A recent trend on social media captivates me—choosing a single word as a personal theme for the year.

It’s not a new idea, and a bit of research turned up a few books on the topic. A couple of my friends are long-time practitioners—convinced the discipline changes their lives—and I’ve followed along in spurts, hiccups, and jumps.

This year, I chose a word again. Though I really think the word chose me. I couldn’t escape it. It turned up everywhere—in my daily devotions, sermons I heard, and Bible lessons I taught. In the end, I didn’t have a choice.

The Lord shouted my word and lit it with neon lights in my head. I know from past experience what a powerful force this word will become in 2021.

3 benefits lure me with excited anticipation.

1.  Focus

Now that I’ve decided on my word, I hear it everywhere. Not only that, but it wafts through my thoughts at random moments—but upon reflection I realize it’s when I need the reminder.

A commitment to follow a word and obey it is something God honors. He delights in leading us with breadcrumbs toward a spiritual prize. He drops hints and bits of hope in front of us. As we examine each one, we internalize a new truth. This leads us toward the next crumb, and so on.

This morning, as I studied for the Bible class I teach each week, I realized the topic encompassed my word for this year. I dove into a side study and a few minutes of worship centered around it.

Sometimes I see a book title and investigate the content because it relates to my word. Other times a sermon—or even a social media meme—will catch my attention with a correlation. In every case, I am drawn toward the Lord in a fresh dimension. My horizons are expanded at the same time my thoughts drill into the deeper meaning of this year’s word.

Utilizing these techniques, God reminds me to stay on task, on mission, each day. As a result, superfluous thoughts and what I call the “fluffy” things—unnecessary distractions—get shoved aside. But beware of believing the Lord can’t or won’t employ fun to impart wisdom.

He used my love of fashion and a good shopping trip when He gave me the idea for a book. I wrote Fashioned by God as a direct result of my word for that year—persevere.

When I chose it, before I ever dreamed of the book, I vowed to follow the guidance of industry leaders God placed in my life—no matter how frightening it seemed or how unequipped I felt.

This year’s word doesn’t seem, on the surface, like it will lead to a new book. But I do know I might be surprised by what God has in store.

2.  Motivation

My word pops up at the most uncomfortable times. It’s easy for me to lose sight of long-term goals. I get bogged down in the daily stuff.

Small emergencies rob me of my greater purpose. I’ve heard it described as the “tyranny of the urgent.”  When I feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to shut down. Big or long-haul goals seem impossible to attain. And then that word grabs my attention again.

One thing about God is that He doesn’t ever give up on us. Neither does He fail to remind us when we’ve made a commitment.

He’s determined to give us whatever help we need to succeed in our spiritual growth. In fact, He often pours out so much assistance it can feel like we’re swept along, just watching Him move all the puzzle pieces into place.

That’s how it was the year I wrote Fashioned by God. Whenever planting myself in a chair and my fingers on the keyboard seemed less compelling than, say, the laundry—because writers know that anything can be more attractive than sitting in front of a blank screen—the Lord sent persevere whizzing through my brain.

It drove me to write without fail. I knew that part was up to me. No book gets written without a person typing words. Each day, I worked for a prescribed number of hours.

Over time, the pages began to feel more like a cohesive, whole book. Outside of the writing, God pulled other factors into line that He knew a book project needs for publication. My word, uttered as a prayer, propelled Him into motion on my behalf.

My motivation grew stronger each day.

Your life probably doesn’t include writing. But whatever your circumstances, a single word as a theme will motivate you. You’ll gain a longer-range spiritual goal and a desire to implement concrete actions to solidify it.

3.  Accountability

The natural progression from focus through motivation leads straight to accountability. My chosen word hangs like a store sign over my life.

It’s a beacon into a previously undiscovered world, and also a label stating what’s inside. Imagine stepping into a shop advertised as selling shoes and discovering lawn and garden implements instead, or worse, no merchandise at all—just empty shelves.

In the same manner, my life must exhibit the qualities implied by the word I’ve chosen. If it doesn’t, I’m a fake—a hypocrite.

Part of the attraction of prayerfully choosing a word for the year is sharing it with friends. But as soon as it’s uttered, the deal is sealed. I can’t take it back.

“Oh, I changed my mind,” is not an acceptable excuse. It’s like saying God changed His mind—and we all know that doesn’t happen. This word will hound me like a pesky salesman, I know.

But as intimidating as it might seem, I am comforted by the knowledge, too.

I’ll be chased in the direction those spiritual breadcrumbs lead. I won’t have to wonder if I’m in God’s will or doing the right thing. If I select the wrong items or enter the wrong shop, I’ll know—and so will my friends.

Even if I never share my word with another living soul, I know God knows. So I might as well go ahead and tell the whole world. Because who can hold me more accountable than God?

My mind is His oyster, so to speak. I can’t escape the thoughts He places there—not that I want to. This is the real reason for choosing a word.

Remembering that I’m held accountable to God for every detail of my life ought to be natural, but it isn’t. Selective memory is real. But I’m much less likely to block God out of my mind when I’ve committed it to Him with a word.

In case you can’t stand the suspense, my word for this year is faithful. I’m already learning more about God’s faithfulness toward us, as well as how I can be more faithful to Him.

Sometimes we view strategies for more effective Christian living as gimmicks—and then reject them on that basis. I suppose anything we choose can become a gimmick if not taken seriously.

However, when we realize the powerful benefits of a theme word, we can employ this tool as both a beneficial and enjoyable means to a spiritually profitable end.

Have you chosen a word for 2021? I dare you to ask God for one, and then follow wherever He leads—or hounds—you with it. Next December you’ll thank Him. I promise.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

Kathryn Graves, author of Woven: Discovering Your Beautiful Tapestry of Confidence, Rest, and Focus, and Fashioned by God, holds a BA in Psychology, is a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher, and spent 15 years in the fashion industry. Kathryn is Mimi to five grandsons, and loves to play with color—including interior design, clothing, and painting with pastels. In addition to her website, find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.