Recently my church did a survey as part of the process of looking for a new pastor. We’re quite deliberate about this, and I’m glad. First we are taking stock: looking at what Scripture says about the qualifications of a church leader, a shepherd of God’s people, and then looking at ourselves as an organization to see who we are and what we need most.
Recently the pastoral staff asked us to fill out a demographic survey. When they had compiled the results, they passed them along to us. As it turns out, we are an older congregation (no surprise there — a quick scan on a Sunday morning tells you this) but also a fairly mature one. The stat that jumped out at me was in answer to the question about reading the Bible daily. Seventy-five percent of those filling out the survey said, yes, they spend time reading God’s Word. Of course, not quite half of those who attend our church filled out the survey, so I suspect that number may be a little high for the entire congregation. Nevertheless it reflects the emphasis our pastoral staff put on Scripture reading the past three years.
Noticeably absent was Bible memorization. Absent. As in, it wasn’t on the survey. Prayer was. Church attendance, participation in a fellowship group (i. e. Sunday school class) or Bible study, participation in a ministry, meditation (in disguise), witnessing (also in disguise), and fasting all made the list. Not Bible memorization.
I suspect Bible memory went the way of old technology about the time educational professionals began disparaging memorization as a learning method. No more rote learning for us! That’s not real education!
I could argue that point, but I don’t really need to. Even if it were true, Scripture explains the benefits of knowing God’s Word intimately — meaning that even if all other memorization was worthless, learning what the Bible says, still has value. “Your word I have treasured in my heart,” Psalms says, “that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).
Take a look at a few others:
The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:31)
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)
Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,
A people in whose heart is My law;
Do not fear the reproach of man,
Nor be dismayed at their revilings. (Isaiah 51:7)
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. . . . then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:6, 12a)
Are these “heart” verses necessarily talking about memorization? I think a case could be made against that position, but I don’t think anyone could show that memorizing Scripture leads away from a person becoming intimately involved with God’s Word.
Here’s the thing. As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe prayer is most effective when we pray for the things we know God wants for us and for us to do — things we learn about in the Bible. How can we effectively pray according to God’s revealed Word if we don’t know what His Word says?
How can we formulate a Biblical approach to politics or romance or work or suffering if we don’t know what the Bible says about these matters? Yes, reading the Bible and listening to preaching that explains it are huge parts of our being equipped to face our world.
But the fact is, when someone pulls me aside to tell me the latest bit of gossip, my pastor isn’t there beside me to remind me what God thinks about that. When I’m ticked off and looking for someone I can voice my complaints to, my Bible isn’t going to pop open to the verses about grumbling.
These are things I need to have as a part of me. They should be part of an ever expanding body of knowledge that the Holy Spirit can then bring to my remembrance when I need them. Because He is present when I face temptations or when I’m bowed in prayer. How powerful when He works by calling up the verses I need.
God’s Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on the needs of God’s children. I’d say it’s time to bring back a little Bible memorization.