, ethereal gift either. It's a necessary component of Christian living. Without it, we cannot live life the way God designed for us to live it. The answer is love.
There's a familiar Scripture in the New Testament that addresses the topic of love. More than likely, you have seen it before on a coffee cup, t-shirt, or bumper sticker. But when I think of this word, and I read 1 Corinthians 13, a different part of the passage sticks out. One that isn't on many coffee cups, t-shirts, or bumpers:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
As I read through this passage and applied it to my own life, I started to see the change in perspective and heart that God was giving me:
If I take these classes and graduate this semester, but have not love, I accomplish nothing.
If I get a full-time job and start making money, but have not love, I accomplish nothing.
If I desire to go deeper in the relationships in my life, but have not love, I accomplish nothing.
I find it easy for me to get caught up in the ebb and flow of everyday life. Things start to pile up (i.e. classes, job interviews, relationships, etc.) and you forget what got you there in the first place. If we go through this life, but have not love, we gain nothing.
God is Love, and We Love Because God First Loved Us
For some of you, that might sound a bit extreme, but, according to Scripture, this is nothing new or arbitrary. Take a look, here:
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)
Based on this text, we learn how love is, ultimately, from God because God, himself, is love. Therefore, if we choose not to love, we choose to not know God. In other words, it's possible to get the diploma, get the job, and get the girl, but to still miss out on God - the Creator and Giver of all things good. And that's not to say any of these are bad things. But if the manner in which we pursue these things is not characterized by love, then what have we truly gained?
Let's take this one foot deeper. Our love cannot be marked by our own-doing, but by the work of the Spirit within and amongst us. The text puts it plainly:
"We love because he first loved us. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4:19, 21)
Loving God and loving others are not inversely related, meaning the two go hand-in-hand. You either love God and you love other people, or you don't. And it takes a work of God for this to take place. That's why the text says "we love because God first loved us." It's not our love that's of great worth, but the perfect love God gives abundantly through His Son, Jesus Christ.
The love of God is an unordinary, extravagant love, like no other. Therefore, this world - broken and fractured in nature - will not fully know and comprehend it. Earlier on in this post, I shared with you a passage from Philippians 1 that talks about being of "one Spirit" and not "being frightened by those who oppose you." That one binding Spirit is the Spirit of God's love. And in the Spirit of God's perfect love, He mercifully casts out fear:
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18)
Point blank, the love of God should look different in this world, as it is unconditional in nature. I know in my life, I've already reminded myself of my "one word" for the year. But I'm realizing something else: love is far too powerful and far too magnificent to confine to a single word or year. We need to extend it every day, but more importantly, we need God to lavish it upon us first.
One Word For 2017
That's my "one word" for 2017: love. As I approach important life events, like graduation and my job search, and as I pursue deeper relationships in my life, I pray God will give me the strength for all of it to be marked by love. And for the things I can't quite see yet, I pray God will remind me in those moments to choose love then, also. For when we choose love, we choose God himself; and His plans for our life are always better than our own.
Share your "one word" with us! Comment below, or on any of our social media channels, with your word for the year. Whatever you decide, whether you pick a word or not, may God be honored and glorified and praised in the year 2017.