As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord.
My spirit, which is upon you,
and my words, which I have placed in your mouth
won’t depart from your mouth,
nor from the mouths of your descendants,
nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children,
says the Lord,
forever and always.
A few weeks ago, I needed an MRI. (Don’t worry– everything came out just fine.) The thing is that when you get an MRI done, you have to lay perfectly still in a perfectly boring tube while it whirs and clangs around you. In my case, it took about 20 minutes for this to be completed.
The technician helpfully suggested that I think about my weekend plans to relax and help the time pass. Since it was two days before leaving to go to Lakeside Camp for a week, I immediately realized that thinking about my weekend was going to turn into worrying about work. Not exactly relaxing.
So I started to say every Bible verse I knew by heart.
Be still and know that I am God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Have I not commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
The Lord is my shepherd…. I shall fear no evil.
If we were buried with him by baptism in a death like his, we shall surely be raised with him in a resurrection like his.
Not height nor depth nor powers nor life nor death nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for all are one in Christ.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
My peace I give to you.
And on I went. Now, I am quite certain that I botched some of the words, or mashed up different translations. I cannot remember the exact place in the Bible to find all of these verses. When I recited the Ten Commandments, I could only recall nine out of ten. (Don’t tell my seminary professors.)
But I can tell you that I was more peaceful in spirit at the end of those twenty minutes than I had been in weeks before or since.
There is something about the Word of God in our hearts and minds that nothing compares with. Sure, I could have spent the time going through the entire Wicked soundtrack instead, since that is also emblazoned on my brain. It wouldn’t have been the same.
In our world, we can so easily find information– whether by asking Alexa or querying Siri– that we don’t very often memorize it. Ask teachers what they think about this, and I am sure you’ll hear that there are both good and bad aspects to this shift. After all, I don’t have to remember that it’s Psalm 46:10 I’m looking for if I can just Google “be still and know.”
What I have learned, however, is that it’s what is carried in our hearts that comes out of our mouths in times of trouble. And, when I’m laying in the MRI tube, I need it to be “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere,” not “One short day in the Emerald City.”
I know that memorizing things isn’t everybody’s preferred way to learn. And yet, I think there is something powerful and reassuring about knowing those words well enough to speak them when you need them. I think it’s worth the trouble of getting those words into your hearts so they can come out of your mouth.
The best way I know to learn something by heart is to hear it and read it over and over. You already know the words of Scripture we use in worship: “Our father in heaven…” “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on Earth.” “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.” Or pick a hymn that’s a paraphrase of Bible verses!
However you do it, trust God’s promise: that God’s Word, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ is always with you, given to you and all the generations to come.
And may God’s word be forever and always in your heart and on your mouth.