I have recently learned of the life verse phenomenon. You probably knew about it already. In fact, if you are enough of a Christian to read a blog post from a long-winded, somewhat sarcastic minister, you have probably had a life verse picked out for some time. A life verse is quite simply a Bible verse that gives your life some direction, that sums up who you are and who you hope to be, that does justice to your understanding of God.
There is some danger in this business, for we tend to ascribe magical status to some of our Bible verses. We sometimes take the sweet sentiment of one verse over and against the context, the rest of the Bible.
Take Jeremiah 29:11, for instance: for surely I know the plans I have for you, thus says the Lord: plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Isn't it nice. There is certainly a wonderful sentiment in this verse, the idea that God desires to give us a future with hope. That's a promise onto which I am happy to hold. God has a plan for me, and it is to give me a future with hope. This is unabashed good news.
This is great news on its own, but place the verse in theological and scriptural context, and Jeremiah 29:11 changes a bit. After all, just because God has a plan for me doesn't necessarily mean that things are going to work out the way I want them to (and if I can get controversial here for a moment, nor does it mean that things are going to work out the way that God wants them to).
Besides, God wasn't talking to me in this verse, anyway. God was talking to a group of people, the exiles in Babylon, and there is a huge difference between a future with hope for a group of people and a future with hope for little old me. Even then, the promise involved being exiled; if this is a future with hope, some of them must have thought, count me out!
So you see the problem. It is hard to sum the whole Bible, the entire life of faith, the abundance of God in one verse.
But I have realized over the last few weeks that I may, in fact, have a life verse. I have been thinking of this verse often. I have been reminded of it during difficult circumstances and triumphant experiences. The verse comes just before Jeremiah 29:11, just before the promise of hope.
In Jeremiah 29:7, the prophet shares the voice of God: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare."
The more I meditate on this one verse, the more I am learning about who God is and what it means to be human. I am reminded that God partners with humanity, and that I have a role to play. I am reminded that even in difficult circumstances, I am called to love.
Most of all, I am reminded of something I have learned time and again, and I think it may perhaps be the most important thing I know. God loves everyone--everyone!--and the business of sharing that love with others is our primary vocation as humans and children of God.
What is more, you cannot run out of love. I have never met someone who loved so much that they simply ran out. Oh, I have known plenty of folks who have misunderstood the nature of love, constantly seeking it rather than offering it--and consequently ended up completely empty. But I have never met someone who has truly run out of love. Never.
In fact, the people I know who are the most loving also have the most love. One of the fundamental mysteries of being a human and being a follower of Christ is this: if you love, you will have love. It is the simplest thing I know, and the greatest. If you need proof, just look to Jesus.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, and pray on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare. You could spend a life chewing on that promise. I think I just might.