YouVersion has released its annual round-up of statistics and revealed that the verse most engaged with in Singapore throughout 2019 is Philippians 4:6.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
You can say it’s a breath of fresh air to see our nation finally moving on to (perhaps) greener pastures.
Singapore’s favourite Bible verse for 2017 and 2018 had been Jeremiah 29:11: “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.”
Could it suggest that we have moved on from a fixation on God’s plans for our future to focusing on our present posture of prayer before the Lord?
Interestingly, Singapore wasn’t the only one who liked Philippians 4:6 this year, according to YouVersion, which developed the Bible App, the Bible App for Kids and Bible Lens.
Out of 48 countries recorded, Philippians 4:6 was the most shared, bookmarked and highlighted verse in 33 other countries apart from Singapore – including Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US. In Asia, only Thailand and Vietnam had a different verse: Matthew 6:33.
The data also shows that people around the world have read and listened to the Bible 30% more this year compared to 2018, making 2019 the highest recorded year of Bible reading.
It’s no measly increase. This year, YouVersion saw 35.6 billion chapters read, 5.6 billion audio chapters listened to and 1.1 billion Bible Plan days completed, compared to 27.2 billion chapters read, 4.2 billion audio chapters played and 950 million Bible plan days completed in 2018.
Even in the less-reached nations in Asia such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, Bible engagement has shown a significant double-digit increase this year.
We can find hope in knowing that more people are turning to their (digital) Bibles to find strength and encouragement.
DON’T BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING
While the increase in engagements is a cause for celebration, this influx could also reflect a people who are desperate to find hope amidst a hopeless world. Could Philippians 4:6 be so popular because it’s widely used as a verse to comfort the anxious?
Anxiety has been high this year. In Singapore, greater attention is being placed on mental health, while globally, news of tragedies continue to strike throughout the year. From mass bombings to celebrity suicides, the world seems to have been engulfed in a state of darkness more than ever.
In fact, next year’s Pantone colour of the year has even been dubbed as “anti-anxiety blue”.
Explaining how this colour was picked, Laurie Pressman, vice-president of the Pantone Color Institute, said: “This blue is not taking you into the mystery of what lies ahead. Instead, it speaks to our need for a stable and dependable foundation. We’re living in a time that requires trust and faith. We’re looking to those we can depend on.”
If the most popular verse of 2019 tells us anything, it’s that through prayer, we can let our requests be made known to God. When we ask for help from God, His Word assures us that He hears and answers our requests, as stated in Matthew 21:22, Luke 11:9 and John 14:13.
As Philippians 4:6 suggests, pray continuously in every situation.
John Piper puts it beautifully, saying: “The necessity of prayer is a constant reminder and display of our dependence on God for everything so that he gets the glory when we get the help.”
We can find joy in prayer as we rely on the Waymaker, Jesus Himself, in whose name we pray.
BUT IN EVERYTHING, PRAY & GIVE THANKS
A word of caution, though.
Philippians 4:6 may indeed present itself as a cosy verse to write and/or read in times of great anxiety. The words “do not be anxious about anything” is something we can easily bury our heads into, like a sturdy shoulder to lean on, helping us escape from what causes our anxiety.
But let’s not treat Bible verses as mere words of comfort and understand the true meaning behind them. When we read verses in context and take time to understand where Paul, the author of Philippians, was coming from when he said those assuring words, we find a deeper, everlasting peace that could only be found in the God behind the Word.
Found in the final chapter of the book of Philippians, this verse is part of Paul’s short letter to the church of Philippi. Unlike his letters to the Galatians and Colossians, which were written as a response to a crisis, Paul was writing with the intention to show appreciation and affection towards the believers in Philippi (Philippians 4:15-16). Paul comes across as a proud father (Philippians 1:3-7) throughout the book.
He affirms the good deeds the believers in Philippi have done and encourages them to press on towards the goal (Philippians 3:14). The need for perseverance was probably because they were disheartened and immensely concerned for Paul’s suffering in prison. They may also have feared facing similar persecution by “enemies of the cross” (Philippians 3:18).
Paul wasn’t saying in Philippians 4:6 that our anxieties automatically go away through prayer. But rather, Philippians 4:6 was meant to encourage the Philippi believers to persevere through their anxieties and continue to stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1).
Paul speaks to these anxieties by pointing to an eternal hope, affirming the Philippi believers that their citizenship is in heaven and that they can eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:19-20).
HIS PEACE WILL GUARD OUR HEARTS & MINDS
For those of us who believe in Christ Jesus, we have the promise of peace that we can hold on to. We can persevere through our own anxieties because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has given us our identity as sons and daughters in this Kingdom of God.
Let’s remember that Philippians 4:6 is not complete in itself; the other half of the sentence reads:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
In concluding his final chapter in Philippians, Paul ends off by describing how he has learnt how to be content (Philippians 4:11-12) and how he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Philippians 4:13).
Let’s not just pray the bad things away or pray for more blessings to come into our lives. Instead, why not change our posture of prayer from one that only requests to one that gives thanks instead? After all, Philippians 4:6 did say, “with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”. Let’s remember to thank God we persevered through 2019!
I pray that 2020 will be a year filled with greater peace and assurance in where our hope comes from. May it also be a year where more nations turn their hearts to Jesus and a new generation will rise in prayerful perseverance for battles to come.