One or Many? Something Much Better than a New Year’s Resolution — All Year Long
Conceivably, some specialized theorists might assume this essay addresses a solution to the age-old philosophical problem of unity and diversity, a problem that continues to vex philosophers and is often simply avoided, but that’s not what this article is about. (Incidentally, that particular dilemma asks whether reality is one or many, or both, and has profound implications for everyone, every day of their lives. Thomas Aquinas solved it, or perhaps at least in one sense; nevertheless, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity certainly resolves it.
But what I have in mind isn’t the big picture of things, but the small world of words; while many of them are needed for communication, sometimes only one can be better. (For a writer interested in virtually everything, brevity of words is a hard reality.)
But the truth is that words are exciting; just consider what life would be without them or the joy in reading a book by a dedicated wordsmith. Exciting things in life are just that, exciting. Compared to nonexistence, probably nothing is more exciting than being alive, but within life there are exciting things as well.
Things that cause great enthusiasm and eagerness, especially when they lead to great personal and spiritual breakthroughs, are simply one of the wonderful gifts of life, one of its many divine blessings (James 1:17).
But New Year’s resolutions are tough, even though somehow about 90% of Americans continue to make them every year – that’s over 200 million adults. Perhaps there is a world of learning in that simple figure.
I certainly don’t mean to use than abrasive term as a profanity or tastelessly, but simply an accurate term in its dictionary meaning of “a difficult thing or situation.” Given the almost universal frustration and irritation people feel with themselves over this issue, it seems the most appropriately expressive word. After honestly making a New Year’s resolution, and sincerely attempting to keep it, most everyone fails, year after year. That’s true frustration. Nevertheless, the virtual equivalents of New Year’s resolutions happen regularly throughout the year, either circumstantially or otherwise. We are always facing frustrations in ourselves that we want to change and resolve to change; setting new goals or facing choices in life that require more than we seem able to give, and on it goes.
There is a better way. Of course, the perfect way that solves many of our problems in this life and every problems forever (literally) is to come to know God personally through his Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3). We do this by confessing our sins before God and changing our mind about his Son Jesus, placing our trust and confidence in him as Lord and Savior for forgiveness of our sins and for inheriting the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 1 John 5:13). Nothing in this life is more beautiful, more profound, more exciting, more full of exploration, more loving, more life-changing – I doubt anyone could adequately describe it in 100 lifetimes. (If you aren’t a Christian and want to become one, or aren’t sure you are a Christian, please see the homepage to this website and the book I co-authored with Dr. John Ankerberg, How to Be Absolutely Certain You Are Going to Heaven.)
But that’s also not what I’m talking about in this article.
There’s actually a much better way than New Year’s resolutions (or their usual equivalents) and it works for most everyone, religious or nonreligious or in between, regardless of the month one begins. This article is written from a Christian perspective but those of other worldviews and faiths will see how the concept can be adapted regardless.
God gave us words for a reason and some words are clearly more important than others.
Explore a word and change your life.
That’s the theme of the book by Pastor Mike Ashcroft and Rachel Olson (of Proverbs 31 Ministries), My One Word: Change Your Life with Just One Word.
But Before I begin there are two brief caveats.
First, as I write these words, it’s December 28 and I have just accidentally discovered the book. It’s on order, but I won’t receive it for at least a week, well past January 1, a most useful time to introduce the idea. I have read all the reviews I can find and I understand the basic idea, but this obviously can’t be a book review and the article must accept some obvious limitations since I haven’t read the book. I’m pretty sure I’m not misrepresenting anything, but if so corrections will be made in the next version. In the meantime I know enough for the reader to get excited about this relatively new idea and for it to change his or her life.
Second, this is not a Christian or secular self-help/personal success book, although there are a few books that supports those genres e.g., How to Gain Wealth with Just One Word. Instead, the book I’m referring to is biblically based.
Authors Ashcroft and Olson ask us to positively change our lives, after sincere prayer, simply by choosing the single word that most reflects how we want to grow spiritually or what God wants to do in our lives. We then let God marinade us, so to speak, in that word and its implications (wherever its logical meandering might lead us) – for a full year. We don’t pick the word, God does, which, from a Christian perspective is what makes it work best. It could be almost any word.
Incidentally, as recounted in the book’s Introduction, the unusual class exercise illustration used by co-author Rachel Olson in front of her university students to reveal the inherent power words, in this case the word “mom,” makes the point quite forcefully. (Students will happily stomp on a piece of paper with the name of a scary bug or hated food. But they simply won’t do that if the paper has the name mom written on it, not even if the professor does it herself and insists they do it.)
