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What we can learn from the verse of 2019

Philippians 4:6 and our anxious world

This time of year is always good for reflection and planning. And for Christians, one of the things we tend to think about during this time is Bible reading. We assess how well (or not) we stuck to our reading plans, think ahead and set goals for the year ahead, and try to take advantage of the opportunity to read a little more Scripture during the Christmas season. Because of all this, I was intrigued a few weeks ago when I noticed an article in Christianity Today (CT) about the “verse of the year.” As I stopped to read it, mostly because I was pretty curious how such a determination was made, I learned a few things worth passing along. 

Apparently the “the verse of the year” designation came from the popular Bible app YouVersion (which you can read more about here), based on analytics from its users. According to the article, “In 2019 YouVersion users read 35.6 billion chapters and listened to 5.6 billion chapters through its online and mobile Bible app.” Though I didn’t have any sort of baseline, I found those numbers to be shocking, and honestly, really encouraging. Tens of billions of chapters read and multiple billions listened to represents a huge amount of Bible engagement. 

But onto the actual verse, I was not at all surprised to learn which verse was most popular in 2019. CT reported, “In all of this reading, Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:6 was the most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of the year.” That verse comes at the close of Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi and reads: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

It is no secret that we are living in an anxious age. And while none of us can speak definitively about the cause or causes of the massive uptick in anxiety we’ve witnessed over the last decade or so, all around us we see evidence of people struggling to cope. This is why the fact that so many people turned to Phillipians 4:6 this year came as no surprise. And yet I found this news extremely heartening. If anxiety is among the most significant issues Christians are facing today, what better place to start seeking help than the Scriptures?

There is no better balm for the anxious soul than the peace of God in Christ.

I realize Christians sometimes (often?) rip verses out of their contexts or misapply them to situations they were never intended to speak to (e.g., the weightlifter quoting Philippians 4:13 before trying to set a PR). But this passage, and the problem of anxiety, don’t really lend themselves to that kind of misuse. In the first place, Philippians 4:6 speaks directly to the issue of anxiety. Paul is writing to the members of this church about how to deal with their deep concerns over his imprisonment. They are literally anxious over Paul’s circumstances. And secondly, Paul’s counsel to these saints is to give their concerns over to God in prayer. So as Christians turn to this verse, doing so leads to turning to God. And this is exactly the right response to anxiety.

Coincidentally, my local church happened to do a sermon series on the book of Phillipians this fall. One evening, as we were discussing this passage during a small group gathering, one of the members mentioned that her parents helped her memorize this verse when she was young because she struggled with anxiety. She shared with our group that she embraced the habit of repeating this verse as a prayer whenever she felt nervous, whether she was laying in bed before falling asleep at night or in the middle of a challenging situation. Obviously, Phillipians 4:6 has become a verse that many Christians turn to in order to help combat the challenges of anxiety. Praying or reciting relevant Scriptures to address the issues we are facing is a discipline every Christian should embrace.

But perhaps the most important thing I took away from this is gratitude, which is, as the verse points out, exactly the point. For me, anxiety isn’t simply something abstract or far away. I struggle with it myself. And as I seek to deal with anxiety in my own life and to serve those around me, I’m grateful that the Bible has the answers we need. We aren’t left to wonder what to do or how to cope. The Scriptures tells us exactly what to do: look to heaven where we find the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). There is no better balm for the anxious soul than the peace of God in Christ.

Finally, beyond gratitude, this passage also fills me with hope. As the hymn sung at Christmas reminds us, Jesus “comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” One day this anxious age will end (Gal. 1:4). One day Jesus will return. He will turn back the curse. He will fix all that is broken. And the peace of God will reign, not only in our hearts, but across the face of his new creation. And until that day, this year’s most popular verse is there to point us in the right direction. 

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