By Sam Gutierrez
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
1 Timothy 3:16,17
I shared the following story a few months ago: In my early 20’s, I spent some time memorizing Psalm 19. I took two or three weeks slowly repeating the Psalm to myself and letting it slowly trickle down into the depths of my heart and mind. Then, I forgot about it.
Years later, on a sunny afternoon in early summer, I took my road bike from the shed and headed out on a long leisurely ride. Slowly the trail rose and I found myself overlooking the most beautiful green gorge filled with deciduous trees and a gentle meandering river. The sky above was expansive and blue with a few white puffy clouds. Suddenly, the first few verses of Psalm 19 came pouring out of my memory – “the heavens declare the glory of God! The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech!” As my legs propelled the bicycle up the side of the hill, more and more of the Psalm came pouring out – “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard –
Their voice goes out into all the earth – their words to the ends of the earth… “
Thinking back on that moment now, the most surprising part of that afternoon was discovering that the words of Psalm 19 were quietly stored in my heart. They were waiting there, ready at a moment’s notice to give me the words of praise that captured so perfectly what I was experiencing.
Have you ever tried memorizing scripture? It’s a wonderful practice that gets you into scripture in an intimate way. There are a lot of good books about the Bible and they have their place. But too often we look to these resources and inadvertently substitute them for the actual words of scripture.
So far in this series of faith formation blog posts, I’ve talked about the liturgical year, the lectionary, and story-telling. These practices help shape our communal life together. Memorizing scripture is primarily personal. Of course, whatever is memorized can be shared with others, but the hard work of getting scripture into the heart and mind is something that mostly happens in private.
I truly believe that this practice is one of the most powerful faith formative practices that any person can do. Scripture is powerful and alive, and God uses scripture to shape us into the image of his Son. Hebrews 4:12 says – “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
I’ll end with these words from John Calvin on the uniqueness of scripture:
“Now, this power which is peculiar to Scripture is clear from the fact that of human writings, however artfully polished, there is none capable of affecting us at all comparably. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, and others of that tribe. They will, I admit, allure you, delight you, move you, enrapture you in wonderful measure.
But betake yourself from them to this sacred reading. Then, in spite of yourself, so deeply will it affect you, so penetrate your heart, so fix itself in your very marrow, that, compared with its deep impression such vigor as the orators and philosophers have will nearly vanish. Consequently, it is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures, which so far surpass all gifts and graces of human endeavor, Breathe something divine.” (Institutes Book 1, Section 1)