2016 is officially over. It’s a new year. And a new year means the potential of a new you. Which is why so many people will enter 2017 by choosing a new word.
Just the other day someone asked me, “What is your word for 2017?” Silence. For a moment, I thought about responding with “survival.” But then I decided that would take a little too much explanation. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m not sure yet.”
To be fair, I have chosen words in the past. Words like “faith,” “simplicity,” “endurance,” etc. I’ve chosen words individually and as a family. As a pastor, one year I chose a word for our church. Predictably, I chose “harvest.” Who doesn’t want to be in that season?!
Words bring clarity. Words bring focus. Words motivate us to change. Choosing a word, especially the right word, can be helpful. But what is it we really want when we are choosing a word for the year? What is it we are really after that our words reveal? When we choose a word, what we’re really saying is that we are after a certain kind of a life. Or at least the kind of like we think we need.
Our word of the year says a lot about the kind of life we want to live in the new year.
As I was reflecting on 2016, while looking ahead to 2017, I couldn’t help but think of a word that almost nobody ever chooses. We choose words like love, joy, thankfulness, contentment, and generosity. All great words. However, one word that likely will not be at the top of the list yet again this year, is the word death.
For obvious reasons, death doesn’t get chosen often, if ever. Yet one of the paradoxes of following Jesus is that death is necessary. It’s welcomed. Not because death is the goal, but because death is the means to experience the life God wants for us. We have to die to live. This is the heart of the good news. We were once dead in our sins, but now made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2). Death is not only how we begin the Christian life; death is how we continue to grow in the Christian life.
Jesus invites us into this new and abundant life (John 10:10) marked by increasing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It is a life of dependence on our Father, where we are changed from the inside-out by the Holy Spirit. It is a life of opening more of our hearts to God’s love and truth. And yet it is a life we can’t get without first dying to ourselves.
In order to get the good life, the abundant life Jesus promised, we have to first lose our life. And we have to go on losing our lives. We have to learn to surrender. Crucify our flesh. Forsake our sin. Say goodbye to our need to be right or in control. All deaths. But they are the kind of deaths that lead to life.
This is why throughout the New Testament we are regularly commanded to die. Why? Because God has something more. Something better. The life Jesus wants for us is far better than the life we want for ourselves. Consider a few of the following:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Luke 9:23-24).
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
These are just a few of the great promises that life, abundant life, is ours on the other side of death. We can’t get more joy, peace, thankfulness, generosity, love, or contentment without dying. One comes before the other. If we want to live more, we have to die more. So, if you are struggling to choose a word for 2017, consider death.
It just might bring you more life than you expect in 2017…..