The Word in your heart

What happened to Scripture memorization in the evangelical church, particularly for those past Youth Group age? Why does it not ‘fit’ or seem ‘appropriate’ in today’s church programs?

Is it a general trend of Scriptural malaise, or something that I just happen to observe in some sort of microcosm? And, although I will not address it here, did substantive, universal Scripture memorization ever exist widely in the church in, say, the last 30-40 years? In this regard, what is wrong with the picture today? A comment on a previous article spurred me to write about this issue, although it has been an item of concern to me for some time.

Children and some youth, in programs such as AWANA, continue to accomplish wonderful things in committing Scripture to memory. This is certainly a great foundation, and admittedly is accomplished more readily at that age. They will have this repository of Scripture hidden in their hearts for the Spirit to call forth when needed. That is not only a blessing, but for many will be a necessity in the trying times of life.

But what of the older (and by that I mean 20-25 through much later) folks? There seems to be little interest in memorization of Scripture as a worthwhile part of ongoing church ministry, and the symptoms appear to increase with age. All the more perplexing is the observation that the retiscence appears in many cases more pronounced in the leadership, as opposed to those populating the pews. Even congregants have been know to quietly marvel among themselves at this puzzle.

There is no doubt in my mind that continual rehearsing of key Scriptures is needed by all. Satan is always at work, and having foundational Scripture solidly at the beck and call of Spirit, in the heart of the believer, is a significant piece of armour. Who would imagine that only children need it? Moreover, who among us could have the hubris to think that they were ‘mature’ and beyond the need? In doing so they would most surely be on dangerous ground.

Experience indicates that almost all believers acknowledge this need when asked, and yet, in most cases the distractions of life make it unlikely that any personal program of Bible verse memorization and retention will continue in the long term. This appears equally true throughout the average congregation – leadership and congregants alike. Surely there is a strong message in this, pointing particularly to the need of support and encouragement of this activity.

In the face of the Spiritual Warfare which most believers face daily in one form or another, a program of Bible verse acquisition and practice would seem to be quite important. If it is not, or if it is effectively blocked by one means or another, is this not Spiritual Warfare in the Body that is headed in the wrong way? And what are the implications of ignoring this foundational area in deference to other higher profile ‘programs’? Does their success cancel or reduce this need? To paraphrase the Apostle Paul “Not a chance!”.

Scripture states “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” Ephesians 6:11. When placing the Word in our hearts as part of that full armour of God, surely we are to subsequently maintain it and not let it rust for decades after we have acquired it. When it comes to memorized verse, needed in later times of distress in life, the old adage “use it or loose it” is quite apt. Thus, our activities need to include both acquisition and on-going rehearsal.

Congregational leadership is certainly aware of this. So why is it not decisively and proactively addressed? Program popularity surely is not a proper concern in foundational matters. And why, when programs to address this issue occasionally appear, are they given little importance and allowed to wither, replaced as new flashier adgendas emerge? Is corporate Scriptural memorization and rehearsal considered dated and thereby ‘out of favour’? Does it not offer enough kick to lure new people into the church?

I must conclude that this is so, and when the proactive hiding of the Word of God in the heart is of lesser significance than any ‘new’ program, something is surely amiss. Not to dismiss modern worship, or to say that new forms have no place, but our Lord did not say that the value of hiding his Word in our heart had an expiry date or age limit. He also did not say that as you grow older other programs replace that need. He implied precisely opposite!

Lastly, before it gets rolled out, let us look at the so often mentioned concern in today’s churches – program cost. Many, if not most, congregations today face program delivery cost challenges, along with all the stewartship discussions that thereafter develop. New, and especially flashier, programs invariably cost more, both in the human and financial resources. This is interesting when you consider that what is being discussed here is the decline in a program which costs next to nothing to launch, promote and sustain. After all, the Lord provided what is needed. Bible verse memorization and related support has to be among the least expensive of endeavors a congregation can undertake and sustain. And even if that were not the case, would it be less significant?

If I might be bold, it seems to me that church leaders need a little more ‘Biblical’ or ‘foundational’, and a little less ‘MBA’, in both thinking and approach in this regard…


3 thoughts on “The Word in your heart

  1. AT

    Why don’t Christian adults spend more time memorizing scripture? How much scripture memorization is enough anyway? There are so many competing programmes such as small groups, Sunday services, prayer meetings, or whatever: should we take time from some of these and replace it with a memorization programme?

    There is a natural progression from memorization to application as we mature. We learn scripture stories and verses as a child to establish a scriptural vocabulary and background, although we don’t really understand the implications of it all. Then as we mature we grasp the meaning of the text and discover the connections between the different parts of scripture. Finally, we apply the learnings to our lives and can argue scripture persuasively to others. This is exactly the pattern we see in classical education (trivium).

    Psalm 119:9-16 especially verse 11 is often quoted in Awana as though it were an instruction to memorize scripture, but I think rather that the emphasis is on placing great store in the treasures of scripture and applying the precepts of scripture to our daily life.

    More power you to if you are good at memorizing scripture, but as mature Christians lets concentrate on regularly meditating on scripture, arguing and studying scripture and applying it to our daily lives, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us as we do.

  2. kwilson

    Fair enough, and I agree about the competition for time. It is a big crunch for everyone. However, let me tell you a true story from an old friend. Quite a number of years ago he was VERY ill and not expected to survive. There was a time when he was so sick that he could barely move, literally, let alone communicate. He told me much later that all he could hold onto was the Scripture verses that he had memorized and kept current enough that they were available when nothing else was. It gave him great comfort when little else could and drew him close to the Lord. I have never forgotten that, and it was in my mind as I wrote that post.

    [quote]There is a natural progression from memorization to application as we mature…[/quote]

    True enough but I would cite the example of the professional or accomplished musician. A concert pianist, though spending time on current pieces, will still allocate often substantial time to the rehearsal of fundamentals such as scales. I have an acquaintance who is a concert violinist. He also spends substantial time on foundational skills regularly. I equate this time of verse work to the scales of our Bible study.

    Now to time and the limitations of us all. I have little time, and being somewhat older than many, less memory cells that seem to work as well as they once did. Contrary to the AWANA type mass memorization program, I had in mind maybe a select set of key verses over period of time – say a year. Done corporately there might be imputus and it would actually take little extra time.
    I, like many, am unlikely to keep up the discipline of a program in the long run in a vacuum. With others, especially for a simple set of verses, there is camradery in it and that help.

    More than anything, though, I am glad we are at least thinking about the issue.

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