(To read Part 1, click here)
If I’d gone to Sunday School, I’d probably have memorized Bible verses. But I didn’t. Heck, I’d only been to church twice:
The first time, I slept over at my cousins’ house and the next morning Aunt Tavia dropped us off at a big marble building, with dimes in our pockets for something called a noffring plate. A guy in a bathrobe talked in a foreign language and then fed us tiny crackers. I was pretty sure they were Buddhists.
The second time, a college prof made us attend “the worship service of a religion not your own.” I attended a garden-variety non-denominational service with folksy music and a folksy message. When I wrote in my class journal that the sermon was “surprisingly meaningful,” the professor berated me for suggesting there could be anything good about “Dead White European Religion.” So the next week I wrote, “I now realize how hypocritical Christianity is” (even though I knew nothing about it). The words “Now you’re thinking!” appeared on the returned journal, along with an “F” miraculously turned into an “A.” Like water into wine.
The minute my professor said, “No!” I wanted to know more. But it wasn’t until eight years later that I walked into a church of my own accord. It was Easter morning, and everyone shouted, “He is risen!” It was the first time I’d ever heard those words.
I bought a Bible and started pouring through it. Jesus’ words were in red. It might as well have been because they were on fire. They were burning their way into my soul! And yet, as I mentioned previously, my prayer life was spotty. Just how do you talk to an infinite being, even one you love?
I’m embarrassed to admit how my hit-and-miss prayer life was transformed into one of consistent communion, and I’d love for you to think it happened “long ago.” But the truth is it was 2014, near the start of the year. It began with an addictive behavior (what theologians call a “besetting sin”), one I’d wrestled with for years. My accountability partner, my wife, encouraged me to confess and reboot each time, but I’d never succeeded in fully overcoming it.
I’d recently re-read Jesus’ words, “Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). It suddenly occurred to me that I needed to be reminded of those words every time I was tempted, not just when I happened to read them. So I started saying them aloud every time temptation flashed its ugly face.
This was no secret incantation, it was a conscious reminder. At first I was surprised by the certainty of Jesus’ words—not “in the hope that you will not fall,” but “so that you will not fall.” I’m no longer surprised. Because again and again I have experienced the truth of those words. Each time I pray them, control of my thoughts is wrested back from my flesh to my spirit. This isn’t magic–it doesn’t “work” for someone whose spirit is dormant–it’s conscious meditative prayer.
In case you’re wondering if this is just for weak people: Jesus did it. When he was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he recited Scripture to strengthen himself and to drive away “the tempter.”
Once I’d begun regularly praying Matthew 26, I started to wonder what would happen if I memorized other verses, as well. Reciting formal prayers held no interest for me. But Scripture was different. It was bottomless. Life changing. What if it were in me in a deeper way than was possible by merely studying it?
“What’s if it’s like when you download a file and then have to have the app to open it?” I speculated. “What if ‘downloading’ the app of God’s written word enables us to more consistently open his living word?” Praying Matthew 26 had already had that effect on me. Was even more possible?
The difficulty in connecting with God is on our end, not his. He’s always here. But to more fully experience his presence, we need to translate his immortal, immaterial mindset into our mortal, material language. That’s exactly what his written word does—translates. It’s the key to consistently unlocking his presence!
Still, better late than never, right?