As she correctly says, “… words encapsulate ideas. They even evoke our emotions. They hook into memories. They define our experiences – helping to shape us in the process. There’s power in words. Beauty in words. Grace in words. Words create movement. They craft nations. They seal a marriage. They cast vision. They make us laugh. They focus our attention. They expand our horizons. They stimulate our creativity. And they script our possibilities.” And that, in essence, is the premise of the book. “This is a simple but potent practice. Don’t assume its simplicity limits its effectiveness. If you enter fully into the My One Word process, one simple word will reach farther into your life and embed deeper into your character than you’ve ever imagined it could.”
Valuable for Anyone
The book by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page and Jon Gordon, One Word That Will Change Your Life (GetOneWord.com) appears to be equally valuable, but seems geared more for a general audience of any worldview. They too point out the raw power of words which “have the power to inspire, encourage, appreciate, heal, and turn the impossible into the possible. Throughout history, words have transformed societies, people, and relationships. Words have inspired us to put a man on the moon, advance racial equality, and heal after our greatest tragedies. But can one word really make a difference… on its own really change your life? Our answer is an emphatic yes. After nearly 15 of doing this ourselves and taking others through the One Word process as part of our workshops, we found out that when you find your word for the year, it will change the way you think, the words you speak, the attitudes of your heart, your relationships, and even your actions.” Secularists (humanists, materialists, etc.) would probably choose the more general version, but they might want to at least look at the Ashcroft/Olson DVD which I suspect has more wisdom.
On the other hand, nominal Christians, of which there are millions and millions in Protestantism, Catholicism and Eastern orthodoxy, would clearly benefit more from the Christian book as opposed to the general version since at least some level of Christian background or understanding is present in their lives, if simply intellectually. And hopefully, through this book, they might even come to know the true meaning of the word Christian; that could be the most appropriate word of choice. Indeed, what an adventure that would be.
The Biblical Basis
This concept seems to be a creative application of biblical ideas, much like the “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) bracelets, Bible memory card sets and such. Because God’s word is so important, the Bible gives several ways for God’s people to remind themselves and concentrate on the truth of his Word. For example, in the early history of the Israelites, God told his people to write his word on various items as reminders: large rocks, doorpost, gates, even their hands, necks and fingers. They were to make tassels on the corners of their garments with a blue cord on each tassel to look at in order “to remember all the commands of the Lord” (Leviticus 15:39). There were various ways of reminding the people of key concepts. In fact, when Israel entered the promised land, apparently the entire law of Moses was to be written on large rocks covered with plaster (Exodus 13:8-10; for other examples see: Numbers 15:37-40; Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18-21; 27:2-3, 8; Joshua 8:32; Proverbs 3:2-3; 6:21; 7:2-3; Jeremiah 30:2; Isaiah 30:8)
Consider Deuteronomy 6:5-9: “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Today we may put Scriptures on the refrigerator, use Bible verse cards for memorization, wear necklaces with Scripture verses, etc., and if one thinks about it, there are many ways that we can remind ourselves of the importance of the word of God and ways to memorize it, to teach it to ourselves and our children, etc. One of them is the method we are talking about which is actually rather innovative.
Perhaps some words might lend themselves more to 1-2 months of reflection and learning rather than 12 months, I’m not yet sure. And, I wouldn’t try this educational method without reading the book for all its insights, or at least seeing the DVD, both available at www.Amazon.com.
These words aren’t to be used negatively to control or rule ones life, but positively to enlighten and move one in a particular, improved direction; i.e., wherever the Lord wants to move you for ministry, life lessons, or whatever.
I would certainly prefer biblical words, but they are crossover words regardless, and there are some very good non-biblical ones. (The concept incidentally is not only good for non-Christians as mentioned, it’s also useful in Bible studies and has other applications.)
Words, Words, Words
Take a moment and consider how your life might be significantly changed for the better by thinking and learning – for an entire year – about the specific word that God has chosen for you. To illustrate this, in the list below find a word that attracts your attention and simply think and reflect on it for a while, e.g. it’s meanings, extensions, applications, permutations, etc.:
Clearly, because this is an important, year-long exercise one should seek God’s guidance because he alone knows and understands us fully – like no one else in heaven or on earth (1 Corinthians 13:12). He knows our circumstances perfectly, our past and future perfectly, and he best understands what our true needs actually are. As a result, his choice will be the perfect choice, a blessing both to us our family, friends and even strangers as he uses that word to change our life and influence others. On the other hand, if as a Christian, we choose the word simply based on preference without prayerfully and carefully seeking God’s will, and it’s not God’s choice, our word may still be useful in certain ways, however the overall results will be different and God’s full blessings will be missed. Remember the truth that Jesus spoke: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
To illustrate, based on my background and interests, if I were to try and pick a word from a list of 500 biblical words, I would be equally interested in all 500 of them; only the Lord could possibly select the specific one he wants for me and knows his best, because I would want to explore all of them. So let him choose.
