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,