By Joe McKeever
“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Your life verse is not just a cute, catchy line that looks good on a bumper sticker.
Your life verse understands you. It sums up a lot about your life. It has your number.
Your life verse knows your deep, dark secrets.
When you were young, you were still finding out who you were and had yet to encounter life’s bruises and hurts. You could not have found a verse that “fit” since you didn’t know “what size you were,” to stay with the metaphor. But by this time, you have lived enough to carry scars from disappointments and battles. You have failed and sometimes failed bigtime. You have hurt and cried and cried out to God. And now you are ready to find your life verse.
Your life verse won’t necessarily make you happy. It may be a reminder of the scars you wear and a few you have inflicted.
Job 4:4. The odd thing is that I remember it in a way that I cannot find in any version of the Scripture. The way I recall it is:
Your words have stood men on their feet.
The NKJV reads: “Your words have upheld him who is stumbling; You have strengthened the feeble knees.” Most translations have a variation of that. But still. I like it to say “your words have stood men on their feet.”
I know about such words. I also know about the destructive power of words.
I have been knocked off my feet by harsh words. I have knocked a few people off their feet by some poorly-chosen words of my own. And I have been the recipient of good words that raised me from the deck of self-pity and stood me erect and returned me to the battle.
As a 7th grader and new in that school, I was cut off at the knees by a teacher whom I did not know, in front of a hundred of my peers. A vulnerable time in a kid’s life, a moment when he ventures to raise his hand and make a suggestion, and a teacher who was as mean-spirited as any bully on the playground. That was over half-a-century ago and I recall it like it was last week.
I have, unfortunately, cut a few people off at the knees by my own smart-mouth. Some would say I had the short-person syndrome (loud mouth to compensate), since I did not begin growing to normal height until I was 15. And, if you don’t mind, I’ll spare you the stories of people I have left bleeding in my wake when all I was doing was making a joke. Insensitive? I was the very definition of insensitive. The mother of a teenager whom I had cut down called me the next day. “Joe,” said Alice Wasson, “it looks like you go out of your way to hurt my child.” I was so callous that I had to ask, “Alice, what are we talking about?” She did me a big favor that day by holding me accountable. A lesser person would have carried a grudge, spread her tales, or moved her membership. But Alice held her pastor accountable, and did me a great favor.
Have my words stood people on their feet? People who have been blind-sided (and broad-sided) by life were lying there until I whispered (or shouted from the pulpit?) the “words of life” to them. I certainly trust that I have done that. This is the aim of every preacher of the Word, to stand fallen humanity up and restore them to usefulness for the glory of God.
Words are so powerful.
Someone spoke some words to you decades ago and you still remember them. Some such words thrill your heart to this day. Some of them embarrass you, and more than a few perhaps drive you to your knees in confession and surrender.
Frank Pollard led the great First Baptist Church of Jackson MS for 25 years. (This is the church Bertha and I belong to and love dearly.) He was the worldwide speaker for the Baptist Hour, and received numerous acclaims. Time Magazine named him one of the ten outstanding preachers in America sometime around 1980. But Frank Pollard grew up the shyest person in Olney, Texas.
“Frank,” his high school friends asked him when he surrendered to the ministry, “How can you preach when you can’t even look people in the eye?” Frank had no idea, only that God had called him.
Mr. Beverly King’s words stood Frank Pollard on his feet. The richest man in town is how Frank would describe Mr. King.
Frank went off to Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship. His part-time job was cleaning the BSU building. Many times late at night when he was alone in the building, Frank practiced his sermons before all those empty chairs. “I got so discouraged,” he would say, “that many times I would have dropped out of school and come home.”
“Except for one thing.”
Each week, Frank Pollard received a post card from Mr. Beverly King back at home. “Hang in there, Frank,” the card would read. “I believe in you. You can do this.”
Frank Pollard would say, “I’m in the ministry today because of that one man.”
I want to say words that stand people on their feet.
That’s my verse. What’s yours? What verse has your number, knows your story, sums up your life, could tell your secrets? Ask the Father. He knows.
Joe McKeever is a cartoonist and former director of missions for New Orleans Baptist Association. This editorial first appeared on his blog.