Once you have your “one word,” then the adventure begins e.g., you find the best Bible verses related to that particular word and learn them and study them, and then, much as in The Lord of the Rings, to borrow non-literally from an American Indian religious tradition, the spiritual vision quest takes flight from there. It won’t be a dangerous journey like hero Bilbo Baggins astonishing journey in Christian novelist JRR Tolkien famous work, but it will be a rewarding and exciting one, when you aren’t likely to forget.
You’ll have to read the book or watch the DVD to get the details; again, this article is merely tentative and introductory to inform the reader that this approach is, virtually, infinitely better than a New Year’s resolution or similar attempts simply because it actually works. Whether we are a Christian or not, the power God has placed within words and our minds makes it work, assuming we put in the required effort, which is entirely unlike most New Year’s resolution efforts which are soon forgotten because no one lives up to them. This is a learning process not a living up to process and that makes all the difference. Learning by its own nature is something fun, if you are interested in the subject.
If you desire more information before you purchase the book you can read the scores of reviews at Amazon.com or (given its newness) the relatively few online reviews, and you’ll get a better idea for how it works, and the power it has to change lives. Few books on Amazon with 70 reviews end up with five stars, but this one does, and the other book did almost as well.
While this particular spiritual exercise may not be for everyone, I think that for a large number of individuals, it will be of genuine life value, spiritually and otherwise.
The reviews reveal that this novel concept has clearly spiritually encouraged, assisted, and blessed many people into greater spiritual maturity, sanctification and ministry; the testimonies indicate that God does indeed bless the effort. Nor is it surprising; consider some examples.
The Power and Marvel of Words
The truth is that one word used in this manner can be as powerful as 50,000 words read in a book. Clearly, carefully crafted combinations of words can actually change nations, civilizations and history itself. Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth allegedly changed foreign-policy between America and China. Look at the dramatic influence of Darwin’s Origin of Species or the writings of Karl Marx; on the other side of the equation, their philosophy of materialism has been reflected directly or indirectly in over 100 million deaths, not including abortion. Conversely, the Bible radically and positively altered the history of Western civilization and with it much of the entire planet. In fact, it changed the eternal destinies of hundreds of millions of people.
Biblically, of course Jesus (God) is described as the eternal Word (John 1:1) and the written word of God “is alive and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword….” – with the astonishing ability to cut and separate between the realities of soul and spirit and to expose the deepest and most private thoughts and intentions in people’s hearts (Hebrews 4:12; cf. Jeremiah 23:29). Jesus words will actually judge every person who ever lived on the Last Day (John 12:48). Like us, God’s word will abide eternally and forever (1 Peter 1:25). To illustrate further, whoever has saving faith has actually been spiritually reborn (something that is a literal, supernatural miracle) by the Holy Spirit’s application of the authoritative word of God (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18). Again, if God’s words are “alive and powerful”, and can separate the soul from the spirit and judge the deepest realities of our being; just think about that for a moment. What can just one of them, properly utilized through the power of the Spirit of God, do in your life?
Further, whether considered from a Christian or secular perspective, words are actually amazing things that we simply take for granted, merely because of familiarity e.g. we often forget they are powerful symbols of much greater realities. Consider everything represented by merely three letters in the words: “mom” or “dad.” Or the indescribable difference between a 2’ x 4’ cloth-woven American flag and the massive, indescribably complex reality of the United States itself which that flag symbolizes. Consider the word “love” and the breathtaking reality of love; merely saying the word can generate our emotions. Or, consider the ultimate example, the word “God” and the infinite reality of God. After all, a few words from the infinite omnipotent God and the whole universe sprang into being from nothing (Genesis 1:1, 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24; Psalm 33:6, 9; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5) (Incidentally, this is a much more watertight resolution to the age-old philosophical problem of why there is something rather than nothing than the secular scientific version that absolute nothingness and pure chance (two absolute and thoroughly impotent nonentities) somehow created everything there is, as if by magic. This is a secular myth if ever there was one and a mathematical and scientific impossibility in any case.)
Regardless, consider the number of books that have been written simply on the theme of words; although the results are deceptive, Amazon.com’s search engine returns over 300,000 hits for the term “words.” Typing in “words” on Google gives almost 3 billion results. Incidentally, people spend their entire lives doing nothing but studying words. For example The Semantic Curation Specialist for Google, lexicographer, ethnographist and semantic (information science) ontologist Barbara Ann Kipfer is the author of over 50 books (mostly about words; pun intended) and holds triple earned PhD’s (including one in linguistics). One of her books is 8789 Words of Wisdom. As a lexicographer and ethnographist she is the editor of Roget’s International Thesaurus, Chief Lexicographer of Theasarus.com and Dictionary.com and much else. Appropriately, as a connoisseur wordsmith, she is also the author of the million seller 14,000 Things to Be Happy About which, in fact, could much more appropriately become a Christian title, however the figure would need to be a great deal larger.
