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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hidden in My Heart: More than Memorization

Most of us who have been around Christianity for any length of time probably are familiar with the verse in the Psalms which says, "I have hidden Your word in my heart so that I might not sin against You." (Psalm 119:11) And to many of us that has meant one thing: Memorize Scripture.

I guess the reasoning goes like this: When Jesus was tempted to sin, He responded with Scripture. "It is written...." Since it's highly unlikely that Jesus had a set of Old Testament scrolls and a Strongs Exhaustive Concordance in the desert with Him, we can safely assume that He had these verses memorized. And it was this memorized Scripture that He turned to in order to refute the temptation. Therefore, the thinking continues, Psalm 119:11 can best be applied to our lives by memorizing Scripture that can be used in times of temptation.

And you know what? That's not a bad idea in the least! I highly recommend it. But lately, I have begun to realize that having something in our heart is light years beyond mere memorization. Allow me to use a metaphor.

As many of you know, I'm a professional musician. I am classically trained as a pianist, but my music experience varies greatly from country to jazz to rock to classical to praise and worship. With the exception of heavy metal, I have probably done something in just about every genre, either live or in the studio. Specifically in the area of classical music, however, I often refer to knowing a piece of music "by heart". Usually, that's shorthand that many of us use (not just in music) for "I've got it memorized." But there's more to it, I think.

It might be more appropriate (although it sure would sound funny!) if we referred to memorization as "I know it by head!" Head knowledge is way different from heart knowledge. If I have something memorized, it may not have anything to do with my heart (and of course, I'm using "heart" as the common term for the emotional and spiritual center of our being).

When I know a piece of music truly "by heart", it is more than just notes that I'm playing with my fingers. The music begins to take on a life of its own. It begins to communicate with the listener. In truth, it even begins to communicate with me. Part of me becomes part of the music, and part of the music becomes part of me, if you know what I mean.

See, I had an understanding of something just this past year that I had never really thought about in over 30 years of playing the piano. Musical notation is not at all perfect. Think about it. A composer may write four quarter notes in a line of music. Every quarter note in the printed notation looks exactly alike. The value of each note, as notated, is precisely the same as the others. And yet, if I play them the way they are written (each one identical to the others), it sounds very dull and uninteresting.

When I play "by heart" (or "from the heart"), however, something happens. One note may be a bit longer than the others. One note may be a different volume than the others. Each note gets some life added to it that is in no way indicated by the printed music. Yet it becomes what the composer intended. He never intended each of those notes to be precisely identical in length, volume, etc. Not until I play the music "by heart" does it begin to find its full life.

Now, let's pull the analogy into where we started this post. What does it mean to hide the word "in my heart"? Well, if you will tolerate some more of my "out of the box" thinking on the written word, I would like to submit that, much as with written music, the words on the page don't really begin to take on their truest expression until they become part of my heart. I can tell you from very personal experience (several years in an Awana program) that it is possible to memorize Scripture and have it be as dull and as lifeless as those precisely-played, completely-equal quarter notes I mentioned in my musical analogy.

And I believe that is exactly what Jesus did not do with the Scripture. Nor do I believe that is what the Psalmist had in mind in Psalm 119. No, there is definitely a deeper level where we begin to "own" the Scripture, and it begins to "own" us. Just like with music, it is not until I put myself into that Scripture, and put that Scripture into myself that the Scripture becomes what its "Composer" intended it to be. Not what I intend it to be. But what He intends it to be.

Any musician who is worth anything knows that the goal is not merely to put his own interpretation into the music. The goal is to capture what the composer intended. May that be true of our use of Scripture, as well.

Until next time,

steve :)

12 comment(s):

Great post, Steve!

Just yesterday morning as we started our first day of homeschool for this year we talked about James 1:22 and our need to apply the word so that we don't delude ourselves becasue we simply know it (head knowledge). Funny thing was about an hour after our discussion I found myself needing to heed that lesson myself!

Thanks for this reminder that I needed again this morning!


By Blogger Heather, at Friday, August 11, 2006 6:14:00 AM  

Good post! So often the scripture takes on a life of its own when ingested as food until it becomes a part of our being...and often the very smae scripture will turn around and speak entirely different things to our heart at a different point in our walk. It never ceases to amaze me how applicable a portion of scripture can be to a variety of situations after it has become a part of our being.

By Blogger Jada's Gigi, at Friday, August 11, 2006 11:13:00 AM  

I like this approach. Scripture memorization (along with many other facets of the Christian life) can be done out of routine and "memory". It has to be from the heart to be genuine worship!

Good words, Steve.

By Blogger Cameron Cloud, at Friday, August 11, 2006 11:38:00 AM  

I really don't know what to say, Steve. I can find absolutely nothing in this post with which to disagree. :)

Seriously, great post.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Friday, August 11, 2006 3:23:00 PM  

and once we live knowing the Word of God memorized in our hearts is life itself from the Word of God, Jesus, living in our hearts...
faith takes on a much deeper meaning. Thanks for a wonderful prod to holiness, Steve!

