Faith

2021’s Verse of the Year and the fastest-growing search term… sorcery?!

by Gabriel Ong // December 6, 2021, 3:50 pm

2021 popular verse

The world’s most popular Bible app, YouVersion, has just released its Verse of the Year for 2021.

This year, the verse that users most engaged with in terms of shares, bookmarks and highlights on the app is not an unfamiliar one.

These words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, which urge a desire to seek God and put Him first in all things, is perhaps reflective of a new chapter in the spiritual journeys of many readers today.

I say that because since YouVersion has crossed 500 million unique installs across the world, its top-line findings are certainly indicative, to a considerable degree, of general sentiment in the world and Christendom (there are around 2.5 billion Christians in the world today).

More people are seeking God.

It’s an assessment that’s in line with YouVersion founder Bobby Gruenewald’s reflection on the trends they have seen over the past two years.

Prior to the pandemic, YouVersion saw spikes in Bible engagement every Sunday, typically 20% higher than the rest of the week.

However, in March 2020, when many churches could no longer hold physical services, weekday Bible engagement increased by 10% and continued to rise in the following weeks.

“We’re encouraged to see high levels of Bible engagement again this year…”

As churches began to reopen, YouVersion found that Bible engagement spikes on Sundays returned, but daily Bible engagement habits continued. And for 2021, Monday through Saturday engagement was still up by 24% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re encouraged to see high levels of Bible engagement again this year because it means people are turning to God and the Bible for answers to their questions.

“Even our Verse of the Year points to the heart of the YouVersion Community to seek God and know Him more,” he said.

2020’s Verse of the Year: Comfort for those who are discouraged

This growing desire for God comes off the back of “fear” and “worry” through the coronavirus years as seen in the Verse of the Year respectively:

  • 2020: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
  • 2019: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)

I’m no statistician by any means, but I do know from my own personal journey that crises have a way of pushing people to God.

It may well be that as Bible readers – believers and non-believers alike – have kept coming to the Word for answers to a world tinged with terror, worry and anxiety, their spiritual lives have deepened from encountering the reality of God and/or understanding new facets of His character.

Increased engagement and intimacy with the Word would explain this burgeoning desire to place God first in all things.

SINGAPORE’S VERSE OF THE YEAR

Even more specifically in Singapore, our most popular Verse of the Year based on YouVersion’s statistics is not an unfamiliar one.

It’s not hard to imagine why. It’s been a long journey through these coronavirus years so far with twists and turns along the way.

A hope, future and assurance of God’s plans for our lives is something many are increasingly longing for in these uncertain times.

SEARCH TERM WITH THE BIGGEST SPIKE

What else are people reading in Scripture digitally?

At the end of each year, another popular Christian resource offers a Year in Review with insights on user patterns like search terms and verses that gained and lost the most traffic. 

In 2021, Bible Gateway saw a 193% increase in queries relating to “sorceries” or “sorcery”, the fastest growing search term among any other word.

A comment in the report notes that this increased interest in sorceries stems from “heightened interest in the Greek word pharmakeia.”

“Some Christians have brought up the term when claiming that Scripture prophetically warns against the vaccine and vaccine mandates,” noted Kate Shellnutt of Christianity Today (CT), “since it shares a root with the word pharmaceuticals.”

You can read more about it from folks who know far more than I do about how the word pharmakeia in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 18:23 has been misapplied across sectors of Christendom in the CT article, often in service to very regrettable ends.

Suffice to say, discernment is needed.

While I’m glad people are going to Scripture for answers, wisdom is needed in knowing how to apply God’s words and truths in living lives that glorify Him.

Good exegesis is important here, as is godly counsel since we will never have all the answers.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Pastor Benny Ho says we have more than the epidemic at stake

I’ve been guilty of going to the Bible to look for something that confirms what I already know or believe.

It’s a lot harder to adopt a posture that’s patient and open towards God, allowing the Spirit to guide us into truth through our time with the Word, and show us how we can apply it to our lives and world around us.

So discernment is crucial, especially since the coronavirus years coincide with an era rife with information overload and all kinds of voices and actors that have been given platforms.

False teachers can almost take a day off with the amount of misinformation prevalent on websites, WhatsApp groups and Telegram channels.

But this tinfoil tomfoolery doesn’t have to happen when there is wisdom, discernment and humble submission.

Finally, I’m genuinely curious: What was your personal verse of the year?

Mine was probably Habakkuk 3:17-18, which kept me going during discouraging times in ministry:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

If you’re not the sort to have life verses or scripture to anchor you through life (I wasn’t really either), you might want to consider trying out a Bible reading plan.

This year I followed Bible in One Year 2021 With Nicky Gumbel.

Without being hyperbolic, I’ve seen how God’s Word has genuinely changed my life in terms of shaping my thinking, decisions and actions in daily life.

It’s very easy to use and they’ve added a bunch of community tools that make it fun, encouraging and engaging to read the Word as a community. 

Share your personal verse of the year in the comments or in our friendly Telegram channel!

I’ve learned much from the commentary and exposition, and have also been greatly encouraged by the simple fact that I’m still on track with the plan in December!  

I’d also love to see you share your personal verse of the year (and why, if you’d like to add) in the comments or in our friendly Telegram channel where you can reach me personally. 

My guess is as good as yours when it comes to what 2022’s verse will be. But I’m hoping it involves wisdom and steadfastness as we seek more of God for our lives and land.  

THINK + TALK 

  1. How would you describe your seeking of God over the last 2 years?
  2. What has your Bible engagement been like? Would you say it has remained the same, increased or decreased?
  3. When applying the Word of God to your life, how do you ensure that you’re doing so in a discerning manner? 
About the author

Gabriel Ong

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.