Like so many other “normal” things taken for granted in this remarkable thing we call life, language is actually one of the evidences for God, although that’s another article. Language is sometimes referred to as an “invisible miracle.” Take English to illustrate just the slightest tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg of the complexity of language that could never be accounted for upon a naturalistic evolutionary basis. English itself began in the 12th century in what was then an understandably incomprehensible language for us today. The largest English dictionary in the world, the First Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary wasn’t begun until 1857 and required 70 years to complete its 15,500 pages from the original approval date. The second edition was 20 volumes and 21,700 pages, weighing almost 140 pounds containing over 290,000 words and almost 60 million words describing those words. (Interestingly, the longest entry in this entire, vast dictionary is the simple verb “set” which has over 430 meanings that are described in some 60,000 words!) The most frequently quoted work in this dictionary is the Bible.
The newest third edition is, appropriately, only being published online and involves a complete overhaul utilizing over 300 scholars, consultants, researchers, proofreaders, etc. It will be “the most complete and authoritative dictionary of the English language” ever, cost over $60 million and go from a “mere” 290,000 words in the second edition to a rather astonishing 600,000 words in the third edition. It would take two entire lifetimes – over 140 years –for just one person to proofread it. (But indeed, the comparative Dutch dictionary is allegedly even larger.) And all this for only a single language. And yet according to the Linguistic Society of America, hailing back to the biblical tower of Babel, there are over 6,900 distinct languages on earth – but perhaps the world’s leading authority, Ethnologue: Languages of the World (17th edition), produced a Christian linguistic service organization, lists over 7,100 known, living languages as of 2014. Believe it or not, 165 distinct languages exist in North America. But when it comes to linguistic grammars it’s another story e.g., in northern Italy alone there are over 1,000 distinct grammars. Further, in addition to distinct languages on earth, there are about 40,000 alternate language names and dialects (and some dialects are diverse enough to constitute a separate language), plus there are hundreds of different sign languages in the world)!
Words are not only amazing and powerful, they literally dominate and regulate our daily lives, although we hardly even notice it. What would life be like if everyone were mute and no one knew sign language? Coming out of the blue, consider what hearing the words “I want a divorce” or “You have stage IV cancer” would do to someone. Just those few words constitute absolute life-changing realities. If you are secretly and deeply in love with a person consider how hearing their sincere words, “I love you” would affect you. An experience of pure wonder and indescribable elation arises merely from the implications of three little words.
Words are, simply, vital to our lives; none of us could survive for a day without using words to communicate our needs, desires, and interests. Every one of us has been blessed by words or hurt by words, sometimes deeply. Because words can clearly be used for either blessing or cursing, good or evil (look at the power they are said to have in James 3:5-6), the concept of using a carefully and prayerfully chosen word that is right for us as a constructive spiritual discipline seems not only a creative approach to spiritual growth, but one that is biblically sound as well.
To illustrate, take just the word, “glory” in its biblical meaning. Within that single word lays the information equivalent of the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress – indeed, thousands of these massive libraries. Only two aspects of this word: 1) God’s glory and 2) glorifying God, constitute a lifetime of study just to scratch the surface. But learning what God’s glory really is (in one sense, all of God; his nature and essence, characteristics and attributes, promises, etc.) would be a blessing beyond words, no pun intended. Similarly, learning the ways to glorify God (the very purpose for which we were created) and the pure joy it brings will literally open up a whole new world for us.
For example, a glorious, exciting and spiritually innovative world is opened before us when we learn that our joy in God is greatest when he is most glorified in us – and vice versa. What this truly means is that his glory and our joy are one and the same thing, something most Christians seem largely unaware of. Understanding that such a wonder not only begins in this life but, amazingly, actually extends and increases throughout eternity, not only takes our breath away but invites us directly to a whole new world of learning. Consider the unique teachings of e.g., the great theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards (The Purpose for Which God Created the World); John Piper (Desiring God; The Pleasures of God: God’s Delight in Being God), and Sam Storms (Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God) – and this is merely for starters. What we can find in just one word is actually a whole world, virtually a universe of exploration of unity and diversity (the origin of the word “universe”), intermingled to perfection – at least as far as it can be experienced by us prior to Heaven.
In sum, what one word can do for us is almost limitless. Again, just be certain to choose the right word; the one God has for you, through much prayer, wisdom and godly consideration relative to who God made you (who you are), God’s giftings, your circumstances, etc. Of course, in his infinite wisdom God may also give you a word you don’t expect, which might even be more fun.
But in either way, the adventure is on and the pleasure has been enjoined. (Incidentally, the word enjoined means “to prescribe a course of action with authority,” and clearly, there is no greater authority than the words of God.)