David Marlow, October 2020

There is a Christian radio station in Melbourne called The Light.  A couple of times every hour, they have a segment entitled “Words to Live By,” where they read a Bible verse on air.  The Light’s website also contains daily devotionals (see https://thelight.com.au/daily-devotions/words-to-live-by/).

What are your “words to live by”?  We hear and speak many words every day.  After a quick bit of googling, various estimates claim that we speak around 5,000 words a day (and this varies between males and females) and can hear up to 100,000 per day.  This excludes how many words you read every day like these.  Your sources can be yourself, family and friends, radio, TV, newspapers, internet…talking about news, sport, weather, people, issues, etc.  That’s a heck of a lot of words to choose from! 

As a practicing Christian, the words of the Bible are my words to live by.  I’m a voracious reader of news and I love my sport.  I am also greatly interested in issues of faith, science and politics and the intersection between them (there’s a placeholder for future articles!).  But while these are interesting topics, and can often even provide inspiration (think of comeback wins, or athletes overcoming adversity to triumph) there are also many words that, while interesting, do not provide anything of great substance (think of trade talk in football for example).

Memorising Bible verses is an invaluable discipline for the practicing believer.  These days, with smartphones almost attached to our person, it is pretty simple to find a verse at short notice on any topic.  But having them in your head for instant recall is even better.  Memorising scripture was a regular practice in Biblical times, to which the number of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament itself testifies: the writers knew their stuff. 

Why is this good practice?  Because the word of God is a weapon!  For starters, Jesus himself used Scripture to ward off Satan when tempted by him in the desert in Matthew 4.  In Ephesians 6, when describing the components of the armour of God, the “sword of the Spirit” is the word of God.  This is further emphasised in Hebrews 4:12, where God’s word is more than just typed characters on a page, but “living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV).”

If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, chances are that there’s been a Bible in the drawer of the bedside table, placed by the Gideon’s International.  If you’ve opened one of those Bibles, before you get to the biblical words themselves, you are directed to verses to assist you in times of trouble.  So in this article, I’m going to give you some verses that have helped me, not just in times of trouble, but to help keep me grounded, or focussed, or encouraged, or challenged.

Top 6 Words to live by

The pre-eminent verse is John 3:16.  I won’t say any more on this, as this should go without saying.

Next is Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).  If you’ve been in a COVID-19-induced lockdown somewhere, you may have already discovered this one, or heard about it.  This was the second verse I ever memorised, given to me by my Mum when I was a teenager.  As someone who’s suffered from anxiety at various times, this is one I’ve returned to again and again.  The previous verses provide important context by stating that we should always rejoice in God (v4), even in the most difficult times.

Proverbs is full of great sayings.  For me the best is chapter 3 verses 5 and 6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (NIV).  If ever you feel things going off track, or not being able to make sense of your circumstances, this is one to lean on.

Why should we trust in God or his word? 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV).  This is pretty clear regarding what the Bible says about itself (I might talk more about the Bible’s reliability and authenticity as an historical document in another article). 

Does God love us? How can we know he’s around?  Psalm 103:11-12 says “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV).  Note how the statement about sin is to do with east and west, not north and south: you can’t go north forever, as once you hit the North Pole you’re going south, and vice versa, but there’s no East or West Pole.  Our sins are infinitely removed from us.  Hebrews 13:5 (taken from Deuteronomy 31:6) says “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (NIV).  God’s love is strong, our sins aren’t coming back, and God’s not going anywhere (remember that Jonah tried to outrun God too – and couldn’t).

And then, there’s the “so what?” verse.  For me this is Micah 6:8, given to me by some leaders at an Easter Camp in my teens.  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV).  For the believing Christian, who knows that they’re loved by God, that they can trust him, that we can’t be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39) and that he is always with us, this is the practical demonstrable outcome, and our response.

A few more, then over to you

So there are my top six: Philippians 4:6-7, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 103:11-12, Proverbs 3:5-6, Hebrews 13:5 and Micah 6:8.  Can I describe these as my Bible lotto numbers?!?  To continue that wholly inappropriate analogy, let me give you my supplementaries: the Psalms.  If ever you want to find cries from the heart that come from being human, the Psalms are terrific.  Again aside from the famous Psalm 23 (the LORD is my shepherd), some of my favourites are Psalm 51 (David’s song of redemption after sinning with Bathsheba), Psalm 73 (Asaph’s test of perspective, where he is almost tempted by worldly ways), Psalm 139 (about God knowing us, and being known by God) and Psalm 148 (just a brilliant psalm of praise to God: check out the Sons of Korah version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQQT7e8ZKhU&ab_channel=SonsofKorah – the psalms are songs after all).

There are so many more verses I could go through, such as that fact that our salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), our God-given ability to resist any and all temptations that may come our way (1 Corinthians 10:13) and so on.  My favourite chapter is Romans 8: the consummation of Paul’s letter to that point describing the saving work of Jesus through his death and resurrection, culminating in his proclamation that we can’t be separated from God’s love no matter what.  

I would encourage you to compile your own list of verses and stick it in your brain’s memory backpack to pull out when required.  Be sure to keep his word front-and-centre, as God exhorted Joshua at his inauguration as Israel’s leader (Joshua 1:8-9) “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful (NIV).”  In the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (NIV).