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.

habits

Life consists of habits, some good, and some not so good, maybe some downright bad and unhelpful. As we look at the change in our calendars about to take place, the move into a new year, as well as looking back on the last year, it might be good to reflect for a moment on habits we have picked up, or perhaps have long lived out.

Instead of simply naming the habits and then categorizing, or perhaps along with that as a part of it, we need to consider the underlying motivation behind them. What may appear at first glance as detrimental and not good, may actually have an understandable and perhaps even good motivation behind it. Love, but a love that is grounded in God’s revelation in Jesus found in scripture, is what is needed for any motivation to be good. Recently I came to see that something I had been doing which I questioned, really in significant measure I’m supposing is motivated by the desire to live in as well as live out that love.

Some habits need to be dispensed of immediately, but oftentimes they are the kind of things which have a grip on us, sometimes even a stronghold, or we might say, stranglehold on us. Perhaps it’s an addiction, for some it may be pornography, for others alcohol or drugs. Maybe in other cases it is lesser problems which nevertheless take one away from their family. In the former, one may need special professional counseling, and plenty of prayer from trusted, spiritual friends. In the latter we’ll need prayer as well. And we all need accountability with each other.

I think ordinarily speaking, referring to habits which often are more subtle, maybe a trail we tend to take when difficulties or trials come, or perhaps curbing a habit which in itself is alright, perhaps even good in its place, but can become not good when it takes over our life, it is wiser to think about new habits we can work at getting into our psyche and practice, rather than simply dispensing of an old habit we know is unhelpful.

For me an indispensable habit is the recitation of the Lord’s/our Father prayer. And along with that I will repeat the Jesus Creed. I know if you have read this blog, that this is getting to be a broken record. But I think simple recitation over and over can help center us on what matters. What is needed is heart change which then spills over into one’s life and out from that into the world.

One of my worst habits is down talking myself. I’ll do that out loud in front of my wife who promptly corrects me and wisely won’t tolerate it. Nevertheless it has become, more precisely has been for sometime a pesky habit which seems to have its roots well entrenched in me, so that its fruit is evident when I am tired and life is trying. Especially when I am reflecting on how I’ve let others down, whether those thoughts at the time are really fair or not. And so this coming year I want the Lord’s help to work on that. To learn to rejoice in the Lord in everything, and all that goes along with and is related to that. Perhaps a good steeping in a book like Philippians will be in good order in the coming year for me.

What might you share here in regard to habits? What has helped you in this regard?

recitation

I grew up with the understanding that reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or reciting prayers was of no value. But I have undergone a change over time to come to accept and even find help in liturgical practice.

As I read somewhere, such practice is not dependent on our whims. Nor is it based on our experience. It is instead based on the revelation of God in Christ. And on wisdom God has given to the church.

I find that reciting the Lord’s/our Father prayer, and the Jesus Creed helps center me on the Lord and his will. Besides, in the Jesus Creed we’re reminded what is most important in our lives. And in the Lord’s/our Father prayer we’re using the words Jesus gave us for how we should pray.

I will sometimes do this over and over and over. With my kind of work I can do that while able to do what I need to do. I will alternate back and forth between the two. And I’ve found at times that sooner or later I’m praying other kinds of prayers for those in need, etc.

Recitation. It can be good. It is done as if a prayer, or in the spirit of prayer to God that he would make the words real to ourselves. That, as I’ve read somewhere (N.T. Wright, I think) in better words than this, we would grow into the meaning of that prayer.

This is what I often do, especially when distracted from the Lord, or tempted to give in to anxiety, or when I have, or any other sin. And it’s good to be able to recite scripture passages, sometimes I recite the armor of God passage in Ephesians 6.

Below are the two passages mentioned in this post which I often repeat:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’

Matthew 6

bigger than us

Scripture speaks about the very hairs of our head being numbered, that the Father lovingly knows every detail of our lives. There is the danger however, when we center in on passages like that, that we will fail to see the big picture. What in the world God is doing in Jesus. While God’s Story in Jesus most certainly includes us, it is also bigger than us.

What helps me keep centered is a simple recitation prayerfully of “the Lord’s Prayer”, or the “our Father prayer”:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

I also recite this passage as an important reminder about what is to have priority in all of life, what life is about, aptly called “the Jesus Creed”:

 29 “The most important one,”answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

When I feel distant from God, or too preoccupied with myself I find that the simple practice of reciting these helps. Actually it is a good practice to do regularly, daily.

The Jews did this with the Shema, and it is not far fetched to think that Jesus and his disciples practiced the same, with the new alterations.

Yes, God’s work is bigger than us. But it includes us; we are an intrical part in Jesus of the Father’s work of love in and for the world.