Learning By Heart

Posted: February 10, 2015

When I was four years old, I memorized Psalm 23. Every morning, we recited in our classroom at Perrine Baptist Academy, a few blocks away from my childhood home. I had no idea what it meant. "The Lord is my shepherd... I shall not want"? Does that mean I don't want the Lord as my shepherd? What is "the valley of the shadow of death"? I could ask such a question of every phrase of the psalm.

But now I'm and adult, and I've learned the meanings of those phrases or experienced life in such a way that the verses of Psalm 23 have given me life and perspective. There have been times when this psalm, hidden deep in my hear have strengthened me or reminded me of the Good Shepherd who has followed me with his mercy and grace all my life.

I was also blessed (though I didin't think it at the time), to have memorized a verse for every letter of the alphabet. A: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. B: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. C: Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. and so on.

I write about this because I find that my Christian upbringing seems to be more the exception than the rule among those I know grew up in the church in NY. (I grew up in Miami, FL). At our recent monthly worship team meeting we talked about being fluent in the language of the Bible and how that can inform and shape our worship, especially in prayer. A member of the team brought up a wonderful sermon by John Piper called If My Words Abide in You.

What a powerful witness living within you! It's almost as if scripture has a life of its own when it hides itself in the heart. It reminds us fo the truths of scripture when we may be prone to despair or it corrects us in our thinking when we start to err concerning our faith.

I've talked about "memory verses" many times and people tend to have mixed ideas. Some have said they don't want to turn scripture memory into another "task"--it creates a negative association with scripture. I remember having to memorize Ephesians 4:1-6 in order to be able to eat a meal once at a retreat. Did it feel like random punishment? Maybe a little. But I do not regret the experience for the number of times that passage has spoken to me about Christian unity.

I hope I could do something similar for Rehema and Selah. In hindsight, I realize that my childhood memory verses were my catechism of the faith. Surely not as robust as Heidelburg, but all the same. Rehema is now two--perhaps soon.