A word for the year is a word from God—a sense, a nudge, an awareness of what he is up to and how we can partner with him.
A word for the year is a theme, a phrase, a word, or even a picture that serves as a headline, or banner, over the next season. It should describe what God is doing and how we can join in. It’s not a resolution or a goal. Those are focused on what we do.
Hearing the Voice of God
What are some ways to hear God speak a word for the year ahead?
God will reveal himself to us in a variety of ways as we intentionally quiet our hearts and wait on him. We can learn to hear his voice by following a few simple principles:
– Take the posture of a servant.
– Start with what Scripture has already revealed.
– Listen for the clear and the quiet.
– Pay attention to repeated themes.
Test your word with trusted friends.
Take the Posture of a Servant
There is so much that can be said about what it means to hear the voice of God. There are deep wells from which to draw. The contemplative and charismatic traditions of the Christian faith offer many practices that help. But the starting point for hearing from God is found in the story of Samuel’s call in 1 Samuel 3.
The Bible says that prior to this encounter, Samuel “didn’t yet know the Lord” (verse 7).
The beginning of Samuel’s relationship with God was learning to listen. It required taking up a posture of readiness. Before Samuel ever heard God’s message, he was prepared to obey.
It may be that those who are unwilling to obey will never hear the command. Or, as the old saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” When our hearts are surrendered, the Lord will speak.
Start with What Scripture Has Already Revealed
Christians believe in a speaking God. Just a few lines into reading the Creation story in the Bible, we discover that God speaks! The God of Scripture is a God of self-disclosure, a God who has chosen to reveal himself to his people. He is not a God who stands far off and waits for us to chase him. Our God pursues us!
In fact, while other religions may be defined by humanity’s search for God, the story of Scripture is of God’s search for us. So when you want to hear from God, begin with the Bible. Even when you’re asking God to give you a general theme or direction, a word or phrase for a particular season, the Bible is how he speaks to you. Or to put it another way, if the Holy Spirit is a painter and your heart is the canvas on which he paints a vision for this season, the Bible is the palette of colors he uses.
If you’re well versed in Scripture, you’re giving the Spirit more colors to paint with.
What does it look like to start with Scripture when listening for a word or theme for the year? Maybe you could pray through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
Does the Lord want this to be a year of joy? Or peace? Or faithfulness? Maybe this is a year for cultivating self-control or gentleness.
Another place to begin might be with instances in the New Testament where “the will of God” for you is explicitly mentioned. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Maybe this is a year of gratitude for you. Earlier in that letter, Paul says, “God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him. This means that you stay away from sexual immorality and learn how to control your own body in a pure and respectable way” (4:3-4).
Perhaps you could pray about consecrating yourself to the Lord in a more serious way this year, or focusing on purity in your thoughts and actions. Or maybe, as Peter wrote, this is a year to stay consistent, since it is “God’s will that by doing good you will silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15).
Hopefully, some ideas are sparked, either in what we shared here or in a direction you feel the Lord leading you from your own time in Scripture.
Listen for the Clear and Quiet
We can be tempted to think that God speaks one way or another, not in a variety of ways—that he speaks either clearly or quietly.
We hear words and phrases, or we sense nudges and impressions. Yet the Bible contains examples of all these ways.
Some people had dramatic visions, like Isaiah and Ezekiel; some, like Jacob, had dreams that came in the night. Some were actually caught up into the heavens and had an extended encounter with God, like John and perhaps even Paul. Others made judgment calls, like the members of the Jerusalem council who thought it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to [them]” to make the decisions they did (Acts 15:28, ESV).
And then there’s Elijah, who encountered God in both dramatic and understated ways in a span of a few weeks. In response to Elijah’s prayer, God sent fire from heaven in a showdown with the prophets of Baal, and afterward, Elijah heard God not in a “powerful wind” or an earthquake or a fire but in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-12, niv).
The point is this: God speaks to us in different ways at different times. Don’t be narrow in your expectations.
