At the beginning of each year, I choose one focus word. There’s nothing mystical or super-spiritual about this practice, but I do it prayerfully, asking God to give me the word He knows will inspire personal growth and help me persevere through the new year’s changes and challenges.
Sometimes the way in which my focus word plays out takes me by surprise. Last year’s word is one such example.
Reflecting on last year’s focus word
Last year’s word was “restore.” With that word in mind, I entered 2023 expecting God to heal a specific broken relationship in my life. Of course, He would mend it, right? He would work a miracle, set everything right, and restore harmony.
Sadly, that relationship was not healed. Not even close. Human understanding might say I missed the mark on this one and misunderstood God’s special focus word for me. But I don’t believe that’s true. Amidst my unmet desire for reconciliation, I’ve experienced the restoration of my soul.
I’ve come to understand that this person’s opinion of me doesn’t determine my identity. Her insecurities don’t alter my calling, and her criticisms don’t change my role in the body of Christ.
As much as I long for this relationship to look different, I cannot change this person or her opinion of me. I’ve learned to release my desire to do so and to embrace the truth that God’s opinion of me is the only one that matters. I know He loves me, and He takes pleasure in me as His daughter and creation.
The relationship hasn’t been restored yet, but my soul is in a better place.
My special word for 2024
This year, my special focus word is “remain.” John 15:5 is the corresponding verse. “I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
“Remains” indicates a present tense, ongoing state of abiding. We abide continuously in Christ, and He abides continuously in us. Neither party takes a breather from the other. Neither decides they’re done with the other and turns their attention to a third party.
Both parties commit to the other through thick and thin. “Remain” speaks of a deep, life-giving relationship that never wanes or wants for lack of interest or desire.
When we remain in Christ and He remains in us—when we’re in that present tense ongoing state of abiding—then we bear much fruit.
This speaks to the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5, but it also refers to the good work accomplished through us as a natural outcome of abiding in Christ.
“Remain” illustrated by a grapevine
Years ago, our family enjoyed living in a yard with raspberry bushes, two apple trees, a peach tree, and grapevines. One day, with John 15 in mind, I studied those grapevines to better understand the connection between the vine and the branches.
I discovered that the healthiest connection between the vine and the branches bore the greatest potential for a good crop. A small or sickly connection limited the flow of sap and negatively impacted the grape harvest.
To remain in Christ means ensuring our connection with Him is healthy and strong. If we want our lives to produce fruit, then we’ll work to keep that spiritual connection clear from obstructions such as sin or busyness.
To remain in Christ is all-important. Apart from this, we can do nothing. Zero. Nada.
How might “remain” apply to 2024?
As 2024 dawns, I look forward to several significant happenings in my writing ministry. First, my first book in a three-book Names of God series will release on July 9, in time for small groups to order it for their fall study.
Second, my publisher has asked me to provide a 10–15-minute teaching video for each of the book’s seven chapters. A video technician who works for my publisher sent me equipment to record the videos, and he will edit what I produce. Every person who purchases the book will receive QR codes to access the videos.
Between you and me, the thought of being responsible to record these videos scares the willies out of me. That’s ironic, considering the book’s title is Names of God: Living Unafraid. God’s making me practice what I preach. As always.
Third, the manuscript for the second book in the series is due at the end of August. However, Lord willing, I’ll spend a couple weeks of July in Poland, so I need the book done by the end of June.
Fourth, I signed a contract today with Guideposts to write devotions for Mornings with Jesus 2026, and those are due in mid-May.
God has blessed me with wonderful opportunities to teach His Word through writing, and each of them makes me more aware of my dependency on Him to fulfill these responsibilities with accuracy and excellence. Therefore, I receive the word “remain” as His encouragement to keep my connection with Him healthy and unobstructed.
I also receive “remain” as a reminder to draw my strength from God. Self-reliance can’t be a part of my picture. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing let alone produce anything of eternal value.
No doubt, God may have other reasons for giving me this special focus word for 2024
Perhaps He’ll allow challenges to remind me that strength and courage come from remaining in Him.
Maybe global crises will increase, and remaining in God’s promises will be the key to finding calm in chaos.
Perhaps full-time boat-dwelling will bring new difficulties, and “remain” will give me the courage needed to stay put until God says otherwise.
Last year’s special focus word played out in an unexpected way, and I suspect this year’s word will do the same. Time will tell.
So, do you choose a special focus word for the new year? If so, what’s your word for 2024?