Jeremiah 12:5 (NIV) — “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how will you compete with the horses? If you stumble in the safe country, how will you manage in the thicket beyond the Jordan?”
I’m 100% certain this was the first verse of Scripture I learned. I was in my 30s and there was an old theater building across from where I worked.
It was closed down and all the movie bulletin boards were empty; the big covered entrance was dark, as was the round ticket both in the center of the overhang.
In the window of that booth was a card with the words of Jeremiah 12:5 written on it.
Many times in the morning, I stood there waiting for work and I would inadvertently read that card at least once, if not multiple times, waiting to cross the street and go to work.
Oftentimes, I would be there after work waiting to meet someone and, naturally, I would read that. I wasn’t a Christian, wasn’t looking to be, but it was like a kid at the breakfast table reading the cereal box — it was there!
What I didn’t realize is that I was actually memorizing the biblical Word of God ...
If I had understood that, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Up until then, I had found myself in some tight and often dark situations.
If I recall the two positives in my life at that time were, I was employed and I had good health. Vaguely, I remember fumbling with some sort of prayer, saying, “I’d rather help than hurt. Is there any way I can learn to do that? All I have is a strong back and willingness.”
I must admit that it seemed like an empty prayer.
Several days later at work, I injured my back pretty seriously. I was laid up for about six weeks. I lived in a flat above the bar. I couldn’t walk and I lived on the second floor.
The Salvation Army captains gave me a great big red study Bible. I didn’t have television and the pain was so intense I couldn’t concentrate to read.
So for the first couple of days, things were pretty edgy for me. Somewhere, I ended up meditating on Jeremiah 12:5.
My one strength — my health, a strong back — was now gone!
What I know now but didn’t know then was that my willingness was being tested. I said in that prayer that I had willingness.
The 12:5 verse had become like God speaking to me: “If you have raced.” “If you have stumbled.” “How will you compete?” “How will you manage?” (When I let you up, will you be the new man or the old man?)
I’m not saying God was speaking to me in an audible voice, but as a seed, planted and watered, taking root and producing fruit.
During those six weeks with no radio, television, very few visitors, I had time to read the Bible.
There were several times I would come across a verse or set of verses that would make me stop and reread them multiple times.
Like I said, those printed words were as if they were being spoken to me — again, not audibly but in the depths of my being.
For example: 2 Corinthians 6:2 — “For He says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.’”
Then verses 17 and 18 — “Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a father to you, and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
I had a great deal of personal quiet time to stand and read Scriptures, then lay down to rest my back and meditate on what I had read.
Often, I could only stand long enough to read several passages, then later a couple of chapters. But the unrealized blessing is that I had time to meditate on what I read.
Of course, I often had to reread things over and over to get it.
About the time that I was getting strong enough to go back to work, there was one small verse that stayed with me.
Acts 4:36 — “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, who the Apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement).”
If I could summarize all of this to share what I learned through that time of testing, I had to encourage myself. I encouraged myself in the Lord, who in turn restored, strengthened me to encourage others.
2 Corinthians 2:15 — “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”