The Bible app YouVersion released some new information at the start of the year. They analysed the searches on the app and looked at the most commonly searched for verses. Not only that but they also isolated each country’s search habits. YouVersion is installed on over 250million phones and tablets around the globe, so their statistics are worth taking note of and provide some interesting insights. The most read verse last year was Zechariah 14:9 (“The Lord will be king over the whole earth, on that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.”) However, YouVersion were also able to track which verse was the most read per country. While Zechariah was popular in Guadeloupe, Finland, Israel, France, and other countries, there were other verses which were popular in other countries. Jeremiah 29:11 was the UK’s favourite ("For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.") Peru’s favourite was Isaiah 41:10 ("So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.") Russia’s most searched verse was Psalm 94:18-19 ("When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.")
There are quite a few things which come to mind when we look at these trends. To talk about all these thoughts would make for a long and probably boring blog post, so let me reflect on just a handful. Here are three which have been bouncing about my head.
The Same Verses
I studied a little statistics during my maths degree but it doesn’t take a world class statistician to see some common verses across the countries. Lots of countries had the same favourite verses. There are lots of reasons why these verses keep coming up. To try and give a reason for this would be a little dishonest. I could use some semi-informed guess work but it would be exactly that…guess work. However, it does raise some questions for me. Why do we keep coming back to the same verses? Why do we not see a wider spread? Is it (and perhaps this is me resorting to guess work) because we rely on a handful of verses we’ve absorbed down the years rather than being fresh in the Bible on a regular basis?
I’m in the Bible most days. I love the beauty of the scriptures. However, I sometimes find it a slog. I find it hard work sometimes. I actually find studying scripture easier than reading scripture. I need to give time and space to let it breathe, to ask questions, to wrestle with the mysteries and interconnections which I see. When I’m simply reading it I don’t engage with it in the same way.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
I think most of us find it hard to get into the Bible. We know we should read it more. We know we should open those thin crisp pages more often. We desire to be more familiar than we are with the words of the prophets, poetry, history, and letters that make up the Bible.
But we don’t.
So here’s a thought. At the start of 2017. Why don’t we recalibrate ourselves and make it a priority? As part of our teaching series we’ve offered a reading plan to go alongside it. Included on this plan are five passages to read that week. The hope is that by reading these passages before the Sunday we are ready and engaged when we come to the teaching bit of a Sunday morning. It also has an ulterior motive. It’s an easy way to engage in the habit of opening the pages of scripture again. Some times its having somewhere to start that is helpful. Also having the story of Joshua running through the series makes an action packed re-engagement with the Bible.
A Need for Hope
There seems to be a common thread running through the verses even as they differ from country to country. The verses would appear to be words of encouragement and hope.
We live in an interesting time in history. Geo-politics seem tense and strained at the moment. There is a term doing the rounds at the moment, we live in a VUCA world. Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous. The world we live in is changing and evolving (for better or worse or both at the same time.) The rate of change is arguably faster than it has ever been.
I’m not a particularly anxious person but I can see how and why this VUCA world makes us nervous, concerned and down-right terrified at times. China is searching for peace (Philippians 4:6-7), Saudi Arabia is searching for reassurance that God has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11), Ecuador is searching for a reminder not to fear (Joshua 1:9), Ghana wants to know God has a good purpose in amongst all that is happening (Romans 8:28), etc.
One of the threads of scripture is that God cares about us, that he hasn’t abandoned humanity and that ultimately he has a plan for the redemption of all things. Sometimes in a VUCA world we let our eyes focus on the world around us and what we need to do is refocus our eyes on the God who we see in scripture. Like the Disciples in the boat in Mark 4, we need to focus less on the storm that rages around us and more on the God of the universe who is in the boat with us.
A Longform Plan in an Instant World
The UK’s favourite verse (alongside Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Brazil, Kuwait, Kenya, South Africa, Colombia, Philippines, Canada, Argentina, Nigeria, Guatemala, Puerto Rica, Italy, Japan, Hondurus, New Zealand, UAE, Norway, El Salvador, Jamaica, Paraguay, Namibia, Nicaragua, and Ireland) is a strange one. On first glance it is full of hope…but in context it takes on a different dynamic.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
At first read, as a stand-alone verse, this is full of hope. God has a plan. It is a good plan. It could almost be read as if nothing bad will happen. No need to worry about everything, God has a plan.
The issue is that Jeremiah’s words aren’t context free. They are rooted in a real time and a very real situation. The Hebrew nation is in exile they are slaves in a foreign land. Life is tough. Jeremiah’s words must have sounded ridiculous at that time. The reality is that it took decades for things to improve…but improve they did. The reality is God had a plan and it was a plan for a good future.
One of the challenges in this verse is that we see it in its context. We need to understand that God doesn’t make life perfect in every moment but he calls us to keep seeking Him in the midst of it all. God has a plan but it doesn’t always look exactly what we want. We don’t want VUCA. We want life to be pain-free not volatile, easy not uncertain, simple not complex, and clear not ambiguous. The challenge is to read the full breadth of scripture and to see God is always at work, His plan is unfolding. Not in our time scales but in His.
And…most importantly He is there with us. That is where our hope comes from. The psalmist, David, sums it up beautifully in Psalm 23. In the midst of our enemies He sets a table before us. As the storm rages around us, as our enemies seek us out, as the anxiety of a VUCA world overtakes us, God pulls back a chair and invites us to rest with Him.
This blog post was brought to you by....Oli Higham
Oli Higham is part of the leadership team at the Rock Community Church. He finds it hard to sum himself up in a few sentences. However he loves Jesus and is also rather fond of his family, films, coffee, rugby, Arsenal FC, poetry, spray paint, beards, cooking and laughing.