Where I sit there is an arc of sunlight that stretches across my left side ending in a trapezoid of warmth on the cherry wood of my desk. Like my somnolent cat who lounges across another patch of light on the carpet, I could abide here for a long time. Gravity already draws my eyelids shut. Warmth, rest, time --- they all pull me in, at least until I remember why I'm here.
There are some scripture phrases you hear all your life if you are, as I have been, blessed to have heard the Bible read all you life, and yet how quickly they become cliche or invisible if unused. Like the box of miscellany at the corner of my office, the one I mean to sort through and dispose of, the one I now walk by countless times each day and do not notice, so I often do not notice the oddity or the profundity of a word of scripture, the richness of its meaning or application. Like an onion, scripture is multi-layered: peel back one layer of meaning and you find another, even another question. Walk around it, look at it from different angles, and you may begin to wonder whether you had it wrong all along. You have a sense of its "roundness," its multi-dimensionality. Like the box in my office, to get to the bottom of it you need to spend time with it, to abide with it.
This abiding is what Joshua Choonmin Kang is encouraging in the recently published Scripture By Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God's Word. I have to confess that the subtitle's word, "memorizing," instigated a knee-jerk reaction in me, a rebellion against anything that smacks of rote and ritual. Images of elementary-age Sunday School where the matron of the class asked us to recite scripture by memory (aloud, here, now, in front of everyone?) flashed in my mind. And yet there was also the positive memory of a small group Navigators 2:7 series from my college days that continues to bear fruit in scriptures I can still call to mind. There must be something to it. Kang's book is helping.
To "abide in Christ" is to live in, dwell in, and exist in Christ, to, in essence, move in with Him. When my wife and I moved in this house and to this small patch of suburbia 25 years ago, it was new and unknown. We grew into it. We learned its dimensions, its creaks, its smells, and we made it our own. It is our abode. We dwell here. We know this place. And yet, I'm often aware of how we take it for granted. Like right now, I appreciate anew its orientation, one that permits sunlight to splash across my desk at just the right angle.
Knowing scripture is something like knowing what you have in Christ, the furniture of our abode, our orientation, our space and light, the roominess of our habitation. The metaphors may be mixed and imperfect, but the point is that knowing the words of God in scripture are part of what it is to know Him. Waking in the night, in darkness, I see the shapes of the furniture around me and know I am home. Waking in the darkness of the soul, I can see and hear the words of scripture spoken, giving comfort, telling me that all is well.
So I'm trying not to think of it so much as memorizing scripture but as better knowing and appreciating where I live --- in Christ. Like a blind person, I want to be able to navigate in the dark, to know where I live so well that I can live and move in it from memory.
One verse I remember clinging to during a trying first year of college was Phillipians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I have no difficulty summoning that verse to mind. Like a well worn recliner, I reclined on its promise a lot that year, sometimes even doubting if it would hold me. Now I see the verse less as one of hoped for accomplishment as one of perseverance, not "I will succeed" but "I will persevere." Having lived longer, I realize that the to be true the verse has to be true not only for me but for everyone who believes --- a man trapped far below the ground in Chile, a Ugandan orphan, or an aged parent who can no longer always summon my name. It has to be true for them as well.
So, Scripture By Heart is a welcome encouragement to abide in Christ, to live well among the furniture of His words, so that one day, when we see Him face to face, we'll realize He has dwelt here all along. We know Him by knowing His words.