Written by: Ed Welch
When crises hit, everyone needs emergency numbers, and we must know them instinctively.
For our wedding, I wrote my own wedding vows and memorized them. The practice was popular then, less so now. When it was my turn to recite my vows and promises I, of course, went completely blank. Completely. But wait. A copy of the vows was in my pocket! The problem was that my mind went completely blank. I forgot it was there (and, knowing myself, my hands were probably in my pockets). All I could do was mindlessly repeat some of the vows that Sheri had just said to me. I hope I didn’t say, “I Sheri take you Ed,” but I can’t be sure. At the end of my vows I at least had the presence of mind to say, “And there is more I will tell you, but I can’t remember it right now.” I am very grateful that the quality of the vows don’t make a wedding official. We just need to get out a barely audible, “I do,” which I did…I think.
When emotions are strong, we need emergency “numbers”—not vows usually—but Scripture. When crises hit and minds go blank, we need simple biblical truths that can penetrate the fog of nothingness or panic.
And I do mean simple. Are you memorizing some of the great passages in Romans? You are blessed. But in a crisis—fugedaboutit. All that’s left are a few phrases from Psalm 23 and John 3:16, both in the King James Version.
I remember David Powlison saying that during a hospital stay, while in significant pain, he had access to one phrase, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps.46:1), and it was enough. It was both a reminder and a hope. It shaped his prayer. It was his prayer. Years of meditation in Scripture left him with an emergency number.
In my own most recent mini-crisis I was so thankful for truths that came quickly to mind. Three connected teachings became my emergency numbers:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet.5:7)
God is good
God is liberal – he gives in abundance.
I needed all of them.
I Peter 5:7 had recently replaced the biblical teaching on manna as my go-to passage. I especially needed the introduction to this verse, “Humble yourselves.” Casting our anxieties on the Lord is the fruit of walking humbly before him, and, in my own case, confessing my pride. Without that larger context, the verse is meaningful but ineffective.
“God is good.” I had been reflecting on that from a Sunday interchange, “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.” God’s goodness was, apparently, a big deal and I wanted to consider this attribute more carefully. Basically, I understood it to mean that God, for reasons I will never understand, is inclined to show us favor.
God’s generosity? That one was critical. My mini-crisis was such that I didn’t think I would be able to survive on the thought that God doled out grace only as needed. I had to know that he poured out his goodness so they we can’t contain or grasp it all. His style is to give until his gift spills all over everything (e.g., 2 Cor.1).
I certainly commend this three-some. The Spirit planted them deep in my heart when the emergency alarms were starting to ring. But my interest is more that every follower of Christ has his or her own passages during times of trouble.
Here is the short list of personal experiences that need emergency numbers.
Suffering of any kind
Temptations to sin
If you are in a close relationship, you also need an emergency number, which can double as a purpose statement. For example, “love more than need, love more than need.” This particular emergency number is not a specific passage but it is a faithful and succinct summary of a cluster of biblical passages on love.
The criteria for these passages are fairly simple.
The verses or mottoes cannot be mindless mantras. Don’t be fooled into thinking that merely memorizing something will help. Instead, the truths must be able to jolt you back into spiritual reality in a hurry. Think in terms of those paddles that shock a flat-lined heart back into a normal rhythm.
They must have clear links to the character of God as displayed in the gospel of Jesus. When in doubt, be pointed to God’s attributes that surprise and invite.
The shorter the better. The more vivid the better. These truths are going to have to penetrate a blank, foggy or borderline hard-hearted mind.
There is no such thing as cheating with this one. Ask your friends or wise mentors for their passages. Feel free to shamelessly rip off their favorites. And talk about your own, so others can try what has been helpful for you.
Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D. Ed is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF. He earned a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Utah and has a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counseling for over thirty years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear and addictions. His books include: When People Are Big and God is Small; Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave; Blame it on the Brain; Depression—A Stubborn Darkness; Running Scared; Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction; and When I am Afraid: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety.