By Doug Redford
Most everyone who has attended Vacation Bible School remembers the pledges that were often recited at the beginning of each session. I grew up in the era of two-week VBS programs, so the pledges are perhaps a bit more etched in my memory for that reason. There were three pledges: one to the American flag, one to the Christian flag, and one to the Bible. Whenever it was time for the pledge to the Bible, one of the children present (out of the many who waved their hands) would be chosen to go to the front and hold up a Bible while the pledge was recited.
Here are the words: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s holy Word; a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path; its words will I hide in my heart that I might not sin against God.” Much of this pledge is drawn (appropriately) from the Bible. The middle section of the pledge is taken from Psalm 119:105; the last portion comes from Psalm 119:11.
I do not remember how many times I held the Bible during VBS, but I can think of many times through the years that the Bible has held me. In fact, as a person grows older and encounters more personally and painfully the consequences of life in a broken, sin-cursed world, being held by the Bible comes to mean much more than holding it.
Most of us have read a book that we became so caught up in that we could not put it down. The Bible is a book that, in a sense, cannot put us down. In it our Creator repeatedly tells us of and shows us his stubborn love for us—a love that continues to keep us in its sights wherever we go in life. That book, however, will truly hold us in a very real way only if we take the time personally to hold it—and make its words our words.
The psalmist speaks in verse 11 of hiding the Word in one’s heart. The heart, of course, refers to much more throughout Scripture than just the organ that pumps blood. It also describes the thinking, reasoning abilities of a person. To hide the Word in our hearts means that our hearts should, in a sense, pump Scripture. Just as life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), so our lives should be in Scripture.
Each of us should provide a living translation of the Bible that reflects the priority it has in our lives. How is such a translation produced? One of the disciplines that many Christians seem to lack in the present day is the discipline of memorizing Scripture. Certainly not everyone can remember to the same degree, and not everyone can remember as well as he or she once did. However, all followers of Jesus (and today’s youth in particular) need to cultivate this discipline and know how to use “the sword of the Spirit” whenever necessary.
One factor that affects memorization today is the technological age in which we live and the ready access that people can have to Scripture, for example, on their phones. (As the saying goes, “There’s an app for that.”) In a class I taught a couple of years ago, I asked for a volunteer to read a certain passage of Scripture. A girl in the back row was looking at something on her phone. I informed her we were looking up a Scripture, and she informed me that she was looking up the passage on her phone. And she was!
I’m not against having the Bible on one’s phone; it does make looking up a verse much easier. The larger question may be this: if in a few seconds by pressing the right buttons you can have a particular verse you’re looking for right in front of you, why memorize? The answer is: for your heart’s sake. Scripture is meant to be personalized internally and given the kind of memorization that no other book or item in the world of modern media deserves.
Avoiding Heart Trouble
It is true that in Old Testament times, written communication was at a minimum. Conveying a message orally was the primary means of delivery. Memorization had to be employed more. But despite our ready access to both printed and electronic material today, we still use our memories. The issue is what we allow to enter and dominate our memories and thus to become the first items to which we default either in idle moments (when very little is going on around us) or in times of crisis or stress (when far too much is going on around us). If our hearts do not turn to Scripture on those occasions, they will turn to something else.
Our society is very conscious these days (as it should be) about taking care of the physical heart by eating right, exercising, and getting sufficient rest. All of this is good. However, the spiritual heart today is often ignored or viewed as one’s own business. Clearly though, the corruption and decay around us spiritually and morally cannot be good for the spiritual heart.
At the grocery store, certain foods are now marked as “heart healthy.” If people have concerns about their hearts, they watch out for such a label. Wouldn’t it be nice if certain items (TV shows, relationships, choices) came with a spiritual “heart healthy” warning attached? What if we started watching or looking at one of these and a siren or alarm went off as if to say, “Careful, this is bad for your heart! Put that down and back away slowly (or perhaps quickly).”
Of course, there are no sirens, bells, or whistles like that. The Bible, however, is meant to serve as that kind of alarm. But it has to become a part of our heart to the point that we automatically call upon it for guidance in times of temptation, tragedy, or other circumstances that have the potential to draw our heart away from God. Nothing can make the Bible that kind of personal resource better than the memorization of Scripture.
Revisiting the Pledge
We live in a time when the Bible is under severe attack. Critics and skeptics have become more outspoken than ever before in their ridicule of and contempt for the Scriptures.
Some of us may have forgotten about the pledge to the Bible. Perhaps we recited it many times growing up, at VBS, or on other occasions. We may have even held the Bible while the pledge was spoken. There were other times when we opened the Bible, read it, studied it, and memorized it. But then life happened; things got busy. There were other books to read, study, and memorize. The Bible’s voice was drowned out by others.
But it’s never too late to revisit the pledge and re-read, re-study, and re-memorize both the pledge and the book of which it speaks. In fact the pledge isn’t just for children. The pledge is worth stating every day before we face whatever the day may bring. We may want to say it to ourselves when we first get out of bed, or just before we start our car, or when we arrive at work or at school before we walk through the door. We may want to post it in a prominent place where we can see it several times a day: “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s holy Word; a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path; its words will I hide in my heart that I might not sin against God.”
We don’t have to hold the Bible when we say it, but always remember: the Bible—and its Author—will hold us.
Doug Redford is a professor at Cincinnati Christian University and a freelance writer from Cincinnati, Ohio.
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