the spiritual discipline (according to Dallas Willard) of Scripture memorization

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

Joshua 1:8

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3

I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11

Going through one of Dallas Willard’s books in a small group I’m a part of, Willard lists some spiritual disciplines as they’re commonly called, and adds Scripture memorization as either the most important or his favorite of these disciplines. That sits well with me. I think we would all be better off in regularly practicing these disciplines, but I probably rarely practice most of them. I don’t have that book in front of me, but fasting and silence would be just two of them on most of the lists. You can see that I am not much in the practice of such myself, since I can’t even think of anymore of them at the moment.

But as far as I can remember, Scripture memorization is on no one’s list. Meditation of Scripture surely is, but not memorization. We think of memorization as boring and often mechanical and dead rote. But it surely is a necessary precursor to meditation, or at least can help us meditate, that is recite and consider the words of Scripture. There is the danger in memorization that when we have that down, we somehow think we have the passage down. And familiarity while not breeding contempt, might then make us think we don’t need to go over the passage right when it might be especially helpful.

I am working through the book of James this way, taking a paragraph or section if short (in my Bible) a day, getting memorization down as best I can. And I just keep doing that throughout the day, well that’s the goal. I’m not so good on weekends, so I need to shore that up. But I’m finding it helpful.

At the same time, I also find it a bit challenging on a certain level. I mean after all, why worry about getting a sentence down, particularly when it’s a bit oddly worded, or whether or not that’s the case? But I also find that it becomes my focus aside from other things and focuses I have to have throughout the day. And for me, this can become life altering. And at this point I’m trying to get James into my mind, heart, life, bones.

An easy in a way, but also challenging practice for us to keep working at day after day. In and through Jesus.

the joy of meditating on (even memorizing) Scripture

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

Meditating on Scripture is given to us from God to help us begin to see God’s will revealed to us in Jesus. The word translated “meditate” means to recite (see CEB in above link) to oneself. This may seem wooden, dead, and without God it would be. But the words somehow become alive, at least in many parts of Scripture, really in every part as we read, ponder, pray, and study, and keep doing that.

Scripture has all we need for every part of life. It is not exhaustive in actual needed information, like how to build an house, etc., etc., etc. But it does give us all we need to know how to approach such projects, along with problems and all of life.

We need to be in Scripture all the time, day after day, in the words of this psalm: “day and night.” It is what we practice: whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re going through, whatever we’re experiencing. We continue on, and find that while the words are often instructive in themselves, they ultimately lead us to Jesus, who is God’s most important Word, and in whom all the words of Scripture find their true meaning and fulfillment, even if in some cases setting them aside for the better which Jesus brings.

Memorizing chunks of Scripture can be quite helpful in this endeavor. Not just a verse here and there, though that might be helpful, too. But much better, understand the context, and memorize that too. This can help us meditate, recite to ourselves so that God can get through to us.

And so we’re to remain in Scripture: meditating, reciting, indeed finding ourselves somehow in that story from God. In and through Jesus.

don’t despise what’s simple (the example here for the anxious, like me)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

We can often look at the simple as simplistic. And maybe somehow beneath us? That may or may not be what we need to humble us. But whatever may be the case, we dare not discount and put aside what might seem too obvious, for something more sophisticated and complex, even if we think that our problem is complex. It surely is, but we need to remember too that what is simple is often quite profound.

And this is no less the case in the above Scripture passage. What if we like myself, who are so prone to anxiety would start to put this passage into practice? I know there might be some who would roll their eyes thinking that this is like using a precious promise book, strewn with maybe a hundred verses we’re supposed to claim. It would be good to read the entire book of Philippians, for sure, and meditate on it all, and we need to do that, too.

Remember, the exercise itself will be beneficial, even if one is still lost in anxiety. What is true about those who suffer anxiety as I have over the years, is that the real problem is not the problem itself, but the anxiety. If one is not anxious about one thing, they’ll be anxious about something else. When one anxiety is lifted, there will be another anxiety to take its place. And what one finds out is that basically the approach to life is to be anxious, more or less filled with anxiety.

Instead we need to take this simple yet not simplistic approach of mouthing the above Scripture passage, for example, maybe after we’ve memorized it. And seeking to put it into practice in the midst of our day. If we stay at it, we’ll find eventually that the cloud will lift, that God will honor that. Always in the context of a life in which we are committed to following the Lord. Yes, in view of the full letter of Philippians, and all the rest God has given and will give us. In and through Jesus.

how do we read scripture?

I’m kind of old school in some ways. I like physical copies of the Bible, have had one near me most all of my Christian life of over four decades now. And still don’t have a smart phone (although other phones are getting smarter). Most everyone nowadays is on their phone. That’s okay, and rather beside the point of this post. Because there are excellent sites to read scripture: BibleGateway and YouVersion probably the two best places.

