During the harsh communist regime of the 1950s in the Soviet Union, an underground network of house churches held a secret youth conference. The youth conference was illegal. The house churches that held it were illegal. And, unbelievably, it was illegal for a parent to teach his own child in his own home about the Bible and Christianity. None of the several hundred students attending the conference had ever owned a Bible.
During the week-long conference, the youth were challenged to meet every morning in small groups and see how much of the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — they could remember by heart. By the week’s end, they had recreated all four gospels with only 12 mistakes.*
I thought about that story as I ran errands last week. Maybe your jaw hangs open as mine does at how much scripture these young people knew. What captivated me, though, was something I had also found in memorizing scripture – when you know God’s Word by heart, it’s yours.
It’s yours whether you have a Bible with you or not. In the car, on a run, rocking a colicky baby in the wee hours . . . or immobilized for that MRI. Verses memorized are yours when you want them.
Memorized verses are yours to mull over — to study and contemplate, dissect and apply. God’s Word is so rich. Memorizing passages lets you really chew on them and as you do, God continues to give understanding and application, like peeling another thin skin from an onion.
They are yours to confront the hard of life and the wrong thinking that comes with it. In this upside down world, where my thoughts are so easily clouded with fear and distortion, I’ve had to memorize verses that will keep my mind out of the pit and onto truth.
They are yours to encourage and build up. Favorite passages that we’ve memorized come back like old friends. For years after memorizing Psalm 139 with my kids, I would wake up with its words running through my mind. These words are the best kind of wake up. They were like a love note from God to me every single morning.
Memorized verses are yours to give away. They are there when you need them to encourage or share truth with someone else. Friends have used scripture to help me soften my heart, clear my understanding and guide my thinking and my actions.
They are yours to help form your faith. As you recite passages over and over and really learn them, God’s living Word gets soul deep. And every time you say the verse, there is an alignment of your thoughts to God’s Word.
They are yours when you need them most. Verses memorized in days of laughter and ease will anchor your soul on the dark and painful days. Wish I could triple underline that.
These are lessons I pretty much stumbled onto.
I had no idea when I sat down 15 years ago with five little children to learn Psalm 23 that there was such rich reward in knowing scripture by heart. I thought I was doing it for my kids. Academically, I thought it would be good for them to memorize. And if we were going to spend all that time memorizing, we might as well memorize scripture. It wasn’t until the end of that first year that I had an inkling of what amazing fruit it might yield.
I know many of you are thinking this idea isn’t all that new. Maybe you grew up in traditions where scripture memory was taught at home or church. Believe me when I say, consistent scripture memory over 18 years of childhood is not typical for most families.
As this year draws to a close and many of us will map out plans and resolutions for next year, I want to encourage you with everything in me to consider carving out a few minutes in your morning or evening routine to memorize scripture.
You can do this as a family, as a single, as grandparents, as husband and wife. It’s a great time to start incorporating this routine into your day. And it’s never too late to start. Wish I could triple underline that too.
If your child will leave for college in two years and you’ve never memorized scripture together, there isn’t any better preparation for launch than to spend time together learning some solid passages by heart.
If you’re wondering HOW to go about it? In Tips for Starting and Thriving in Scripture Memory, I’ve shared favorite tips from our experience as well as others who have shared with me.
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*This story is recounted by Nik Ripken in his excellent book, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected.