The Value of One Verse, Mom’s

given on Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mom’s verse holds a very special meaning to me.  She never recited it aloud to me.  She never had me memorize it.  She did not have any plaques hanging on the wall or little frames of it sitting on the desk.  In fact, I did not learn of the importance that Mom had placed on this verse until after she died.
I remember picking up the Bible that she had at her side often during those last few months.  I did not spend any time reading it with her.  I only recognized that it was one I did not remember seeing before.  I cannot even think whether we ever talked about it during those days of sitting together while she did her best to beat the cancer that was invading her bones.
But the day came after the funeral, after my dad had tried to resume life, after I had gone back to life in Lexington, and even after my husband decided he wanted a divorce, that I found Mom’s Bible.  I sat down and began looking through it.  First, I found the letter from my cousin—Dad’s cousin—who lived across the field and the woods from us.  She had given the Bible to Mom during her battle with cancer.  Then I started looking through the Bible and found all her notes.  She had been reading the Bible, making her notes in the margins, underlining important phrases, and adding a piece of notepaper here and there.
I found that one life-changing, all-important verse seemed to be the heart of my mom:  Isaiah 40:31.
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
She had underlined that phrase.  She had notes in the margin.  She had a piece of paper tucked into the page with a few more notes scribbled on it.
This one verse seems to meet all the needs my mom had while she battled the cancer.  Yet, as I read and now study that verse, I find that that one verse could easily explain my mom’s entire philosophy on life.  That one verse pulled out of one chapter in one book in the Old Testament provided my mom guidance, hope, comfort, and determination:  One verse to manage a lifetime.
This week we have each handled our own challenges to the best of our ability.  Our members have met their own challenges—cataract surgery, angioplasty, and surgery.  My challenges have been tiring, mentally more than physically.  I have watched students who are worn down by life’s challenges and they are just teenagers.  What do we need?
The answer:  we need one verse.  We need the word of God to play over and over in our minds when we are so tired we cannot generate new thoughts.  We need the word of God to repeat when we really want to scream out loud.  We need that one verse that lets us hear God each and every time we hear it, read it, or recite it.
How do you find that verse?  We read.  We study.  We talk with others about what we read.  Establishing a pattern of reading the Bible is one of the eight practices that Henry H. Knight III, identifies as being life-enriching.  John Wesley, too, knew that the Holy Scripture is key to developing our faith in God.  The Holy Scripture is the basis for our faith.  We start with the Bible, we review history, we look at our and others’ experiences, and finally we use our ability to reason as we learn the lesson God has for us or we hear God speak to us.
Knight states there are two kinds of reading:  informational and functional.  We look for information when we read, and then we try to find ways to apply the knowledge.  We read the Bible for the information and then we work to understand how to apply the lessons of the Bible to our own lives today.
In a twist to the functional reading, Knight explains that devotional reading reverses the traditional process of reading.  In devotional reading, the reader begins the process with the anticipation of hearing God rather than just to find our information.
Knight also references Robert Mulholland who states that devotional reading is first formational rather than informational which means taking time to listen to the passage for all the meanings.  Secondly, devotional reading is relational rather than functional.  Another words devotional reading develops our relationship with God.
Mom’s verse became her guiding force.  She was tired of fighting the cancer.  She needed strength.  Throughout her life Mom never slowed down.  She drove herself to be one step better at everything.  She was a teacher, but she married and became a farmer’s wife and a mother.  She set her goals high and we all lived to make our lives the best we could.  She struggled with her role because she was a teacher at heart and yet in the 50’s farming was her lifestyle.
As the years went along, the challenges in our lives were so typical of the small farmers, and we struggled.  Mom never seemed to let the struggles stop her.  She held on to her faith, she helped Dad hold on, too.  The farm crisis lead her to take a job as a phone operator.  My brother and I were in our early teen years, and Mom began working as a telephone operator.
Now years later I am reading that one verse that I identify as Mom’s.  I was not prepared to read it, I was just reviewing the lectionary selections and struggling to stay focused.  And suddenly those words jumped off the page—Mom’s verse.
The one verse that I now stumble into while walking down a store’s aisle or looking at posters and calendars was the final verse of the Old Testament reading this week.  I think the fact that I did not recognize it was because my reading was far from devotional.  I was just looking at the words and not listening for God.  I was tired and weary.  I did not have the strength to seek God’s wisdom.  Then the words appeared on the page and my entire focus changed.  I moved from function to devotion.
My reading became a search.  I started reading different translations.  I read the study helps.  And I read more than just Isaiah 40:31.
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

