I grew up in church. 3-4 times, each week, for the past [almost] 33 years, I’ve been engaged in the life and activities and mission of the Christian Church! I accepted God’s gift of salvation at age 9; I asked Jesus to be my Savior, and to rescue me from my sin. I believe it was as genuine a prayer as any 9-year-old could offer. I believe my intent truly was to receive God’s plan of salvation for me, and that I was saved – and “His” – in that moment.
From there, I steadily continued to grow in the Lord, both through participation in Church functions – Sunday School and small group Bible studies and annual camps/Retreats – as well as on my own. I was taught well to pray and study the Bible and spend time alone with God and cultivate a 1-on-1 relationship with Jesus, as well as to actively participate in the corporate life of the Church.
Even with all this excellent teaching and exposure to God, God’s Word, and God’s people, I still didn’t ask Jesus to truly be the “Lord” of my entire life until I was 17 years old. Where I’m from, we frequently talk about “our Lord-&-Savior, Jesus Christ”. “Jesus is my Lord-&-Savior”. “I asked Jesus Christ to become my Lord-&-Savior”. Well, for me, the truth is, when I was 9, I did ask Jesus to be my “Savior”. But I didn’t really ask Him to become my “Lord” until I was 17.
When I did, the direction of my life drastically shifted. I knew right away that there were some bad things in my life that I needed to get rid of, and there were better things I needed to make room for in my life. I officially told Jesus that I no longer wanted to be in control of my life; I wanted Him to be.
All throughout that year, I continued to struggle with sin issues and temptations, namely joylessness, impure thoughts, and a dysfunctional relationship with my Mom. I now had a new Master, and things needed to change. But the old struggles, temptations, failures, and weaknesses didn’t just vanish away. I made spiritual progress that year, but it was slow and incremental.
Twelve months later, I found myself in a place of being genuinely fully surrendered to God, yet still battling what felt at the time like the same old struggles – and this was terribly frustrating to me. Have you ever been there? I didn’t feel like I had any more joy than I did the year before – like I had become any more pure in my thought life – and my relationship with my Mom was still dysfunctional!
I was 18 years old by this time – it was summer, and I had just graduated from high school. I went away on a spiritual retreat with my church’s youth group. A team of college students led our Retreat that week. My small group’s leader’s name was Adam Tyson, and he was a walking Bible! But not in an obnoxious way – it was very natural – it felt normal when he said it. Scripture just flowed out of him, quite naturally, in the midst of his conversations, and when he prayed, or when he spoke to our small group. He didn’t have to force it. It’s not like he was constantly driving every conversation to God – it was just a part of him!
I recently heard a co-worker say,
It’s great that we have the hard copy of the Bible – but we need to have the HARD-hard copy of God’s Word, written on the tablet of our hearts.
As a 21-year-old college student, Adam Tyson had the HARD-hard copy of God’s Word written on his heart! And it just flowed out of him so naturally – it even seemed to me, effortlessly – like it was the most normal and natural thing in the world!
On day 3 or 4 of that youth Retreat, I was sharing some of my frustrations with Adam from the past year of truly trying to live my life fully surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship, but just feeling like I wasn’t seeing the level of progress that I had hoped for – still struggling with a lack of joy, still constantly fighting off impure thoughts, still disappointed in the status of my relationship with my Mom…
Adam started with joy. He suggested that I look up words like “joy”, “rejoice”, and “joyful” in a Bible concordance. If you don’t already know, a concordance is just an alphabetical listing of all the words found in the Bible that shows all the Scripture verses where each word appears. This was before the internet was big; I was flipping through an actual book. Nowadays, I recommend an online resource like BibleGateway.com, which allows you to search any key word in any translation of the Bible!
So I flipped through the concordance and my Bible, and I jotted down the references for every Scripture in my Bible that dealt with joy, rejoicing, etc. It was about 20 verses!
The next thing Adam challenged me to do was to memorize them. All of them. Every single one of those verses from the Bible about joy, he challenged me to commit them to memory. To write them on my mind. To inscribe them on the tablet of my heart.
That summer, things changed for me in a big way.
On the five-hour bus trip home from that youth trip, I went through my journal that had all my sermon notes in it from the previous year of truly longing for God’s Lordship over my life. I looked up every Scripture reference and started a list of verses that I wanted to commit to memory.
By the time we got home, I had over 100 verses on my “To-Memorize” list. This may sound intimidating (and it was!), but I was surprised by just how much Scripture I already knew! Over half of the Scriptures on my list were verses that I basically already knew, just from repetitive hearing throughout my life in sermons and songs and Bible study lessons. I realized I more or less knew between 50-70 verses already – I just needed to sharpen the wording and re-learn the reference.
How about you? Could this be a starting place for Scripture memory in your life? What is a topic or keyword that you would benefit from having God’s Word on the topic written on your heart? Type that word into the “search” box at BibleGateway.com. Filter your search according to your favorite translation(s) of the Bible. This year, determine to memorize every verse that comes up in your search!