Do not fear: announcing the Bible verse of the year

Makers of YouVersion, the most-used Bible reading app in the world, has announced its Bible Verse of the Year – Isaiah 41:10:

“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.” (NIV)

This was the Bible verse most often shared, bookmarked and highlighted by the global YouVersion community during 2022.

“The popularity of this verse speaks to our desire to be reminded that even when we feel like we’re alone in our struggles, we’re not,” said Bobby Gruenewald, Founder and CEO of YouVersion. “As this verse says, God is our strength and he’s always with us.”

Interestingly, the same verse also earned the top spot in 2020, the first year of the COVID pandemic. By contrast, in 2021, the most popular Bible verse was Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

“I think it is a hopeful sign that people are turning to God when they feel anxious.” – Megan Powell du Toit

Eternity asked a few church leaders why they thought people had homed in on Isaiah 41:10 again this year.

“It’s a beautiful verse and addresses the deep anxiety so many feel at the moment,” said Michael Jensen, rector of St Mark’s Anglican, Darling Point in Sydney.

“What we mustn’t do is see it as a justification for our own agendas. The context, of course, is the repentant sorrow of the people of Israel after the painful years of exile, which had been brought upon them for their injustice and their idolatry. Yes, God will uphold us with his righteous right hand – Christ – but that is despite our sin, not because of our righteousness. Do not be dismayed, indeed, for if God is for us in Christ, who can be against us?”

Baptist minister and publisher Megan Powell du Toit saw the verse’s popularity as a sign that we are living through very uncertain times.

“COVID, a possible recession, housing scarcity, the climate crisis and the changing nature of our society have given many people cause for anxiety. This fear at times gives rise to more problems, as people look in the wrong places for answers and can end up choosing paths which are destructive to themselves and others,” she said.

“The context of Isaiah 41 is about the uselessness of idols next to the living God. I think it is a hopeful sign that people are turning to God when they feel anxious. But I would also say we need to understand a verse like this in its context. My prayer is that we in the Church will not build our own idols to deal with our fear, whether those idols are political power, wealth or shallow success. Rather, I pray we find so much hope in Christ that we are empowered to be like Christ in our world. That alongside the comfort of Isaiah 41:10, we hear the challenge of verses like Philippians 2:1-11.”

“This verse hits home with many people because many are crippled with fear.” – Matt Prater

Matt Prater, senior minister of New Hope Church in Brisbane, believes “this verse hits home with many people because many are crippled with fear. I always say there are two ways to look at fear: Forget everything and run, or face everything and rise! We need to strengthen ourselves in the Lord every day, and walk by faith and not with fear. Most of our fears never come to pass anyway. On the battlefield of our mind, we shouldn’t give a foothold to fear!”

Up in Darwin, Joshua Kuswadi, senior minister at St Peter’s Anglican Nightcliff, said his church had recently held a Women of the Word conference entitled, “Mug Quotes”, which aimed to “reflect on popular verses (that might get printed on mugs, tea towels, etc) and understand them even better in the context of the book of the Bible and the big picture of the whole Bible.

“I’ve been reading Isaiah in my quiet times, so this morning I read chapters 38-41 to get a better feel of the verse in its context. It is a message of immense comfort for God’s people, when we’re tempted to fear and be dismayed. In the light of the previous chapters’ message of judgement against those who rely on idols and reject the true and living God, it is an even more powerful promise, for our God is able to do what he says. So, it calls on us to rely on God’s strength, his help, his righteous right hand, and not rely on ourselves. What a great challenge to keep trusting in God.”

For Michael Bird, Academic Dean and Lecturer in New Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne, the popularity of Isaiah 41:10 indicates that many people are wrestling with fear, despair, and uncertainty and taking comfort in the enduring faithfulness of God.

“Given the times we are in – pandemic, inflation, war in Ukraine – it is understandable that so many people are feeling anxious. Yet God tells us not to be afraid, the most repeated commandment in the whole of Scripture because God is for us!”

In a media release, YouVersion said more of its global community had engaged with the Bible on a daily basis this year. When measuring the app’s highest Bible engagement days of all time, eight of the top 10 days were this year, with September 11 and Easter Sunday holding the top spots.

Ukrainian-language Bible engagement skyrocketed.

A top data trend for the app was in Ukraine. As Ukrainian people fled the war and relocated to different European countries, Ukrainian-language Bible engagement skyrocketed in several countries, many by triple digits. For example, Ukrainian Bible engagement increased in Poland by 241 per cent and in Germany by 733 per cent when comparing third-quarter data from 2021 and 2022. While Bible engagement in Ukraine rose by 55 per cent this year, Ukrainian-language Bible engagement across Europe was even more significant, with a 76 per cent increase when comparing year-over-year third-quarter data.

At the beginning of the war, YouVersion searches in the Ukrainian language nearly doubled compared to the previous month. Initially, trending search terms were words like “war,” “fear,” and “anxiety.” As time passed and the war progressed, the top search term in Ukrainian became “love.”

“These families are going through something most of us can’t imagine. In the middle of what’s likely the most difficult time of their lives, they’re turning to the Bible for comfort, peace, and hope,” said Gruenewald. “It’s an honour that we get to be a part of making God’s word available to his people in their greatest moments of need.”

With more than 545 million installs since launching in 2008, YouVersion has seen the fastest regional growth for Bible engagement in Europe and Africa. This year, Cuba stands out as the country with the greatest increase in Bible engagement, with an increase of 76 per cent compared to 2021.