It happened on my last day of Bible college. It was a ceremony dreamed up by several members of our senior class, something inspirational to do as a part of our final chapel service. Each senior would walk to the podium and call the name of a member of the junior class. The junior whose name had been called would then stand and listen as the senior read a specially chosen verse of Scripture. Several of my classmates thought it would be a good way for us to say goodbye.
When the idea was sprung on me, I said I thought we were getting it backwards. It seemed to me (and still does) that members of the junior class should have read verses of Scripture to the seniors. After all, we were the ones heading out into the teeth of the storm. If anybody needed a charge to faithfulness or a word of encouragement, we did.
Be that as it may, I was told a couple of weeks ahead of time that I needed to pick a verse and a junior. Picking the junior was no problem. Charlie McGee and I had been buddies from day one; he would do just fine. Finding the verse was more difficult. I’ve never actually counted them, but I’ve read that there are 31,103 verses in the Bible. Narrowing my choice down to one that would make me seem sufficiently spiritual and worthy of my diploma seemed like a daunting task. I started digging.
It took a while, but I finally settled on James 1:12: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (New Living Translation).
I thought this verse had just the right mixture of encouragement (God blesses), warning (testing and temptation), and hope (crown of life). It was a good solid verse, not unlike a used car with low mileage and good tires. I decided to go with it.
Thirty-four years have come and gone since that last chapel service, but I still think of that ceremony quite often. Not because it was so touching, though I suppose it was. No, the reason I still think of it is because of the verse I read to Charlie. Little did I know that the verse I was sharing with him would save my life and ministry on multiple occasions.
As a fresh Bible college graduate I had no idea what I was facing. Armed with a diploma and a part-time weekend ministry that paid me $50 a week, I thought I was really something. Look out, Satan, here I come!
Satan wasn’t a bit scared.
He slapped me down so hard I can still feel the sting.
Less than six months after my graduation I was unemployed. The ministry that I had such high hopes for came crashing down, forcing me to take my pregnant wife and move in with my in-laws. It was the first of several times I’ve been hurt and angry enough to just chuck it all and walk away. Every one of those times James 1:12 brought me to my senses and kept me from doing it.
The whole verse is great, but the words that sing to me are these: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.” If ever a promise was made for me, it’s this one. I get discouraged so easily. The temptation to quit has been almost unbearable at times. That’s when I desperately need to be reminded that if I can hang in there and remain faithful to the very end, I will receive the crown of life.
Isn’t it true that sometimes the things we do for others bless us even more? I don’t know if Charlie even remembers the verse I shared with him that day. I’ll have to ask him sometime. I do know that it saved my life and ministry.
Mark Atteberry serves as minister with Poinciana Christian Church in Kissimmee, Florida, and is the author of eight books, including Let It Go: Come Home from Your Guilt Trip (Standard Publishing, 2010).