Since I’m forty today, I wanted to share forty Bible verses that are meaningful to me and some reflections on them.
1. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.” Genesis 1:31
God has never stopped creating and everything God creates is good. Original sin does not mean that Genesis 1 stopped happening after Eve bit into the apple. God keeps creating beautiful creatures; we keep falling into sin; and God keeps redeeming and restoring us to beauty.
2. “You are to distinguish between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean.” Leviticus 10:10
If there is no established sacred space, then all space is profane. The purpose of holiness is to create time and space where God’s presence can be encountered richly. Under capitalism, all of reality is marketized and secularized, which desecrates time and space.
3. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
The universe is the song of God’s glory. When we’re given the “eyes” to see God, we can find his glory in the heavens and everywhere else.
4. “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
The purpose of worship is to cultivate delight. God offers himself as an object of delight, not because he is an emotionally insecure tyrant who needs other people’s praise to function, but because worshiping God fulfills the needs within our hearts better than anything else.
5. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay; he set my foot upon a rock and made my footsteps firm.” Psalm 40:1-2
This is one of my favorite psalms. It describes what God has done for me so many times.
6. “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, Where is your God?” Psalm 42:1-3
I first went deep into this psalm when I was reading Augustine. He kept on coming back to this psalm and talking about everything in his life according to this quest of longing and thirst for God. It has come to be the story of my life too. The spiritual life is about cultivating thirst for God rather than settling for the unsatisfying ways that we seek to quench that thirst.
7. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17
Some of the holiest moments I’ve had in my life are the times when I’ve been convicted of sin and brought into repentance. It may be painful, but I feel more whole with a broken and contrite heart than a swollen ego.
8. “You have collected all my tears in a bottle; you have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8
God sees and cares about everything I have suffered.
9. “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:3
I say this psalm in Hebrew as a mantra prayer. The face of God revealed in Jesus Christ is my salvation.
10. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” Psalm 139:1-4
God knows me more intimately than I know myself.
11. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Proverbs 1:7
In the fall of 2012, I had a profound mystical experience in which I discovered what I understand to be the fear of the Lord. It is not being afraid of God but being awakened to the incredible, overwhelming presence of God. The fear of the Lord is having a visceral knowledge of the reality described in Psalm 139. It means being perpetually blown away by God’s glory and no longer inhabiting a world in which I maintain the delusion of my control.
12. “When you stretch your hands to pray, I will hide my eyes from you. Though you make many prayers, I will not listen for your hands are full of blood.” Isaiah 1:15
Isaiah reminds us that many people who pray have blood on their hands. Those who pray with blood on their hands cannot be intimate with God so they form a caricature of God who normalizes their bloodshed. Their descendants may not shed blood themselves but they inherit the legacy of their God caricature.
13. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:4
Isaiah 2 describes the beautiful vision of a world where God truly reigns, which helps us to see how people are when God reigns in their hearts.
14. “Woe is me; I am lost… Here I am; send me.” Isaiah 6:5,8
Until you have said, “Woe is me; I am lost,” you cannot say, “Here I am; send me.”
15. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isaiah 61:1-2
This is the prophecy Jesus quotes in his hometown preaching debut in Nazareth. Notably, he omits “the day of vengeance of our God” and then goes on to remind his people that God loves Gentiles too, which almost gets him stoned. Since this is Jesus’ mission statement, we can measure how faithful Christians are to his mission according to its terms. Do they bring good news to the oppressed? Do they bind up the brokenhearted, liberate the captives, and release the prisoners? If not, they’re not following Jesus.
16. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
It is true that this verse was originally written to the entire people of Israel. But I think the Holy Spirit is allowed to use it in different contexts to offer comfort to us as individuals in dark seasons of our lives, which is what God did for me.
17. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:7-8
Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly. That’s a good summary of what it looks like to live faithfully.
18. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
This is my favorite beatitude because it expresses the mystical purpose of holiness. We ask God to purify our hearts so that we can see him. Seeing God is called the beatific vision. It is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life.
19. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:25-26
This is the kind of freedom God wants to empower us to live with. It is the opposite of the anxiety that is the life fuel of the capitalist market.
20. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Matthew 8:8
The Roman Catholic mass modifies one word in this scripture. It is the posture with which all of us should approach the Lord’s table. We are not worthy, but God can heal us.
21. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13
This is the scripture from which my blog takes its name. The point of Christianity is to cultivate mercy. Everything we do in our spiritual life is for the sake of becoming God’s mercy for the world. This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand up for ourselves or have any moral standards; it means that our self-care and our moral standards are all for the sake of our increased mercy.
22. “The sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
When Jesus says this, he offers insight into his pragmatic approach to religious teaching. We do not follow God’s commands in order to assuage God’s ego. Everything God commands us is for the sake of our own deeper joy and communion with him.
23. “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24
This is often my prayer to God. I live far too much of my life as a functional atheist. But I desperately want to believe in God.
24. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15
In many ways, the Christian life is about becoming like children again. They already live in the kingdom of God. They just don’t know it. It’s because they haven’t yet learned that they’re supposed to performing. We have to unlearn anxious, self-preoccupied performance so that we can worship again like we did when we were children.
25. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not seize it.” John 1:5
It was in seminary Greek class that I discovered the metaphorical implications of this verse. God’s truth is like light. It is something that can be pointed to, but never seized and colonized. When I try to grab light, all I end up with is a fistful of darkness.
26. “The wind blows where it chooses; you hear the sound of it but you do not know it comes from or where it is going. So it is with those who are born of the spirit.” John 3:8
Just like the light cannot be seized, the wind cannot be controlled. The Holy Spirit rebels against our need to put God in our pockets. She blows down all of our theological sandcastles. When we live according to the spirit, we live with the same kind of freedom, which is different than the false freedom of licentious decadent consumption that our market tries to sell us.
27. “Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and the confidence of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” Acts 9:31
I want to serve a church that lives in the fear of the Lord and the confidence of the Holy Spirit. Again, the fear of the Lord does not mean being afraid of God and thus cowardly. The fear of the Lord is the expectation that God will astound us. The confidence of the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to take risks trusting in God’s power.
28. “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24
Notice how this passage describes sin. It is falling short of the glory of God. Falling short does not mean we are insanely wicked. It just means that we all need God’s grace. Notice the implications of the word “all” in this passage. All have sinned; all are justified as a gift. Period. Nobody is not justified. Some people accept their justification through Christ and benefit from it. Some people ignore or reject it and remain alienated from God.
29. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
I printed this verse out my senior year in high school and hung it on my bedroom wall. God wants to deliver us from conforming to the scripts that the world tries to impose on us. Notice that the point is to renew our minds. If your spiritual life doesn’t involve a continual renewal of your mind, then it isn’t spirit-led.
30. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Romans 14:14
Paul is a moral pragmatist, not a moral legalist. Any object or activity can be an idol; some things are more prone to idolatry than others. What makes something sinful is its corruption of us. Many Christians use Paul’s pragmatic pastoral admonitions in order to create a new moral legalism, which could not be a greater perversion of Paul’s entire ethical project.
31. “He has chosen the foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen the weak to shame the strong; he has chosen the despised ones, those who are nothing, to bring to nothing the things that are.” 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
I discovered this passage when I was in the deepest phase of my depression. Knowing that God had chosen my foolishness and weakness was extremely empowering to me. This passage also expresses the full revolutionary potential of Christianity. What’s supposed to happen is for God to use the world’s outsiders who are nothing in the eyes of the world to bring the world to nothing. That’s more radical than Marxism.
32. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
This is the ideal of what a perfectly vulnerable, authentic community looks like. What the body of Christ is supposed to do is create a space where we encounter God’s glory in our mutual spiritual transformation. It’s like making a human prism of divine light.
33. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
This is one of the most important verses for me to remember. God works with people who are broken and imperfect. I need to remember that God is the one with the power and my task is to depend on his power.
34. “I have been crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.” Galatians 2:20-21
The atonement of Jesus’ cross is not merely substitutional. It is participatory. I am invited to be crucified, buried, and resurrected with Jesus. The cross and resurrection are the core of each Christian’s personal spiritual transformation.
35. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
Many Christians believe that God’s will for humanity is to create a hierarchical binary social order. At one time, this hierarchical social order was racial. Then it was gendered. Now it’s heteronormative. But none of that is what the kingdom of God looks like. Jesus shatters every binary that people use to order society.
36. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
The goal of Christian spirituality is to cultivate the fruit of the spirit through the power of the Holy Spirit. The reason we pursue lives of spiritual discipline is to gain love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest of the fruit.
37. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his poetry, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Ephesians 2:8-10
This is a very important, simple formulation of the gospel. We are saved from meritocracy by trusting in the gift of God. Also the point is to become God’s poetry which is my translation of the Greek poiema from Ephesians 2:10.
38. “Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” 2 Peter 1:4
The Eastern Orthodox correctly structure their spirituality around the goal of theosis. The reason we need to be purified of worldly corruption is in order to participate in God’s divinity. We cannot be the sources of our own divinity, but we can be vessels of his divinity if we are properly aligned.
39. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5
This is a good verse for contemplating God’s innate truthfulness metaphorically. It’s not that he’s an angry judge who wants to hurt people. But he is light. What the spiritual life prepares us for is the spiritual equivalent of staring straight at the sun. God does not want to torture us, but his light will inherently be torture if we live in darkness.
40. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.” 1 John 4:16
A basic litmus test of Christian theology is whether it results in love. If a community is Christian, it will abide in love. Though some Christians like to say that the world has a false understanding of love, love is not a nihilistically unknowable reality. What should distinguish Christians is our love towards others, especially those outside of our community.
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