I grew up in church, almost literally. We were there all the time, beginning when I was just a few days old. I went to Sunday School and I went to Children’s Church and I went to AWANA and I sat in prayer meeting when AWANA was out for the summer. I sat through the evening service every Sunday and spent my entire educational career in two Christian schools and one Bible college. In all that time, I learned a lot of Bible verses.
Memorizing Scripture is one of the main things you do in AWANA, from the three-year-olds in Cubbies learning “He cares for me” to that horribly long passage in Thessalonians about a twinkling of an eye that I remember trying desperately to stuff into my head. At school we had verse quizzes every week, and who could ever forget ninth grade Bible and trying to memorize the book of James? (For the record, I failed. But I still remember Mr. Carrier’s voice as he led us through the beginnings of the book– “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”) Even in Spanish class we learned Bible verses– en Español, obviously. Bible college was a long line of verses learned for a variety of classes– key verses for books of Scripture, proof texts for doctrines, practical Proverbs to commit to memory for guiding us in our classrooms one day.
I faked a lot of my memorization, honestly. Sometimes I felt like my brain was about to explode and I rolled my eyes when yet another adult in my life said I should memorize Scripture. I had, as a kid, what my mom lovingly referred to as “a brain like a trap” and I could learn verses and say them pretty quickly, although I didn’t expend the effort to hide them in my heart so much as to hide them very briefly in my brain until I could expel them. Nevertheless, I find myself continually surprised as I get older how many of those verses– at least bits and pieces of them– come back to me when I need them. The references are more of a struggle, but the good thing is that the internet is super helpful when you can just remember a phrase of a verse.
I have really begun to see the value of having God’s good Word hidden away in my heart. The Bible is the thing God uses to speak to us and to guide us. The Holy Spirit leads us, convicts us, and transforms us by means of Scripture. Its pages include encouragement, inspiration, beauty, help, hope, guidance, and life. Whatever we need, we can find it in the Word of God. We are so blessed in 2016 to have so many resources that put the Bible at our fingertips, but we should never take for granted the easy availability of God’s Word.
I have shared this in other contexts, but I was really struck by the words of Corrie Ten Boom in a book I read not too long ago. When they knew that things were about to get very bad for Jews and those who helped them, someone told the Ten Booms that they should learn Morse code so that they could communicate with one another from their cells, should it come to that. Dutifully, they learned Morse code and, I believe, taught it to some of the people they had hidden in their secret room. But when she found herself in prison, and in a concentration camp, Corrie said, Morse code was not the thing she needed or relied on. It was the words of God– the Scripture she had hidden away in her heart– that helped her the most. As she shared His precious Words with others, she blessed and encouraged them and gave them hope, and found her own hope and faith renewed.
What if today you were taken away from everything you consider precious, and the only hope and strength you had came from the Word of God that is already hidden in your heart?
My point is not to produce fear or guilt. My point is that I have been convicted of my own past attitudes toward Scripture memorization and lack of gratitude for the opportunities I have had to learn God’s Word in the past. And I neglected this discipline for many years because, honestly, I was sick of memorizing Scripture. Lovely, huh?
Earlier this year, God really began to work in my life in this area. He convicted me that the bits and pieces of His Word that I learned twenty years ago are not some sort of bed to rest on, but a foundation to keep building on. He convicted me that I needed to lead my kids in learning the Word of God as well.
And so, back in February I believe, we started to learn John 15:1-17. I am the True Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser . . . And oh, memorizing is so much harder at 37 than it was at 7 or 17. My kids are constantly correcting me, reminding me of the exact phrasing, accusing me (justly) of skipping whole verses. But it’s been so good to do this with my children. So good to find the very words of God coming to mind when I’m praying, when I’m encouraging my kids, when I’m speaking with others or writing in my blog. His Words are so very powerful, so much more than my words could ever be. After we memorized the passage in John 15, we moved on to a passage of pure praise to God– Psalm 103. It is just sheer, unadulterated, glorious worship, full of beautiful reminders of who God is and what He has done. Every time we say it together is a reminder of the eternal love and mercy of my God.
We work on our verses at breakfast every morning, so often they are recited by kids with mouths full of food, or interrupted by someone’s toast popping or milk spilling. I know that my kids don’t always appreciate this discipline I am foisting upon them as they shovel eggs into their mouths or spread peanut butter on a bagel. But looking back, I am so glad that I was forced to learn Scripture, and so I am trusting that God will bless these seeds planted in their lives, if not today, then in the future.
Friends, I truly believe that every verse hidden in our hearts is another stitch binding our lives closer to our amazing God. Yes, memorization is hard. It requires discipline and time and concentration. But it is worth it. His Word is a lamp to guide us, a sword to defend us, a mirror to show us our hearts. It protects us from sin, and it brings us joy and renewal and change and enlightenment, and it brings us nearer to the heart of God because it is the revelation of His heart.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
It is never too late to begin memorizing Scripture, never too late to reap the benefits of a heart bound more tightly to the Lord’s.