I’ve always disliked memorizing Scripture. I find it mechanical, tedious and just plain hard. It’s one of those disciplines where it is easy to get off track and focus only on the task at hand, while losing sight of the greater value. Plus, it seemed to feed into my spiritual pride as it adds another “feather” to the cap of piety. And I have enough spiritual pride issues to deal with.
But recently, I’ve realized that this is an immature and short-sighted perspective. Of course, it’s hard and easy to lose sight of the purpose. And yes, it can lead to spiritual pride. But it can also lead to a greater depth in my relationship with God. That is the “Pearl of great price” – an outcome that is worth whatever cost I could pay.
This year has opened my soul to many things: Sabbath, contemplative prayer, the Examen, and the Daily Office – to name a few. I believe it is through the practice of these spiritual rhythms that opened my soul to a deeper hunger: to understand the language of prayer and worship between God and His people. I’m not talking about heavenly languages or tongues (that’s for another time), but the jargon and themes that help me to pray and worship at a deeper level than what I can come up with on my own.
I’ve been told by many that the Psalms is the book of prayer and worship for the people of God. The Daily Office is largely based on praying the Psalms. And I’ve discovered a deep connection point – actually “anchoring” is a more apt term – with the Psalms. There are times when I pray “free form” (those spontaneous prayers of the heart that evangelical churches train their congregants to pray) and catch myself “parroting” Psalm-phrases ; not because it sounds more spiritual, but because the Psalm phrases better describe what my heart is feeling better than my own words!
I have a deep desire to really learn the Psalms so that they would be woven into the fabric of my soul and become the source of my prayer theology and practice. In other words, I want to become “fluent” in the language of the Psalms. So, as part of my Personal Worship Time I am starting to memorize the Psalms.
In four weeks time, I’ve memorized the first four Psalms. It is a snail’s pace and the discipline is pretty arduous for me. I try to memorize a new verse every day. And then I review all four Psalms, because otherwise I will forget what I’ve already learned. Sometimes, I will try to recite the memorized Psalms in the car when I head out to a meeting or an appointment.
Like I said, it’s hard and it’s still way too early to determine if I am becoming more fluent in the language of prayer and worship, or just getting more jumbled. But I do notice two things:
1. The Psalms are beginning to become more “dimensional” to me. The emotions in the Psalms are becoming more raw and vivid (“Strike all my enemies on the jaw, break the teeth of the wicked” in Psalm 3 or “The One enthroned in heaven laughs, the LORD scoffs at them” in Psalm 2). I feel the deep peace of the Psalmist (“I lie down and sleep. I wake again for the LORD sustains me”) as well as his deep angst (“Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’”). It begins to seep in after you’ve said them a hundred times.
2. The earlier Psalms are beginning to flow from my lips without much thought. While my recitation of Psalm 4 is still very choppy (filled with a lot of “umms” and periods of intense silence as I wrack my brain, trying to remember), Psalm 1 flows like “satiny velvet” – smooth as silk (I love shouting out, “Not so the wicked!” with my best Sir Laurence Olivier impersonation). But more important than the command I have over the words, is that the Word is having greater command over me. I feel some of that.
Scripture memory seems to be a lost rhythm in our contemporary church. Most have a hard enough time opening up the Bible to read it, much less attempt to memorize some of it. But I feel like I’ve rediscovered a something far more valuable than I first realized. It’s kind of like the feeling you get when you learn that your one carat cubic zirconium is actually a flawless diamond upon re-examination. Memorizing Scripture, especially the Psalms, has opened up new horizons and perspectives for me. Like I said, it’s still early “in the game” for me, but I am definitely enjoying the journey. The hardness of the task is being replaced with joy for the discipline.
So for those who really hunger for the “love language” between God and His people, I encourage you to become fluent in the Psalms. It gives depth and breadth to your Whole Life Worship.