Reflections on Memorizing Scripture

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  • June 25, 2014

On Sunday, we kicked off Citizens, our new preaching series on the Sermon on the Mount. Part of introducing the series included reciting Jesus’ words from memory. Here are some random reflections on that experience.

Beware of practicing your righteousness to be seen

In the sermon, Jesus warned, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Throughout my life, I have done plenty of practicing righteousness in order to be seen. It’s tragic how often I have found my worth in the opinions of others. So this warning from Jesus was constantly at the forefront of my mind. It was the sword that the Spirit repeatedly used to slay a desire to be seen as ______________ (holy, smart, spiritual, praiseworthy, fill-in-the-blank). In fact, at times I found myself so nervous about muddied motives that if it were not for another imperative in the sermon, “...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” I might not have tried it all. The Spirit used that and a quote by Tim Keller, “If you wait until your motives are pure and unselfish before you do something, you will wait forever” to free my heart towards this endeavor.

The Spirit & the Word

Memorizing God’s word is invaluable. Jesus fought temptation by speaking with His mouth words that He had previously stored in His heart (Matthew 4). The Psalmist hid God’s word in his heart so that he might not sin against Him (Ps. 119:11). The Spirit is faithful to bring to remembrance His inspired words at just the right times. For example, one afternoon, I was mowing the lawn. I share a yard with my neighbor and the last thing I wanted to do was voluntarily mow my neighbor’s yard. Yet the Spirit brought to mind Jesus’ words, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” I sensed the Spirit saying, “If I expect you to to go the extra mile for your foes, would it be any less for your neighbor?” When God’s word is in our hearts, the Spirit doesn’t have to reach far to nudge us toward obedience or lovingly swat us with needed correction.

I pray God inspires you to memorize Scripture

I remember the effect it had on me when I heard Matt Kruse recite Paul’s farewell speech from Acts 20, or when I watched the video of a preacher recite the entire book of Hebrews (!), or when I visited Snyder Ave Church in South Philly and saw an aging pastor pass out Communion to his flock while feeding them with large portions of John’s gospel that he had memorized. I was inspired. The word felt alive in a powerful way. I wanted what they had. Seven Mile Road, I hope that Sunday would have that kind of effect on you.

We can ALL do this

It took about a month and a half to memorize the passage. I have been blessed with a good memory, but at the same time, it really is doable for all of us. I mean that. Having heard it repeatedly, even Hannah (6) and Micah (3) can recite portions of the sermon. I’ve tried to memorize other passages before and found it much harder. There’s something about the way Jesus teaches in this section that is memorable. When you get into it, you notice there’s repetition and flow and a beautiful simplicity to His words. If you give yourself to this with consistent effort, there’s no doubt you can do this. Imagine, come December, a church full of men, women, and children that have Jesus’ words etched on our hearts. Let’s give ourselves to that.

Photo Credit: creativewright

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road.

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