Holly Packiam says this: “Every time Glenn and I go on our annual retreat, he quickly receives his word for the year. I tend to be suspicious of the speed at which this happens, but he does process most things quickly. And to be fair, there have been times when he’s heard a different word the next day. I take more time, listening quietly and waiting patiently for nudges and impressions from the Lord.”
Pay Attention to Repeated Themes
God often uses repetition to speak to us (as in the Lord’s calling of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3).
Glenn Packiam says this: “Holly and I have learned to pay attention to repeating themes over a stretch of time. One year I felt the Lord asking me to move toward restoration, to be a person of peace and repair some burned bridges in relationships.
“During the first few weeks and months of that year, I reached out and reconnected with some people I might have hurt, seeking to restore relationships that had grown distant. Where it was appropriate, I apologized.
“The desire to repair what could be repaired had been stirring in my heart for weeks, or maybe even months, leading up to our year-end retreat. When I sat to pray about the word for the year, it became clear that restoration was the banner over the season.
“There was a year when Holly spent a lot of time focusing on strengthening her overall health and addressing some lingering issues. She was reading, listening to podcasts, consulting with conventional and functional medical professionals, and paying attention to her emotional health. It became obvious when she sat down to reflect on a word for the year that maybe all these health-focused activities were invitations from the Lord to take an intentional journey toward wholeness and wellness.
“Those became her words for the year. Sometimes, listening to our lives brings repeated themes to the surface that we begin to notice. Like the burning bush that caught Moses’ attention, causing him to stop and turn aside to find out why the bush hadn’t been consumed (see Exodus 3), the consistent thematic notes in our lives call for our attention.
“When we stop and begin to listen more closely, we may discover an underlying root system or a common thread that helps us identify what God wants to do in our hearts in a particular season.”
Test Your Word with Trusted Friends
Solitude is a good place to begin listening to God, but community is where words are tested. Glenn Packiam says: “We have a strange capacity to delude ourselves. We may think we’re hearing words from God when they’re actually just the vain imaginings of our own egos. That’s why Holly and I tend to be suspicious of prophetic words about people being world changers and history makers.
“Does God only act in epic ways? Or does he shape the lives of those whose ordinary faithfulness becomes significant only when we see the larger picture of his plan?”
Glenn confides: “On my own, I’m prone to imagine a word for the year that has to do with achieving more or gaining more status. But by the grace of God at work in others in my life—most of all Holly!—I’m able to tune out the noise of my own ambition and discern the leading of the Lord.”
A trusted group of friends can help you not only discern your word for the year but also hold you to it. Glenn continues to share: “One year I was on a day retreat with a group of guys who have all been close friends for the better part of two decades. I shared with them my word for the year: peace. They listened and encouraged me as I shared about the frenetic pace of prior years, when there had been much activity and productivity, and how I sensed the Lord inviting me into a place of rest.
“Later that day I told them I was feeling a bit of pressure to get going on my next book but wasn’t ready to put a proposal together. Frankly, my creative-output muscle was a little fatigued. But I didn’t want to miss the window for publishing. That world can sometimes have unrealistic expectations about the rate of production.
“My friends—my dear brothers—listened and then echoed the words I had spoken that morning: that this year was to be a season of peace and rest. They reflected back to me the sense of weariness and angst they were hearing in my voice when I talked about writing again. The decision was clear: delay the writing process.”
These points are unpacked in more detail in chapter 3 of The Intentional Year.
Are you ready to stop living reactively and feeling emotionally exhausted? Do you want to experience freedom to invest time and energy into the people you value most? The Intentional Year is your guide to living into the purpose you were made for. With stories, practices, and a road map to intentionality, Holly and Glenn Packiam will guide you into the simple, sustainable, life-giving rhythms of an intentional life.
This isn’t just about aspirations or self-improvement—a flourishing life is tangible and possible. It’s time to live into the purpose you were made for.
Preorder The Intentional Year at your favorite bookstore and send your proof of purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll send you a code to download the audiobook for FREE so you can start listening right away! (The PREORDER NOW link below allows you to buy from one of our retail partners or from navpress.com.)
In our next message, Glenn and Holly Packiam will share about the five spheres of life.