These verses really seemed to connect with this week.  The first two questions seemed to scream at me.  Certain words seemed to be in bold face:  “everlasting,” “ends of the earth,” “will not grow tired or weary,” and “God’s “understanding no one can fathom.”  These are strong words.  These are words that are as solid as granite.  These ideas are indeed promises that we can count on throughout our life as long as we believe.
The next verse is one I wish I could share with my students and they could hear God in them:
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
Why do our young people feel that they are being targeted?  Why do they think no one understands their problems?  Why do the not realize that God is there to pick them up, to guide them, and to love them.
And there is that verse, that promise, that life-long key to living among all the challenges we face as we wait to join God in heaven:
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Through the study of these words, I found an explanation in the Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible:
“Human strength will never be adequate for facing all of life’s challenges and difficulties.  No matter who you are or how much willpower you may have, you will encounter situations in life that you just can’t manage by yourself.  Isaiah gives us a special promise of God’s strength in times like these.
Isaiah teaches us that people” who wait on the lord shall renew their strength…”  Picture a person growing wings like an eagle and soaring over life’s problems.  Imagine a person who runs on God’s strength (rather than on his or her own_ going the distance while other people drop like flies on every side.  No matter what you are facing, wait on the Lord and look to Him for strength to conquer life’s challenges!”

The value in this one verse was evident to my mom.  No she did not manage to defeat cancer, but she had her faith.
These words in Isaiah have guided me during the various difficulties I have faced since Mom died.  In fact, I have found those words echoing in my ears as the plane rolls down the runway and the wheels lift off the runway.  I really do feel like God is there lifting up the wings of the plane—it is the closest I ever am to the eagle.
Until I saw how Mom had studied her Bible and identified the verses which spoke to her, I did not understand how God speaks through the Holy Scriptures.  I did not grow up reading the Bible or memorizing verse after verse.  Since I found the notes in Mom’s Bible and started reading them along with the verses, I have found other verses that are important to my life and to my faith in God.
The one verse that is my personal guiding light for the time being, I found while reading a series of novels.  The Mitford collection, written by Jan Karon, introduced me to Father Tim.  Throughout each story he repeated Philippians 4:13: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
I did not realize until I began writing these words that my verse mirrors my mom’s verse.
We need to study the Old and the New Testament carefully.  Jesus did not have the New Testament obviously, but he did study the Old Testament.  While doing the Companions in Christ study, one of the “ah ha” moments was learning that Jesus had relied on the verses of the Old Testament even as he hung on the cross.  Those final words he uttered, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  are recorded in Matthew 27:46.  These are the words he learned from Psalms 22:1:  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?”  The psalm continues on for 30 more verses and is described as “the suffering, praise and posterity of the Messiah” according to the Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible.
The reference notes in that Bible also state that:  “We must always remember that the Bible is not like any other book ever written.  It was written by God and accurately predicts the future.”
One verse.  If each one of us reads the Bible in a devotional manner, we will find the one verse that will guide us through all the challenges in this earthly life we are living.  We will read the verses with open ears, listening for God’s guidance.  We will feel God’s strength and be renewed.  We will experience God’s grace and know that God is love.
Dear Lord,
I am so tired.  I feel the stress of the week heavy on my body.  I have not turned over my worries to you for your care.
I read your words and I heard you.  I know I need to turn to your words more often than I do because you are talking to me.
Thank you for speaking to me through the words.  May these words today share your word with others.  May we all stay in conversation with you.  May we all be renewed as we leave to tackle the challenges of the week.                        –Amen

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