For the past few years, we’ve offered the 1-word challenge around New Year at our church, asking God to lay one word or phrase on our hearts to help focus and challenge our faith over the next 365 days. Some of the words people have received have been ‘stretched’, ‘joy in trials’, ‘contentment’, ‘obedience’ and ‘grace’. It’s been a joy hearing about how God has honored that challenge.
This year I want to offer a similar but different challenge — the One Verse challenge. Instead of a word or phrase, let’s ask God for an entire verse or Bible passage or Bible story to inhabit and give shape to our life in the coming days.
A pastor once challenged his congregation, “I’m not going to preach on another Bible verse until we start obeying and living out the one I preached on last week.” He supposedly preached on that same verse an entire year, or so the story goes.
I’ve also heard it said, and often repeated it myself, that we’d be better off if we knew just 1 or 2 Bible verses and obeyed them, than if we knew and memorized 100s of Bible verses but never obeyed or lived any of them out. James the brother of Jesus gave a similar challenge 2,000 years ago to his flock: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
My deepest moments of personal growth as a follower of Jesus have come when I’ve sensed myself living inside the very pages of Scripture, relating to a character in the as I navigate a parallel situation. I call this approach to Scripture “interactive” or “dynamic” — where we wrestle with it, ask probing questions of a verse, let it meddle in our personal business and shake us up a bit.
Martin Luther said, “The Bible is alive. It speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me.” Does your Bible have hands and feet?
Christians believe in the doctrine of “illumination” which is the way the Holy Spirit will take a Scripture we’ve maybe read many times but suddenly He’ll shine a light on it in a way that powerfully impacts us. Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” These are not new revelations, but things which have been written and revealed long before, and just now understood by the reader in a fresh, illuminating and, perhaps, life-changing way.
We also find soul mates in the pages of Scripture, if we’ll stay in one place long enough to get more acquainted with them.
Back in 2010-11, I spent a long, dark season in the wilderness and on the bank of the Jordan river with Joshua, trying to lead a group of people across the scary waters of doubt and into the promised land of a successful church launch.
In 2005-07, the Apostle Paul was my constant companion as I lived almost every chapter of the Book of Acts in planting a youth movement called the Revolution in my hometown of Mound.
In college and seminary I was weeping and withering away with Jeremiah as I had a message (and lots of Bible knowledge) burning white hot inside my chest, but I didn’t have the ability or opportunity to share it with others. “His word [was] in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I [was] weary of holding it in” (Jer. 20:9).
A couple years ago, I spent a Christmas season with the characters of the Christmas story, and really enjoyed getting to know Zechariah & Elizabeth, Anna, Simeon, and Mary. Mary’s bold response to the angel’s announcement set my heart afire for a long time, wondering what it would be like to live an entire year by the motto of: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
I didn’t just read or study these scriptures; I lived in them. I didn’t parse and exegete the Bible; the Bible parsed and exegeted me!
God has also led our church into certain texts for longer seasons, for instance getting the church started in 2011 with the help of Nehemiah, or finding our communal identity in the story of the Good Samaritan where we are called to make MainStreet a Jericho Inn kind of a church that provides temporary lodging and care for those who are lying beaten down in one of life’s ditches.
We didn’t just read or study these scriptures; we lived in them and are forever marked by them.
So, will you consider joining the One Verse challenge for the New Year? If so, we’ll have to let the Holy Spirit guide us to that golden Bible text, and resist rushing in to quickly in search for one that suits us. Simply start reading your Bible regularly (and I recommend following the common lectionary with us for this year) and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate a passage along the way. Trust me, you’ll know when He does! But it may take several weeks or even months to stumble into that sacred text that God is preparing for you.
I can’t wait to hear which Scripture you are seeking to obey or live out over this next year!
You can read more of the scriptures that have shaped my own faith journey in my Life Verses series.