“I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.” - Chuck Swindoll
Almost one year ago, I felt God tugging at my heart to challenge the readers of my blog to start memorizing scripture. I spoke with people who have done it successfully...I read articles about how to do it...I pondered it...for....well, a YEAR! So with no more delaying, I am excited to announce the start of "The James Challenge".
My personal goal by the end of 2009 is to memorize the entire book of James. In 2001, Matt and I saw a good friend recite an entire book of the Bible by memory (Philippians) at a retreat ... and I was mesmerized! It was so much more than just the fact that he did it...it was that he had the living word of God implanted in his heart. He could pull those words to mind whenever he needed them. Now that is powerful! Also, a very close friend of mine from my military days spent time ministering with the Navigators (who believe strongly in the power of scripture memory). When we were together, I would hear her recite these verses from heart...and I was blown away. Not only was it powerful for her as the one memorizing them, but it was a huge encouragement to ME just to hear those words come from her mouth.
Now before you click to the next blog in your reader...hear me out. Even if you have never been good at memorizing things, I truly believe that with God's power, through prayer, and a little perseverance that ANYONE can memorize scripture. We memorize phone numbers, songs, quotes, etc. all the time...it is possible to do this!
I chose James because it's a sort of "mini-handbook for Christian living". Plus, it only has 5 chapters :) Not too daunting. However, I am not out to make MY goal your goal. This is not something that I want you to jump into lightly just because I'm doing it. After the excitement wears off, it's just straight out, old fashioned discipline that is going to carry you through to completion. Memorizing the entire book is not necessary either. You could go through the book and pick out 10 verses that really speak to you and memorize those. This challenge is just to help you get started on your own journey...the path to implanting God's word in your heart.
So you're thinking, "Sara, I have a Bible. I can read it anytime I want to. Why do I need to memorize it?". Let's explore a few verses and find out what God thinks about this (bolded text is mine):
Proverbs 3:1-6 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
I don't know about you, but I can't even remember where I put my keys, much less what I read in my Bible just a few hours ago. And here, God is telling me to NOT FORGET His teaching. And he even tells me how I can not forget: keep His commands in my heart. Now to me, keeping them in my heart means to memorize. That would be why we say "I know it by heart!". :) When you memorize scripture, it also becomes much easier to "lean not on your own understanding"...because you are able to quickly remember what God's word says about a particular subject/situation.
Psalms 40:8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.
Yet another heart verse. When God's law is IN your heart and not just on the page, it becomes much easier to desire God's will.
Pslam 119: 9-16 (The Message) How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word. I'm single-minded in pursuit of you; don't let me miss the road signs you've posted. I've banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won't sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God; train me in your ways of wise living.
I'll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth; I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches. I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you, I attentively watch how you've done it. I relish everything you've told me of life, I won't forget a word of it.
I really love how The Message can help me to see a passage of the Bible in a new light...and this one is no different. It's so rich with encouragement and promises...and I want to live like this! I want to live a clean life...one with a single-minded pursuit of Christ. I want to live wisely. And the greatest thing is that it tells me how to get these things: by carefully reading the Bible, saying it out loud, and not forgetting a word of it!
Over and over, I’ve read that the key to effective memorization is developing discipline of your mind and your heart. You might be thinking..."but I’m not disciplined in any other areas of my life…how am I going to do this?!" You’re going to pray for discipline…a lot. And then watch as your scripture memorization starts to affect EVERY area of your life for the better. Your relationships, your work, your thought life, along with your general attitude and outlook.
Here are some thoughts on memorization from some cool guys (from John Piper's article on why we should memorize scripture):
Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary once made the statement (and I paraphrase) that if it were his decision, every student graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary would be required to learn one thousand verses word perfect before they graduated.
Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization."
And from John Piper's challenge to his congregation to memorize scripture:
"You may doubt that you can do this, especially if you are older. But ask yourself this question, If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward." The real value of the word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The question is, Do you believe this? Believing this will be the crucial motivation you need."
Repetition: There are a lot of opinions out there on the best way to memorize. Tim LaHaye, in his book, How To Study The Bible for Yourself, says it’s best to memorize 3 verses per week...dedicating about 30 minutes of the day to it. John Piper recommends setting aside 10 minutes a day, and memorizing as much as you can in that time. In his method, you take one verse and read it out loud 10 times. Then, put it away and say it 10 times. The next day, do the same thing, but then add another verse to it, and so on. And then he adds, "this is not mechanical memorization…this is to fight the battle!" Amen brother!
