Keeping the Word With You
A friend of mine years ago used to always carry a Leatherman multi-tool everywhere he went. It was a knife, scissors, ruler, wrench, screwdriver and more all in one tool the size of a large pack of gum. He suggested I should carry one, too. I told him I didn't really think I regularly needed those tools enough to carry them around. “That's what I thought, too,” he said, “until I had one with me. Then suddenly I found myself using it every day.” You'd be surprised, he explained, how often you or someone around you needs a tool that you are then quickly able to supply. But you wouldn't know that if you didn't have it with you.
This is part seven in an eight part series looking at the Westminster Shorter Catechism's question 90, which asks how we are to read and hear God's Word in a way that doesn't just go in one ear and out the other. In a way that doesn't just build up information without producing a better life. We want to hear God's Word in a way that is "effectual" (part one of the series). The catechism says that if we want the Word of God to have the right effect in our lives, we have to hear and read it with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives. In this post, we'll look at that next to last requirement.
The Catechism, following Scripture, tells us that a part of proper hearing of God's Word is not leaving the Word behind when we're done reading or listening. Instead, we should “lay it up in our hearts,” in other words, memorize it so we can carry it with us. And when we memorize God's Word, we usually find, much like my friend did, that we are able to make much more use of it than we imagined.
One school year my ministry team on the mission field decided that we would together memorize the book of 1 Peter. The whole book. Not just the easy parts, the familiar parts, or the popular parts. Even the confusing and less-used parts. And as the year drew to a close, we were sharing with each other how often we were able to use those verses in our ministry. We shared about times when someone asked us a question about the Bible, or sought advise about a problem with their family, or voiced an objection to the gospel in an evangelistic conversation, and time and again we discovered that the words of 1 Peter had come to mind and helped us respond in just the right way, remarkable even the verses we had never thought about before we memorized them. We now had the tool on our belt, and we had never realized how much we had been needing it. (In case you're wondering, no, I don't still have it all memorized, but I can recall most of with very little prompting, which is still amazingly useful!)
It's important to note that we should be active in this process - laying up God's Word in our hearts and not just assuming it will happen without our effort. So instead of pointing you to why the Bible encourages us to say “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11), I'll assume that you desire this. Allow me to share a few ideas on how to lay up God's Word in your heart. I'm guessing you have already memorized a few (or more than a few) verses. Perhaps you've grown frustrated because memorizing isn't easy for you.
One suggestion for those who don't memorize easily is to not aim for memorization. Instead, try reading repeatedly, and allow some of what you've read to stick with you over time. One technique I recommend is to choose a passage of Scripture that's not too long – three to five chapters – and read it once through. Then read it again later that day or the next day. Then again the next day. Do this for a whole month, reading the same section over and over once or twice a day and you will find that many parts of it will be stuck in your memory for years to come. I would recommend something like Philippians, James, John 13-17, Isaiah 40-43, or Psalms 21-25 for starters.
Some people have found the "eraser method" very helpful. Write a verse or series of verses on a card. The next day, erase a few words and learn to read it with your memory supplying the missing words. Later on, erase some more words and read it again. Keep going until you can say the whole thing.
Put index cards or printouts of verses where you'll see them often – the bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car, the handles of your stroller, the top of your computer screen. Each time you see it, make a habit of reading the verse once out loud, then closing your eyes and reciting as much of it as you can.
You could try what my team did years ago - memorize with other people. Every week when we met together, we would take turns saying our verses. Accountability helps!
For those who find memorization easier, or for the particularly ambitious, try memorizing whole paragraphs or chapters instead of verses. Isaiah 55, Romans 8, Psalm 139 – or maybe all of 1 Peter! – are good ones to start with.
And one final word of encouragement from Jesus himself. If you commit to the work of storing God's Word in your heart, you have a helper in that process. In John 14:26 he promises, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”