How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word. I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You. (Psalm 119:9, 11 – ESV)
“I can’t memorize,” my friend said, smiling as he tapped the side of his head, “too many concussions.” He seemed almost proud or happy that he could not do one of the key things to protect his spiritual life.
I had just finished explaining to him how vital the Word of God was in keeping a person’s life on track with God. Now he was telling me that this would be impossible for him to do. His statement, “I can’t memorize,” brought back not-so-fond memories. I remembered all to well using that excuse to dodge the advice of my friend, Ralph Davis, a fellow college student involved with The Navigators.
This was the wrong thing to do with a former Marine, ex-football lineman and heavy weight wrestler. He gave me a smile (I think it was a smile, maybe more of a grimace) and said, “Oh, you can memorize and you will memorize.” He pointed out all of the things I knew by heart—phone numbers, addresses, girls’ names, etc.
“What are you going to do, make me?” When he lifted an eyebrow and grinned big, I knew that had been the wrong thing to say. He explained his foolproof system of encouragement that sounded a lot like hazing to me. He said that I better be ready with a Bible verse the next time he saw me. A chill ran down my spine and then I thought, “Well, I do know a couple of Bible verses, I’ll be OK.”
Sure enough, the next day we ran into each other on campus and he smiled as I approached and put me in a headlock, right there in the middle of a crowd of people. “Jesus wept!” I blurted out quickly, giving up the shortest verse in the Bible. As he released me, he looked at me with something like pity in his eyes. “That’s the best you got? Well, cross it off your list, you gotta give me a new one next time.”
The next day I hid behind John 3:16, probably the best known verse of the Bible. “OK, last time for that,” he said. And I began to panic. I went to a saner, Christian friend and explained my dilemma. He told me to write Bible verses on 3 x 5 cards. I did that, but I wasn’t ready soon enough for Ralph.
I saw him coming and my heart raced. My palms grew sweaty and I pulled the verse card out of my pocket so that I might cram at the last minute. Too late! My large friend grabbed me. He started rubbing the top of my head while I dangled helpless in his arms, to the amusement of those around us.
Why was this so important to Ralph? Why was he bound and determined to teach me something that he felt was vital for my life? Ralph was what we call today, a non-traditional student. He had returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam and experienced the importance of God’s Word first hand. When he first joined the service, his Christian faith had been shaken to the core. He started to do things that were self-destructive, because “everyone’s doing it.” He started to be plagued by doubts, riddled not by bullets but by fear and anxiety. This “rock” of a young man was starting to crumble.
Then he ran into a fellow Marine who was reading through some tiny little cards while eating lunch. This was a guy who had it together—real peace in the midst of the chaos, treated everyone well (even the jerks in their division), that kind of thing. Ralph found out that the guy had picked up the habit of memorizing Bible verses to keep his sanity and his faith. The tiny cards had come from a Christian group that specially supported members of the military, The Navigators, based in Colorado Springs.
My large friend started doing this as well and found out the truth of the verse above. When he stored up God’s Word, God’s Word guarded his way. He was able to get back on track and drop the self-destructive habits so common to soldiers of that day. He was able to resist peer pressure and think more clearly.
Now we may not face the same kind of pressure of a Vietnam era Marine, but we all struggle with following Jesus as we know we should. We are bombarded with thoughts and feelings that convince us that it is impossible to walk in the way of Jesus. We have an enemy of our souls that would love to steer us in the wrong direction. Storing up God’s Word protects us from his deceptive whispering in our ears.
For those who can’t memorize like me and my friend with the multiple concussions, try what we both learned to do with amazing success. We started to write out our favorite verses on our 3 x 5 cards. Then, after pulling them out to review three or four times a day for a couple of days, we’d tear up that card and copy the verse over again on a fresh card. After repeating that step a couple of times, we both found that we could memorize, in spite of past abuses of our mental capacities.
We also found out that storing God’s Word in our heart was life changing, kept us out of sin as God had promised, and enabled us to withstand many pressures of daily living. I invite you to discover the same great blessings. If you have no clue how to do this and where to start in the Bible to memorize, The Navigators have a basic system that is a great place to start – the Topical Memory System: http://www.navigators.org/us/resources/illustrations/items/Topical%20Memory%20System At this site you will find a list of verses to start with and a way to order the tiny cards that can be used instead of writing out your own.