I really think that you have to employ the method that works the best for YOU. Not everyone will learn the same way or retain scripture at the same speed.
There are differing opinions on whether or not it's important to know the reference (chapter/verse). Personally, I don't think it's absolutely critical, but it could be helpful in certain situations. If I know approximately where to find it, that is good enough for me! Of course, memorizing an entire book is a little different than memorizing individual verses. When you're doing a book, it's more like a narrative...a story. Breaking it up with verses would be silly. When I memorize individual verses (i.e. a topical study, etc)...knowing the verse is beneficial.
Reviewing: You must review, review, review! Once you have a verse committed to memory, don't stop reviewing it. You don't need to review it as much, but keep it fresh in your mind.
Keep your verses in places that you can review them easily: • The bathroom (for those of you with lots of children, this might be your only peace and quiet during the day!) • In your purse • On your bed stand
Accountability: I can’t stress this enough…you need someone to be accountable to. For best results, find someone who is excited to memorize scripture along with you. This person doesn’t necessarily need to live in the same town…phone accountability can work just as well. You should both be memorizing the same version of the Bible (i.e. NIV, NASB, etc.). I am using the NIV version for it's ease of speech/conversational tone. Call each other once a day or once a week...it's up to you. Recite your verses to each other, share your joys and sorrows...and get excited! It's so much easier to stay on track with a friend. Everything is better in community.
Speaking of community...let's spread the word about The James Challenge! Here is a little button for you to add to your own blog to let people know that you are participating. You should be able to post this code to your site, wherever you want to put it and it will link back to this post:
<a href="http://walkslowlylivewildly.com/2009/01/25/the-james-challenge/"><img class="alignnone" title="The James Challenge" src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3376/3227123143_ed75fd23dc_t.jpg" alt="The James Challenge" width="100" height="100" /></a>
This is HTML code, so some of you will need to switch "views" in the upper corner of where you write on your blog post to "HTML" instead of "Visual". Copy and paste the code there and then switch it back to Visual. Those terms are Wordpress terms, it will be different for other platforms. If you want it in your sidebar, add a widget. If you need help, let me know!
Here is The James Challenge Yahoo group that I started so that we can discuss and dissect what we're learning. I look forward to seeing what He has been teaching you! Be sure to join if you decide to join us in this challenge.
Keeping Your Verses Accessible: And now for the fun part! You might be wondering the best way to write down your verses, what you should keep them in, etc. Well, there are several suggested methods. I will start with my personal favorite.
Introducing...the "verse purse"! :) Isn't it great? My dear friend, Kristi (Good Like a Medicine), has a fabulous Etsy store called Palmetto Handmade where she sells these adorable creations. She has the most fun fabric and she even designs her own fabric (she will also do custom orders for you). They are just $13.50...and she is all ready to send out your cards with the scriptures from James. She will have each chapter available individually (one chapter pack is included in the price, $2.50 for each additional set). You can also order the individual set with your choice of verses. Kristi will be listing more verse purses within the next week...if you want one, but don't see any available, go ahead and place a custom order to get on her list.
And the best part?! This cute little polka-dot number is up for grabs! Yes, that's right...try to contain your excitement! :) I will choose a random commenter on Friday, January 30, 2009 as the winner. Weeeeee! Just leave a comment that you are interested in committing to the challenge and you'll automatically be entered.
I have my own verse purse, and I love it. I carry it with me when I'm out and about...this way, I can review my verses while I'm waiting in lines, while I sit and wait for Bella to be done with ballet, etc. At home, I have two different wire bound note card sets (you can get them at most office supply stores or drug stores) with the verses written out on them. One for my bed stand and one for the bathroom. I'm really big into making it EASY for myself! :) I want to have my verses accessible everywhere without having to track down my ONE set.
So with memorizing the entire book as my personal goal, I plan on memorizing 3 verses a week with a schedule looking something like this:
James 1: 1-27 9 weeks
James 2: 1-26 9 weeks
James 3: 1-18 4 weeks
James 4: 1-17 4 weeks
James 5: 1-20 7 weeks
I'm not going to set out a specific schedule because it's too hard for me to work around the birth and all that craziness :) But this is approximately how long I *think* it will take me to accomplish this goal.
God's word is powerful and ALIVE...let's encourage each other in this journey and watch as our knowledge is refreshed, our minds sharpened, and our lives transformed!
Additional Resources: Thy Word I Have Treasured in My Heart Ryan Ferguson's interview on scripture memory (with a video of him reciting) Scripture Memory Booklet by Andrew Davis Kids and Scripture Memory (a listing of good verses by age group) Scripture Memory Songs