Pastor John, it seems you have traditionally placed the emphasis on Bible memorization for the personal benefits derived from the discipline. Is there a community dimension to Scripture memory, as well?
Usually when I try to defend memorizing Scripture, I will go right to the soul work that it does in my heart. I love to memorize Scripture because something happens to my soul. I feel like I know God better. I have a more intimate relationship with him. His fellowship is more steadfast as I take it with me through the day. But that’s not what I want to say this time in answering this question, because of something that happened last night, just to remind me of something that has happened many times.
I want to encourage people to memorize Scripture, say, two or three verses, or a chapter — some precious unit — and then be on the lookout for what I would call immeasurable moments: moments where the insertion of that text from your heart, eyeball-to-eyeball, without having to open a book and read it, coming from your soul, would make that moment explode with significance. So, for example, we had a missionary family over last night that is going to be leaving tomorrow to go back to Southeast Asia, and we just wanted to save them from having to make a meal and bless them as they go. As we stood in the kitchen before we got our taco salad, we held hands, and they thought I was just going got pray, and I said, “Let me give you a word from the Lord that I think is for you.” And then I recited Psalm 121:1–8:
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. [So he won’t let your foot be moved. He is your helper. He is your keeper.] The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
I got it right last night. But you can see the relevance of that for your going out and your coming in. He is going to keep you. And they were looking right at me, I think, with some surprise as I gave it to them, and now my prayer is that with that immeasurable moment they will look back and remember, “Pastor John didn’t just pray with us before the meal, he sent us off by reminding us that God is going to keep us on the airplane, keep us in the airport, keep us on the ground in Southeast Asia. He is going to keep us when we go. He is going to keep us when we come.”
Emissaries of Grace
And so my plea for folks is that they would take a few psalms — Psalm 46, Psalm 16, Psalm 130, and Psalm 121. Look at Psalm 130:3: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Good night! How many times have I knelt down, put my arm on somebody who has just been broken for some sin that they have committed, and I have been able to just pray, “Lord, if you would mark iniquities, who could stand?” So I am not elevating myself above this person with the very word of God: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4).
“There are situations in life that just cry out for a word from God from your soul.”
And how many times when I have been asked to pray in public have I turned to my default prayer: “Whom have I heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). So my point is this: there are situations in life that just cry out for a word from God from your soul. Not just, “Let me get my Bible out and read you a text,” but rather, give it from the soul. And I would just encourage folks, if they would memorize a half a dozen special passages of Scripture that fit a bunch of situations, and then look for those immeasurable moments, they would become an emissary of grace beyond all their expectations.