I think we need to do it two ways: fast and slow. And we could add medium, adding study into the mix, maybe utilizing a good study Bible, especially with biblical background notes. I think it’s important to go through all of scripture, and keep doing that. Because the more one has the entire word in their repertoire, the more they’ll get out of what they are reading. And it’s good to have biblical background too, such as details on the terrain, or what not.

For me, it’s an emphasis on the text itself. I don’t worry about trying to sort out historical detail underlying the text. God’s word is given to us just as it is for a reason. I don’t need the exact historical details. I’m not saying scripture is anti-historical. Certainly either the resurrection of Christ is history, or else our faith is a hoax. The point is that we need the word itself. Not explanations supporting it.

And we need to read it slowly, let it soak in. Memorization can help us there. I only memorize now and then. The big thing for me in this is what we call meditation. Add to that prayer. So that being in the word is about a kind of interactivity with God, hopefully bringing us into a relationship with God by faith in the good news in Jesus. But allowing God to change us by his word: our lives, our priorities, our world view (another phrase which renders me a bit old school).

Make no mistake about it. We need to get into God’s word, and be in it day and night, regularly, I say. Not just as something we aspire to, but which we practice, day after day. In and through Jesus.

learning the language and heart of contrite brokenness

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2

Psalm 51 is the great penitential psalm, attributed to David in the aftermath of his terrible sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba, and being complicit in her husband Uriah’s death. We know the story from scripture, and the fallout which followed. Once when I was going over the psalm and rather overcome by its magnificence, I made the statement that it arguably never would have been written apart from David’s sin, but sin is never ever worth whatever good might come out of it. Yet God is the redemptive God, in the work of redeeming sinners, and even bringing good out of what forever remains evil.

There is what’s called soaking in God’s presence. I think it’s good to soak in scripture, as well, to soak in God’s presence in scripture. And in this passage, which can help us learn both the language and heart of a contrite brokenness. Contrite in the sense of being sorry, but not sorry just over the consequences of sin, but over the sin itself, especially in the sense of being against God, and then from that, grieving over its hurt and loss it has inflicted on others. Not to suggest that we don’t find salvation even in the midst of this, as is quite evident in the psalm itself.

I am in this psalm right now, working on memorizing it to begin with, and then in prayer, offering it to God. So that it must become not only the psalmist’s prayer, but my prayer as well.

A new thought did dawn on me, something that had never occurred to me, or hit me in the same way, something I want to pray through, and perhaps somehow act on. Whatever my own thoughts and wishes, my intention is not to be in a hurry, but let this language become my own, so that the heart from that language might be my own heart, too. In and through Jesus.

we need all of it, that is, scripture

Yesterday I shared the life change I’m embarking on in simply slowing down, and Jesus’s call to be yoked together with him in his work as recorded in Matthew 11. And that day, one passage brought life to me.

But the next day was a difficult one in that I was probably experiencing one of the flaming arrows of the enemy, and experienced darkness most all day. Not the normal gray with sunshine, but clouds, I usually experience. Not that we’re to be focused on our experience, though it’s not like it’s unimportant, either. Combined with the hard work, it wasn’t easy. Add to that, being tired, and that in itself can be a challenge, and in fact, can set us up for difficult days. Of course there is always God’s grace to sustain and help us overcome such, but just the same, we’re still human. We certainly have our limitations.

So I realized in that darkness that while of course I always need the Lord, and frankly felt abandoned, which I’m sure is not the case, though sometimes God might possibly withdraw a sense of his presence for a reason, but most often, it is we who have moved, but I realized anew and afresh that we really need all of scripture. So a few passages came to mind on which I meditated: Philippians 4, James 1, and at last the great spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6, verses 10-20. All of that helped me, but meditating on that last passage through saying it again and again, begin to help lift me out of my darkness.

I have found along the way that it seems God impresses certain passages on my mind for my life, such as Proverbs 3:5-6 a couple years back. And I can see why, especially later on. And then the Matthew 11 passage for me on Monday. But the point here is that whether we can understand it or not, and often we won’t, we need all of scripture. And we do well to memorize certain parts. I used to memorize years back, but have avoided the practice in recent years. But now am doing it again, since I choose to no longer refer to my small Bible during work time, since there’s a new rule against phone use. And I’m finding this surprisingly, rather rejuvenating.

Of course to be in all of scripture means we need to be reading it, and/or hearing it being read. There’s much good in both. For listening, I would recommend Max McLean for a good straightforward reading of scripture, and it’s available online through Gateway. But there are other good options online and elsewhere. And there’s no substitute for reading it yourself. Actually both can have a special impact, but when you have the text in front of you, you can stop at certain points, and ponder a bit, or reread when needed.

And then there’s the good old fashioned, what some would call evangelical practice of memorizing scripture. And the more, the better, but key passages such as those I mentioned above.

The point here is that we need to be in all of scripture. We need all of it for a reason (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 15:4).

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

May God help all of us to be more and more in his word, imbibing and living in that, receiving all we need for life, in and through Jesus.