How Can I Hear God When Choosing a Word for the Year?

Have you chosen a word for 2016 yet? Or to be more precise, has a word chosen you? (See here for background on this movement; I also write about this practice and my New Year’s spiritual traditions in Finding Myself in Britain.)

When I’ve mentioned this practice of holding one word before ourselves for a year, the question often posed to me is, “How do you know what word to choose?” with the subtext of, “How can I hear from God?”

Eli and Sameul, from the well-known story in the Old Testament about Samuel hearing God while in the temple. Painting by John Singleton Copley.

Eli and Samuel, from the well-known story in the Old Testament about Samuel hearing God while in the temple. The Lord was speaking, but Samuel didn’t know it was him. Painting by John Singleton Copley.

Huge topic, with many a book written on it – I like Dallas Willard’s Hearing God and Leanne Payne’s Listening Prayer in particular, but Bill Hybels’s The Power of a Whisper is good too, and Pete Greig’s God on Mute is the best book on unanswered prayer. Here’s a story I told about hearing God – a couple decades into my quest to communicate with our Creator, I’m still learning.

So in the case of hearing from God when choosing a word for the year, how can we know? What can we do? Here are some short pointers from my experience, but know that hearing God is an individual thing, and what works for one person may feel like a deadend for another.


It’s obvious, but sometimes we forget to do the first thing. Quiet yourself and specifically ask God to give you a word for the year. He loves to communicate with his children, so we shouldn’t therefore be surprised when we do hear from him. He also loves for us to voice our desires.


God is God and we are not – which means we can’t demand an answer right now like a petulant child and expect him to jump to it. (Sometimes he does respond to our demands, of course, just as sometimes parents out of love give an answer right away to children-with-attitudes.) Waiting teaches us humility and patience.


Trusting that God will speak to us helps as we wait, and keeping an expectant disposition also keeps us alert – watching, noticing, hoping. Having a posture of receiving opens us up to God’s word for us.


We might be reading Scripture when a word pops out to us that we can’t ignore, or perhaps we experience a few days of the same concept coming up again and again – ever had that? A lyric from a song might loop through our minds without stopping. We might sense a whisper from the Lord, that still, small voice that through time we recognize as God’s.


A key part in the process is to hold your word once you think you have it, testing it out to see if the Lord confirms it. Often I have a sense that what I’ve chosen is right – I don’t have a clear, “Yes, Amy, this is your word for the year” kind of a revelation. Talking with trusted friends helps in the testing process as well.

How do you choose your word for the year?

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