“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” [Psalm 150:6]
At the beginning of 2018, I was first introduced to the concept of having a word to focus a year around. I learned about this at church, where we were encouraged to choose a word to hang like a banner over the year. Then, over the next couple of weeks, we passed around a microphone so that people could announce their words and why they chose them. I listened as words like joy, patience, and courage were proclaimed – my fellow believers letting us know why these terms were special for them and why their years needed to be centered around these particular words.
It may sound kind of cheesy – and maybe it kind of is – but I love this concept of having a word for the year. I like it so much better than resolutions. Resolutions feel like they set us up for disappointment. They are things we want to accomplish, but never trust that we actually will. Words are easier, I think, simpler in a way. Words allow me to fail and start back over, offer much more flexibility in their use, and are able to resurface again and again.
My word for 2018 was “Yes.” I picked it knowing it would be a challenge for me to maintain, having committed to going on a mission trip to New York City that would take place only a month after my father died. So, three weeks into January, as my leaders were telling me that they would support whatever I decided to do, I found myself saying, “I don’t think the Lord put the word ‘yes’ on my heart for me not to do the first thing I’ve committed to.” (I know that sentence sounds great, which is partly why I’ve included it here, but holy cow was I terrified.) So I said yes, through tears and pain. Out of that trip, I got my two best friends and a ton of personal growth. Saying “yes” was definitely the right thing to do.
And then in December, I said “yes” again, to another mission trip. Without it being on my mind, and admittedly, without a single ounce of prayer committed to it, I said yes to something completely out of nowhere. I heard one of my leaders chatting with another student about the details of an upcoming spring break trip. Suddenly, I heard myself asking when the deposit was due. “Tonight,” I was told. I already had Spring Break plans, I hadn’t thought about this trip at all, but the word “yes” was on all caps in my brain, getting louder with every passing second. Next thing I knew, I had paid my deposit, told my leaders I was going, and spent some time in prayer (finally) to thank the Lord for allowing me to be impulsive long enough to be obedient. So, the word “Yes” served me well, and I decided to choose another word for 2019.
I want this year to be about praise.
That’s it. Praise. That’s the word for 2019. Praise.
Everything else can trickle down from this, but if I don’t focus on praising the Creator who made me, it will all fall apart. And it should. So, this year, I don’t want to think about how to become the best version of myself. I don’t want to think about my own growth and recognition and changes. My own fears, futures, or challenges. I want it all to be funneled back to the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the One to whom it belongs anyway.
The Bible is full of commands to praise God, and the reasons to do so are endless. We’re told to “Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness” [Psalm 150:2]. He is the Alpha and Omega, our Refuge, our Protector, the One Who took our place, our Saviour, the Holiest of Holies, and in Him, all things come together. And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
There is a moment of praise that occurs in John, right before Jesus feeds the 5,000 that I love oh so much. I had read and heard this story so many times without noticing this moment, but once it was pointed out to me, it has amazed me ever since. In John 6, after the little boy’s loaves and fish are gathered, Jesus tells the disciples to get the crowd to sit down. Then the Bible says, “Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks he distributed them to those who were seated – so also with the fish, as much as they wanted” [John 6:11].
Did you catch that? “After giving thanks.” Jesus knows that he is capable of this miracle, strong enough to multiply what is there. But he pauses anyway and gives thanks to God. Before the miracle happens. Before. What a powerful act of praise.
In fact, I think that’s all praise really is. Believing that God is who He says He is and glorifying Him because of that.
Nothing else that happens this year will matter if I don’t find praise first. If I sing words like “it is well with my soul” but don’t praise God, it is useless. If I pray things like “forgive me where I fail you” or “bless this food for my body” but can’t give myself over in praise, I have nothing. God has done so many things for me, yes, but He is not an ATM. He is the Author of salvation, Creator of the universe, and the Living Sacrifice. And beyond that, He helps us because He loves us. But ultimately, this life is about His glory. And if I don’t find my first purpose of praising Him, no matter what, before the miracle and after, then nothing else will work.
This year, I want praise to be the thing from which everything else flows.
After finding victory against the Philistines at Mizpah, Samuel sets up a stone as a tribute to the Lord. The Bible says, “Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining ‘The Lord has helped us to this point.” [1 Samuel 7:12]. We learn through footnotes or commentaries that Ebenezer means “stone of help.” This is an act of worship from Samuel, recognizing the grace of God and praising Him for Who He is.
In 2019, I want to dedicate my life as an Ebenezer to God. He has helped me here and He will help me still. Praising him for all that He has done and for all that He is feels like a pretty good place to start.
Katie Barnes is a senior English and Political Science double major from Oxford, MS. She has served as a Lead Team member and Fresh-start leader for the BSU. She loves Captain America, naps, and cheese. For more of her writing, check out katiedidbarnes.com