By Karen Wingate
Committed to reading through the Bible in one year, my speed reading skidded to a screeching halt one hot July morning when my eyes caught Psalm 119:97. Did the writer say love? Wasn’t affection for law an emotion reserved only for law students and political science majors?
Desperate to catch up on my reading assignment for the day, I revved my reading motor into third gear, only to put the brakes on at verse 129: “Your statutes are wonderful.” There it was again. The psalmist had more than a duty-bound, intellectual love for the law. He found delight in it, longed for it, and didn’t want to neglect it.
What would it take for me to view God’s words as wonderful? In my desire to “get through the Bible,” I couldn’t say I was reading for the delight of meditating on God’s law. It had become simply another item on my daily to-do list.
Why did the psalmist love God’s law so much? More important, how could I fall in love with God’s Word?
An Authentic Author
At one time I viewed Psalm 119 as 176 ways to say, “God’s Word is awesome.” As I looked closer, the psalm reminded me that God’s law is worth loving because its author is trustworthy, good, and righteous. It reveals a God who can be trusted, a God who knows what he is talking about. God is faithful throughout all generations (v. 90). He is good and does what is good (v. 68). His righteousness shows he is worth following and obeying (vv. 9-11).
Throughout generations, believers have found strength and comfort in passages that reminded them of God’s faithfulness, care, and goodness. Psalm 23 is often quoted at funerals because its visual imagery portrays God’s compassion for his people. J. Russell Morse, a missionary to the Chinese during the first half of the twentieth century, remained strong and sane due to his memorization of long passages of Scripture. God’s Word, hidden in his heart, helped him
survive long hours of solitary confinement and brutal beatings.
You have probably seen the cartoon sentiment, “I’m married to Mr. Right and even when he is wrong, he is Right.” Thankfully, God is never wrong. His way is always best. When we surrender our will to follow his system of law, we discover his way as expressed in the Bible is always right.
If my mother makes the best bread in the world, I would be wise to follow her methods; otherwise, I would have no business whining that I can’t make high, tender-crusted loaves like hers. If, after listening to her advice, the resulting bread was worthy of a state fair blue ribbon, I would agree (unless I’m proud and stubborn) that, indeed, Mom knew what she was talking about. I would want to continue to make bread the way she does so that, like her, I could be known for my awesome bread.
The psalmist found God’s way was best. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (v. 9). The poet’s regard for God’s law became an upward spiral of success; by obeying it, he discovered it was the best way—no, the only way—upon which to pattern his life. Success led him to want to obey God’s law more and more (v. 29).
We cannot put our trust in a God we do not know, nor can we apply his principles if we are not familiar with them. So where do we start? How can we, like the psalmist, fall in love with God’s Word?
Savoring the Scriptures
Annual Bible reading plans are a great tool for grasping the big picture of God’s redemptive plan. If you find you’re not absorbing what you read, here are some ideas to help you find pleasure in God’s Word.
Start simply. Read the action packed book of Mark that depicts the life of Jesus, the history of the early church in the book of Acts, or the practical book of James where you can easily find application to daily life. Read only a few verses a day until you reach a complete thought and then stop. Reread the passage if needed.
Read with purpose. A great study tool for college students is to ask questions before reading the weekly assignment. This is a good principle to apply when reading the Bible as well. Before reading Psalm 119, I asked myself three questions: (1) What was the author’s attitude toward God’s Word? (2) Why did he feel that way? (3) What did he do to attain that attitude?
Develop the art of meditation. Take God’s Word with you wherever you go by memorizing verses like J. Russell Morse did. If memorization is a challenge for you, memorize one verse at a time or write a short passage on an index card. Think about the verse throughout the day. Mull it over, pulling it apart word by word. Like any new learning experience, we retain best when we repeat something over and over again (v. 13).
Pray: Psalm 119 is one long prayer to God. The poet implores God to “teach me your decrees” (v. 12), “let me understand the teaching of your precepts” (v. 27), and “direct my footsteps according to your word” (v. 133). If you don’t understand what a particular passage means, ask God for help. He delights to have his children ask for wisdom (James 1:6).
Ask God to show you how to apply his precepts to everyday matters. Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.” If your understanding makes you squirm, ask for help. The Holy Spirit living inside you will enable you to act upon what you have read.
Just do it. That’s the biggest lesson I derive when reading Psalm 119. Love for God’s Word came after—not before—the psalmist obeyed it.
That makes sense to me. When I read passages against the backdrop of my life experiences, I find myself nodding in agreement. The school of hard knocks has shown me God’s way is the only way; life doesn’t work otherwise. I resonate with the words because they ring true. And it makes me want more.
As Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68 after the multitudes left him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
God’s words really are wonderful!
Karen Wingate, an award-winning bread-baker because she listened to her mother, is a freelance writer in Roseville, Illinois.
Committing the Word to Memory
Scripture memorization is a powerful tool. It gets the Word more deeply into our hearts and helps us recall truth when we need it most.
So how do you memorize Scripture? There aren’t any tricks to it; it’s a process, and that’s part of the point. Here are some tips and strategies to get you started.
1. Repetition is key. Repeat the verse or passage several times in a row, and repeat it daily.
2. For longer passages, memorize a verse at a time. Then add one more. Say the first two together. Add another. Say all three.
3. Once you’ve completed a passage, don’t stop practicing. The thrill of accomplishment can keep you from cementing the passage completely in your mind.
4. Write it. Write a verse at a time or write the passage over and over.
5. Listen to it. Get an audio version of the Bible on CD or download it for your iPod. Listen to the passage over and over and recite along with the recording.
6. Practice passages you’ve memorized in the past at regular intervals. Don’t get frustrated if you have to do a bit of relearning.