By Anonymous ded, at Friday, August 11, 2006 6:00:00 PM  

Great post. I think that many times we take the very things that God intended to be life for us and turn them into a rule that leads to our spiritual death! It is a shame that something as beautiful as the Scripture has become a sort of "Abra-Kadabra" to living in Christ. The point of the Bible is not to know it, but instead to be it.."a living epistle known and read by all men". The written word should always become the living word.

By Blogger Raborn Johnson, at Friday, August 11, 2006 10:17:00 PM  

Something amazing happens when the Word of God is hidden in our heart - or written on our hearts, and not simply memorized... It begins to come out and demonstrate itself, sometimes in unexpected ways. I think this is what Paul meant when he said, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you." (Col 3:16a NASB) Notice what immediately follows this phrase: "with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16b) Perhaps we have trouble "externalizing" the Word because it has not become "internalized." (Are those real words?)

By Blogger Alan Knox, at Friday, August 11, 2006 11:51:00 PM  

Hi Steve,

Great thoughts. I was astounded the first time one teacher, who was very literate in the Scriptures, reccomended I did not study my Bible. "Study to show thyself approved unto God" in the KJV is actually a mistranslation of "be diligent to show..."

Actually, the Scriptures know nothing of the intellectual approach we have to learning. The Bible was learned through a whole-brained experience. While Western countries prioritize left-brain or analytical approaches to learning, they tend to place less importance on right-brain activities. Like art, music, singing and chanting the Scriptures.

Joshua 1.8 says:
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Meditation here is oral, as in chanting, singing and reading the Scriptures out loud. This engages the whole mind and heart. Of course we can read the Bible silently, but we will not receive the Word's full blessing until it comes out of our mouth.

It is interesting that one prophet asked for a musician so he could hear a word from God. Churches disagree on almost everything, yet music holds a place in our worship experience historically and today. It is interesting how much of the Bible is in pictures, which can be seen with the "eyes of the heart." Just tell a child about David and Goliath, and he is in the battle scene. He will act it out for days. Why? Because he can see it in his heart.

A crown of thorns, a mustard seed, a man who looks like fire--why does God use this language to communicate to us? I believe that the right brain is the place of ignition for spiritual experiences, that the spirit is somehow connected to it. Even Fuller Theological Seminary has tests to show people's right brains light up when speaking in tongues. Music, imagery, all belong to right-brain activity. It would seem visions occur there as well.

Spirituality certainly exists in the realm of music. "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5.19). "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3.16). Notice that it is the Word which is "in wisdom," and the songs which are "spiritual." I am not saying one is more valuable than the other. Just that a right-brain activity is here seen lending itself more to spirituality.

Is it possible the Western church has been so dry in vision, spirituality, etc., because we are approaching the Word the way our Greek forefathers approached philosophy?

When I read the Bible, I allow myself to see everything. I am like a child, I picture Jesus, the scenes--earthly and heavenly--and there God meets me in the Word.

By Blogger Timothy, at Saturday, August 12, 2006 2:02:00 PM  

There are many instances of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole with regards to the scriptures and application/memorization in the western world.

For so many years I read Jesus' words telleing me to take his yoke becasue it is light.

That verse never settled well with me because I didn't want a yoke at all! I knew a yoke as only that which oxen wear to carry a load. No one told me differently.

It wasn't until I saw Rob Bell's Nooma video, Dust, in which he talks about the yoke being the teachings of a rabbi as well.

The Hebrews knew exactly what he meant, it took me 28 years to figure it out. That scripture hides in my heart and is something I can live out because I uderstand it in context.

Just like timothy says in his comments above, the Greek way of reasoning has taken so much away from our understanding of the scriptures.

We have to look at them in the context they were written and then apply them to our world/culture.

I may sound dangerously close to being 'emergent', especically when talking about Rob Bell, but his book and his Nooma videos have some good stuff in them concerning scripture.

Ray Vanderlaan is another good person to look into when trying to understand the scripture.

By Blogger Saabinmike, at Sunday, August 13, 2006 6:46:00 PM  


this is now the second post i've put on your blog. i have thoroughly enjoyed your insight and i think here you have hit the nail on the head.

i can relate very well to the music analogy, as my wife and i both have studied music (she much more than i...).

i think i'm really going to take this blog "to heart," and let scripture memory be more than simply rote memorization and repetition.

in Him,

By Blogger Carl and Claire, at Sunday, August 20, 2006 5:44:00 PM  

Awesome post, thanks for sharing.

By Blogger Ros Horton, at Monday, August 21, 2006 8:41:00 PM  

you always make me think!! btw, that's a good thing ;-)

By Blogger flutemom, at Tuesday, August 22, 2006 7:17:00 PM  

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