I’d learned about prayer, and if I’d gone to Sunday School I might have learned about memorizing Scripture. But I hadn’t. So I came to appreciate the Bible in a herky-jerky way.
It began (pre-conversion) when a certain college professor made us attend “the worship service of a religion not your own.” I attended my girlfriend’s church and wrote in my class journal that the message was “surprisingly meaningful.” The professor berated me for thinking there could be anything good about “a 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 in the returned journal, along with an “F” miraculously turned into an “A.” Like water into wine.
The minute the professor said, “No!” I wanted to know more. But it wasn’t until eight years later that I actually walked into a church of my own accord. The next day I bought a Bible and began pouring through it. Jesus’ words burned their way into my soul. Yet my prayer life remained spotty. How do you talk to an infinite being, even one you love?
I’m embarrassed to admit this–I’d love for you to think it happened “long ago”–but the truth is it was 2014. The transformation of my prayer life began with an addictive behavior, one I’d wrestled with for years. 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 be reading them. So I began saying them aloud each time temptation flashed its face.
This was no incantation, it was a conscious reminder. I was surprised by the certainty of Jesus’ words—not “in the hope,” but “so that you will not fall.” I’m no longer surprised. Each time I pray them, control of my thoughts is wrested back from my flesh to my spirit. It isn’t magic–it doesn’t “work” for someone whose spirit is dormant. It’s conscious meditative prayer.
And in case you’re wondering if this is only 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 started regularly praying Matthew 26, I began to wonder what would happen if I memorized other verses, as well. The Scriptures were bottomless, life changing. What if they were in me in a deeper way than was possible by merely studying them?
“Maybe it’s like when you download a file,” I thought, “and then you have to have the app to open it? What if ‘downloading’ God’s written word enables us to more consistently open his living word?”
The difficulty in connecting with God is on our end. God is 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. It’s the key to consistently unlocking his presence!
Of course, if I’d gone to Sunday School I might have learned about the value of memorizing Scripture long ago.