The latest Apple iPad commercial ends with the tagline: “What will your verse be?” This is a reference to the Walt Whitman poem, “O Me! O Life!” (popularized in the classic Robin Williams movie Dead Poets Society). The essence of Whitman’s inspiring poem is that each of us gets to contribute a unique stanza to the Great Story of Life. The essence of Apple’s commercial is that you will be able to do this much more creatively and effectively if you first purchase one of their iPads.
Okay, I’m being cynical (I love our iPad). But I really love the question, “What will your verse be?” It inspires me to seek out and do the things which only I can do. And I like it for a second reason: it reminds me of a similar question I was asked my freshman year at college.
I was at a Bible study of all things. An older guy asked me, “Hey, Len, what’s your life verse?” I looked at him blankly. I actually knew very little about the Bible, despite having grown up in a Christian, church-going family. When I was young, my grandparents had given me a King James Bible. I dutifully tried to read it. But I was thwarted by a style of English that was nothing like the English I knew. (Plus the print was so tiny, it seemed like a giant book of footnotes.)
In my early teen years, someone gave me something called The Way (i.e., the Living Bible, a best-selling paraphrase written by Ken Taylor). It was groovy-looking and actually readable. I sort of enjoyed it…until a guest preacher at our church denounced it. “I only have two problems with the Living Bible,” he smirked. “One, it’s not living. And two, it’s not the Bible.” He didn’t overtly say I would be going to hell for reading the Living Bible. But his tone definitely implied that by reading it, I was headed in a hell-ish direction. .
So when I arrived on the LSU campus, I knew only the most famous Bible stories and only two Bible verses by heart: John 3:16 and John 11:35 (i.e. “Jesus wept.”)
What happened first is that God ambushed me. No lie. The fall semester of my freshman year, I went to a Campus Crusade for Christ retreat hoping to meet girls. I met the Almighty instead. Understand I absolutely was NOT looking for God. Looking back now, I know that He was stalking me. He came crashing into my life at a place called Camp Atakapa. John Wesley described his God experience by saying he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” My experience was something like that. I just know that I vividly sensed God summoning me into a deeper relationship with Himself.
What happened next is that I felt an insatiable hunger for the Bible. I wanted to read it. Everybody I knew had something called the New American Standard Bible. So I got one of my own and began pouring over it. And though I still didn’t understand most of what I was reading, I often felt like God was speaking to me. The book seemed alive and relevant to my life. Sometimes verses seemed to leap off the page! I even started going to Bible studies with others.
Which is how and where I met the guy I mentioned above, the one who asked me about my “life verse.” I sheepishly mumbled that I didn’t know what he meant. He very gently explained that a life verse is a Bible verse that, more than any other, really resonates with your heart. Maybe it sums up your experience with God or His grace in your life. Perhaps it acts like a compass, or an anchor. I thought that was a really cool idea. I starting looking for my own “life verse.”
But soon I noticed a kind of gamesmanship in all this. Some folks seemed to go out of their way to find a cryptic life verse out of an obscure book like Hebrews or Habakkuk—almost as if to say, “Look how spiritual I am” (knowing that most of us were sitting there thinking, “Habakkuk?! Is that in the Old or New Testament?!”)
I know a guy who, when asked this life verse question, very nearly blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, which was Deuteronomy 23:1. Good thing for him he held his tongue. That particular verse reads: “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”
I had another friend who, in order to tweak the spiritually pompous in our midst, would claim this “life verse” (from the Living Bible, no less!):
“Wear fine clothes—with a dash of cologne!” (Ecclesiastes 9:8)
For a while I claimed, with a straight face: “My life verse is 1 Chronicles 26:18: ‘At the Parbar on the west there were four at the highway and two at the Parbar.’ Isn’t that AMAZING?” I would gush. “I can’t begin to tell you how much that one verse has changed my life!”
Christians do silly things, don’t we? But you know what? A life verse isn’t a bad idea. What would your verse be? Perhaps mine would be Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” The honest words–the prayer, really–of a sincere man who, in a desperately scary moment, wavered somewhere between faith and unbelief. But instead of only panicking, he also pleaded, asking Christ to increase his trust by diminishing his doubt.
Wouldn’t it be a good thing if I could contribute THAT to the Great Story of Life–a life of simple faith?
When it comes to “life verses,” what would your verse be? I’d love to hear your thoughts.