New year’s day in Nigeria is the unofficial close of the Christmas holiday. And for the majority of churchgoers here January 1st is a day to be stepped into with much prayer and fasting. So, the churches observe what we call a Crossover Service, which usually starts from the late hours of new year’s eve and ends at the early hours of the new year. One major component of the popular service is the delivery of the Word for the Year by the most senior pastor. One could rightly say that there is no Crossover Service without a word from God.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that pastors give their congregations a word from God at the start of every new year. This word is the emphasis of God in the new year. In other words, it is a big reveal into what God will do in the year. It is usually in the form of a theme, often backed with one or more biblical texts. A few examples I have seen in the past are: The Battle is Not Yours; My Case is Different; Testimonies; Freedom; Supernatural Ease and Double Honor. It’s not difficult to come across these themes. The average churchgoer in Nigeria has bumper stickers on their cars with these themes in proud display for all to see.
Then there is the personal word that each Christian is expected to get from God. This is to be their personal anchor text or theme for the year. It is indicative of what God wants to do, and is expected to give the believer some form of direction in the new year. I’ve heard quite a few of these myself: Growth and Expansion; Peace; Strength; Favor; Dangerous Increase. Some even go as far as having a word for each month of the year. What’s God set to do in January or February or March? That’s the word for the given month. (Forget that God doesn’t use a Gregorian calendar. He is forced to observe time the way we do.)
Now, I must confess upfront that I used to be part of the new year hype. I used to wait for the prophetic word that came at the start of every year from my Senior Pastor. And I used to wait upon God for a special and more personal word. I also occupied a leadership position in my campus fellowship that made it necessary for me to get a word from God at the start of every semester. As a spiritual leader, I needed to show my followers the way. And that meant I needed to have a word from God for every season. (And I did have a word for every season.)
But it’s 2020. And I don’t have a word for the year. Truth be told, I haven’t had any word for months now. To many of my friends I have stopped hearing from God. But I have good reasons for not “hearing from God” anymore.
First, I believe dates are markers. Every unit of time is a marker meant to enable us measure and track the passing of time. It would be illogical to say that 1 pm carries with it some unusual power. But I have heard it said countless times in different Christian circles that every hour has a significance in the “realm of the spirit.” This spiritualizing of hours and certain days—including birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and graduation days—has been the source of many ungodly practices in many of the churches in Nigeria. While dates are important, they do not possess spiritual power. Attaching power to them is stretching the Bible too far and allowing our imaginations to reign supreme.
Also, I believe some have ventured into occult practices because of the undue importance attached to certain dates. A few hours to the new year, an old acquaintance of mine uploaded a video of himself praying in a bush in the middle of the night, while a tree that had been cut down was burning in front of him. He was speaking in tongues and commanding the year. And he must have received a word from God after this exercise. He is not alone. Thousands (if not millions) of believers in Nigeria engage in similar practices to get this “special word” from God.
As I write this article I’m reminded of my forefathers who also attached a great deal of spiritual significance to time. I’m Igbo by tribe and my ancestors lived in Eastern Nigeria. The Igbo calendar is based on the cycle of the moon, and my ancestors believed the new moon to be a sign of new beginnings. Spiritual forces and deities were honored with the coming and passing of the moon. Several rituals were (and still are) performed to mark the passing of time. And the failure of a Chief Priest (who also was the mouthpiece of the gods) to carry out certain rituals was believed to invoke the wrath of the gods. I wonder if the same practice wasn’t Christianized from similar traditional religions and imported into our worship of God.
However, my ultimate reason for not having a word for the year is because I find no Biblical support for the idea or practice. The idea that God gives his people a word—some kind of road-map to guide them through the unforeseen hurdles of life—for every new year seems to have been foreign to the early church. And the idea that pastors are to become seers, tasked with the responsibility of obtaining and providing supernatural direction for their flocks through fantastic words gotten by cherry picking suitable Bible texts, is downright unbiblical.
Instead I see from Scripture that pastors and ministers of the Gospel are to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). If they believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), then they must resolve to preach it in its entirety. No single verse is enough to guide a Christian through a year. Not even a whole book can do that. But the entire Bible is God’s tool for guiding his people. And the Bible is what I need. Not simply a word. But the entire counsel of God.