I almost missed the best sermon I ever heard. It was preached on a Sunday night and we had thought about staying home, skipping church.
It seemed to be a usual worship service like many others I had attended until the preacher stepped behind the pulpit and began quoting the Sermon on the Mount. He didn’t preface what he was about to say. He preached Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5-7 with inflection in his voice. The room hushed like no service I’ve ever been in before or since. No one got up to go to the restroom. It was awesome.
My first attempt at memorizing a passage from the Bible happened the year after I graduated from college----Philippians 2:1-11. The verses flowed from my tongue like a glorious poem. Not that I actually said the verses to anyone. That wasn’t the point. I was beginning my walk into legalism back then. I was intent on getting God on my side and making him proud.
For a long time, I could have quoted those verses if the opportunity presented itself, but I couldn’t do it today. In fact, I doubt I could say the 23rd Psalm aloud and get all the words straight.
I’ll confess something about my efforts at memorizing Scripture. I've memorized chapters of the Bible but they've never stuck in the place in my brain where I can spit the words back out. As I look back on these efforts, I realize the Holy Spirit was in my failure. During an attempt to memorize Romans 1 several years ago, when I got to the verses near the end, the lists of sin man has exchanged for the glory of God, I would be undone with grief. (I am an ENFP --my feeler is strong!) I came to understand my grief was nothing compared to the grief the Lord has toward those who are trapped in sin---the grief He feels when I’ve stepped into a pit of my own undoing.
God’s word is a sword. It cuts to the core of who we are. The piercing of God’s Word is crucial to living a transformed life, what some call living from the inside out.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)It occurred to me in the middle of my exasperation that God wasn't helping me memorize the chapter. He wasn't the least bit interested if I could spit out what I was repeating to myself day by day. He knows me and how being able to quote long passages could lead to self-righteousness and pride. His desire was for me stay in one place and dig in. My struggle to memorize became a gift, transforming my life in ways difficult for me to describe.
God’s Word always fulfills his purpose to lead us deeper into relationship with the One who loves us most.
I spent most of this past year “memorizing” Hebrews 12. I had forgotten the lesson from my days in Romans 1 and became frustrated when I couldn't speak the powerful verses verbatim. Although I was failing miserably, I couldn’t let it go. Let’s just say, I’m a little bit of a scrapper. I kept at it thinking that one day if I was faithful, everything would click.
Something clicked, but not in the way I thought it would. One Sunday afternoon it was 110 degrees outside and I was curled up on the couch. I decided to give the verses a run through. All of the sudden, the verses began to open to me with fresh insight. God used his words to speak to me personally, meeting me right where I was. After all those days of learning and repeating, reading and writing, the words began to awaken my spirit and move me closer to the heart of God.
God’s words may or may not be in my brain, but no doubt his Word is in my heart. My inability to memorize has become a means to meditation, what I call steeping. Steeping in God’s Word is transforming my life, helping me grasp the depth of God's love for me, and for others.
I may not have the words of Bible memorized but it doesn’t mean I don’t know truth. Truth is a person. He has given us the words of life in our language. It is an incredible gift that we need but often neglect.
The prophet Ezekiel ate God’s words and they tasted to him like honey on his tongue.
You may be asking, what of the hard passages in the Bible? I ask you to consider even the difficult words of the Bible can be swallowed because God’s plans always include redemption. Whatever God gives to eat, even if it’s tough and we have to chew on it awhile, is holy and leads to life.
There is no need for a big study book to go deep into the Word of God though you can learn a lot from them. If you keep digging in one place, you’ll me amazed at what you unearth.
Here a few other suggestions for tasty passages you might “memorize” (all or part):
I John 3
I Peter 1
Psalm 27, 84, 91, 103, 121
The past couple of weeks I’ve been having Psalm 62 for breakfast.
Will you share what passages have tasted sweet on your tongue? What words of life have you gobbled up lately?