Lots of us will travel this summer to try to serve Christ as we serve others through sharing our faith, offering physical help, befriending people across cultural lines, and learning about God’s Kingdom from sisters and brothers in a different context. Not many of us will practice the discipline of memorizing Scripture.
The seasons I have spent intentionally memorizing Scripture sustained me and shaped me in some profound ways as I sought to do good and honor Christ in Nicaragua, China, South Africa, and the United States. Here are four passages from those seasons which you might want to put in your back pocket for quick reference (i.e. memorize them).
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
Several well-meaning friends and family members pointed out this passage to me while I was suffering from giardia, malaria, basically no training, ineffective ministry, and my resultant low self-esteem in the sweltering heat of Nicaragua.
Serving in God’s global mission can be really hard! Aside from being seriously ill, I’ve also been robbed four times, shivered overnight in a train station, been held at gunpoint and jailed once, and had dear friends in all kinds of dire straits.
I did not consider any of this joyful at the time, but I am very thankful that I have gone through these things. The fruit in my life from that hard season in Nicaragua—that wisdom that James mentions—probably outweighs that of any other season. A single year (with lots of trials) formed me deeply, providing perspective and backbone that has served me (and, in turn, others) well ever since. That perspective has given me more resolve and grace than I had previously. And if I had not memorized this passage, I might not have persevered—it was that important.
A single year (with lots of trials) formed me deeply, providing perspective and backbone that has served me (and, in turn, others) well ever since. That perspective has given me more resolve and grace than I had previously. And if I had not memorized this passage, I might not have persevered—it was that important.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Just a few verses later, another of the passages I memorized pops up, and it was also bedrock for me.
Serving in missions, both short-term and for the long-haul, can do weird things to your head. You can see such extreme need—both immediate and eternal—that you work yourself into a frenzy. You can start to pinch every penny, as if your Father didn’t own the cattle on a thousand hills. And you can grow suspicious of any pleasure in life, twisting it with questions about your own selfishness. I’ve done these things at various points.
The benefit of knowing this verse by heart was two-fold. First, in much coming and going, a lot of transition, and various challenges, I found it really helpful to be reminded that every good gift is from our Father. So I needed to notice and name and give thanks for those good gifts.
Second, the reminder that our Father doesn’t change like shifting shadows also provided a measure of reassurance and stability as I navigated great changes in my context, geographically and culturally. I was able to face the need while still trusting God, who does not change. And I was able to actually enjoy the life of service God had called me to, something I’ve noticed is surprisingly rare.
1 John 5:10-12
Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
When you’ve entered a culture that is different from your own, you can start to question all kinds of things, from yourself to your calling to God himself. It’s all too easy to lose touch with the reason you’ve made such a big move in the first place.
Amidst all the verses that indicate the centrality of Christ, I choose this one because of the wide application of its several clauses. It’s a strong reminder that we are not free to believe whatever we want; the only alternative to believing what God says about his Son is to regard God as a liar. And the verses point out the importance of our efforts with God on his mission—this actually is a matter of life and death on an eternal scale. To that end, the sure hope of eternal life in the Son comes to us by God’s grace and is the motivation for our immediate life and work right here, right now.
The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.
Finally, we need simple reminders like this proverb. There are all kinds of ways we can feel uncomfortable, insecure, unsafe, threatened, and uneasy. And this verse is good to remember when facing any of them, whether external circumstances or the serious internal struggles that we face while serving in God’s mission in another culture. We need to remember and take shelter in the name of the Lord—in his character—specifically that he is strong and gracious and that he cares for us.
These are four passages that have been written in my brain at different points (and truth be told, to various degrees). God has used phrases from these at key moments to remind me who he is, who I am, what I’m doing, and how I’m to do it.
What have I missed? What verse have you memorized (or think you should memorize) to be ready for whatever?