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How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands. - Psalms 119:9-10 (NLT)
When I was in fifth grade, I wandered into the woods at dusk in the middle of a New York winter. My family had been sledding in a park near our house for the afternoon, but as my parents gathered the children to go home I pleaded for more time. My friend, Chris, was with me, and we were not yet ready to call it a day. My mom acquiesced and allowed us to stay a little longer. “Come home as soon as it starts to get dark,” she instructed.
After a few more trips down the hill, Chris was evidently getting bored. “Let’s get lost in the woods and spend the night outside,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Ok,” I replied, stupidly.
We ditched our sleds and started our trek, wandering in no particular direction. After a couple of hours of walking through knee-high snow, the chill seeped into our bones and sleeping in the snow seemed less and less appealing. Finally, after we (again, stupidly) tried to cross a stream and ended up soaking wet, we decided that home sounded pretty good. We knocked on a door, called the police, and got a lift home in a cruiser.
As the old hymn goes, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” My parents gave me one simple instruction: Come home when it gets dark. Instead, I walked the other way and could have ended up in one of any number of horrible situations. I emphasize again: Stupidity.
Side note: I vividly remember the look on my mother’s face when she opened the door and saw me. Panic instantly turned to relief, then joy. I wonder if this is a glimpse of what God feels when we wander from Him and then return.
I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. - Psalms 119:14 (NLT)
I used to be a high school English teacher. On the first day of every school year, each student would receive a school handbook, a syllabus for each class, and a different set of class rules from every teacher. Most teachers also created seating charts and had all the kids sit in assigned seats. Never once in my ten years of teaching did I hear a student exclaim, “Goody! It’s rules day! I delight in your rules, O teacher!” Not even close. Also, I’m pretty sure high school students don’t say goody.
In our youth, most of us tend to balk at rules. We view them as hindrances to our independence and freedom. Where we don’t ignore them outright, we’ll often test the limits of how far they’ll bend before breaking. It’s as if something is hardwired into our nature that causes us to think life would be better if only we could do all the things that we want to do.
But you and I know this is a recipe for disaster. A lack of boundaries leads only to chaos.
Ours is a God who brings life out of chaos. In Genesis 1, God forms the earth out of the void and fills it with life; in Revelation, God promises to bring the Kingdom of Heaven fully to bear on Earth, removing once and for all the tears, the pain, the sorrow, and the death.
I’ll be honest: I’m not one who likes rules. I much prefer to make my own path. But I, like the psalmist, am learning that I don’t just have to endure God’s rules. Because I know and have seen that God’s intentions towards me are good, I can actually delight in them.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. - Psalms 119:11 (NLT)
We’re not far enough removed from the holiday season from me to make a reference to A Christmas Story, are we? In the seasonal classic, one of the most memorable scenes is when young Ralphie climbs out of the car to help his dad change a flat tire. When his dad accidentally knocks the lug nuts out of Ralphie’s hand, the young boy lets slip an instinctive, “Ooooooh fuuuuuuuuddddge.” Only he didn’t say “fudge.” He said the word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words.
His parents are appalled that such filth would come out of their child. Where on Earth did he learn such a word? Ralph blames his friend, Schwartz. The irony, of course, is that Ralph is fully aware that he had heard that word at least ten times a day from his old man. “My father worked in profanities the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium—a master.”
Time and time again, the Bible reminds us that what is in us will come out of us. If a child grows up in a home where profanity laces every conversation, it shouldn’t be surprising when that child starts effectively using such language himself. The psalmist understands this principle. When God’s Word is hidden in your heart, obedience will result. Jesus says it this way: Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
If we believe, like Peter, that Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:68), then we would do well to hold tight to those words. Memorization is the process of letting these words and these truths take root in your spirit. When verses about God’s faithfulness, power, love, or justice can be recalled in an instant, you’ll find His presence, peace, and strength are never out of reach.
I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. - Psalms 119:15 (NLT)
Meditation often gets a bad rap these days. In many Christian circles, meditation is viewed either as a practice of ancient pagan religions or as some kind of dangerous new-age mumbo jumbo. When biblical writers say they meditate on the words of God day and night, we can be sure they are not leaning into either of these aforementioned preconceptions. The Hebrew word שִׂיחַ (siyach) that we translate to mean “meditate” is more about focusing our thoughts than it is about emptying our minds. Siyach means to study, to muse, to ponder.
As a high-schooler, I hated reading Shakespeare. Most high-school students do. When I went to college, however, I had an English professor who had spent decades of his life studying—siyach-ing—the works of Shakespeare. He loved Shakespeare and he loved teaching students about Shakespeare. The way he pulled out themes and found both delight and wisdom in the Bard’s beautiful wit was infectious. So infectious, in fact, that he inspired me to become an English teacher. (I know. It’s like my own real-life Dead Poets Society!)
The psalmist should (hopefully) have the same effect on us. As we delight in God’s Word, as we memorize it and hide it in our hearts, we’ll find ourselves mining deeper and deeper into the riches of God’s character and wisdom.
A number of years ago, I had to confess that I was not making the study of God’s Word a priority in my life. I didn’t have the motivation or dedication to do so with any regularity. I started to pray this prayer: “God, help me to want to meditate on your word.” You know what? He did.
Do you need help meditating on Scripture? Last week, Jon gave us nine great questions to ask ourselves as we read. Start with the book of Luke and read one chapter per week with those questions in mind.Share Tweet
I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word. - Psalms 119:16 (NLT)
My 11th-grade history teacher, Mr. Mitterer, had a photographic memory. Actually, my theory was that he used some kind of hypnosis technique to memorize massive amounts of detailed information. Every class period with Mr. Mitt was the same. He would stand up front and lecture for 42 minutes. Nonstop. Without notes or books. Despite never using any reference material, he could tell us, at any point in his lecture, the exact page number and section location of a particular piece of information.
Every once in a while, while rattling off information, he’d get stuck. It was almost as if he was a record player with a slight skip; he’d just get caught and couldn’t quite think of the next thing to say. Without fail, he’d lift up his index finger and wave it in the air—almost like he was flipping through pages of an invisible book—and call upon his friend, Turquoise, for help.
“Where are you, Turquoise?”
“Come on, Turquoise?”
I’m telling you, Turquoise must have been his hypnotic trigger word! He’d call for Turquoise and then moments later, like someone flipping a switch, he’d be right back in the flow of things as if nothing had happened.
Now, I’m not suggesting hypnosis is the best way to memorize Scripture, but if you struggle with memorization, there are countless strategies or tools out there to help you. My wife sometimes writes Bible verses on her bathroom mirror with a dry-erase marker. As she begins to commit the verse to memory, she starts erasing words. Pretty soon, the verse is off of the mirror completely and locked in her heart fully...and then she starts all over with a new verse.
If you want to delight in the Word of God and keep in step with God, Scripture memorization is, the psalmist would say, a non-negotiable.