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Memorizing Scripture Changed My Life

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

I’ve decided to memorize the whole of the book of Luke. I know—it sounds a bit insane. But let me tell you how I got to this point.

It started during the long, hot, sticky summers of my childhood, at an annual Bible club where I discovered I could quickly learn a verse just before it was my turn to recite it at the end of the week, and then claim a prize before forgetting all about the verse.

One time, I set about learning and then actually retaining the verse. And I had success. I was so pleased with my recall that months later, I asked my Dad if I could still recite the verse and get a prize. He affirmed my efforts, reached into his pocket, and gave me some change to buy sweets. Every so often I would ask again, and the result would always be the same.

For a few years, I was happy with my one verse (John 3:16, by the way). But when I was about 15, my Dad (probably fed up with being asked for prizes), set me a challenge. If I could memorize Matthew 5, 6 & 7, I would get £5 for each chapter that I learned. It turned out to be much harder than I thought. I earned £5 for chapter 5, but gave up after that. However, I did learn that I could effectively memorize scripture.

My secret is to repeat it 10 times—no really, it is! I use an app now to help me memorize, but when I had to do this screen-free, the answer was 10. I took a verse and broke it down down into parts. Then I took one part and repeated it until I could say it without looking. Next? I moved to the second part, and then each line individually, until I had the complete verse—repeating it to myself 10 times until it was memorized.

However, the real work is retaining the Scripture. I love this part the most. Each day, to keep the verse alive in my mind, I review it. Eventually I don’t need to do it 10 times anymore. Each day, it becomes easier to remember. And that’s when it grows in me as I mull it over and come to grips with what I’m reading.

 

Putting An Old Skill to New Use

For a while, all I memorized was the occasional Bible passage, or notes for my exams. But all of that changed a couple of years ago when I started to experience considerable worry and anxiety.

When I felt the worry sink in, I couldn’t pinpoint why I was worried. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that—where your mind just goes off on its own and there’s no reining it in, leaving you consumed with worry and you can’t quite tell why? It makes it difficult to concentrate, even on the stuff right in front of you.

This crippling worry led me to consider memorizing the Bible again. Soon I found myself memorizing two chapters that I already enjoyed reading: John 15 and Hebrews 12.

In my journey fighting consuming anxiety, memorizing scripture has been an immense source of comfort, and things have slowly started to change. But mostly? It’s teaching me to approach the Bible differently.

 

When Scripture Becomes More Real Than My Anxiety

This summer will be two years since I restarted actively learning parts of the Bible and although I’ve come a long way in my battle with anxiety, I’m still not completely free. However, I’ve found solace in the important difference between memorizing my lecture notes for exams and learning God’s Word—it’s that God’s Word is alive! Before I started this process, I had no idea what this meant. Filling my head with knowledge for an exam was helpful for studying, but it didn’t change how I thought or how I lived. God’s Word is different.

As I’ve listened to what Jesus is saying in Luke, I’ve been challenged about what I do and think—particularly when He teaches about trusting our Heavenly Father and not being anxious or troubled. I’ve found myself praying, “Lord what you’re saying is really hard, I don’t think I can achieve this on my own. Please help me to realign my thinking with Your truth.” It’s not even a conscious request. It’s like breathing—simply the result of soaking in His Word.

This method of learning the Bible is a slow process. It’s not a sprint or even a marathon. It’s a long, steady walk. But as I’ve been chewing on God’s Word, I’ve felt like I’ve actually been among the crowds, hanging off His words as He breaks the bread and feeds the five thousand. Or that I’ve been sitting at His feet with Mary as He tells Martha that Mary has made the better choice to sit and listen to Him.

 

Something Better Than Healing

No, memorizing scripture hasn’t magically rid me of my struggles, but it has given me so much to ponder and turn over, that sometimes, I can get lost in Jesus’ company as I read the stories about Him. God’s Word is full of treasures, and I’ve been able to replace some of my thoughts and worries with these rich words that come from God Himself. This process has helped me fall in love with God’s Word again. I started out hoping to fix a problem and have peace of mind, but I’ve found so much more.

I recently convinced a friend of mine to give scripture memorization a try, and I hope I can convince you to try it, too. I find it helpful to start somewhere small, like a psalm. Remember this isn’t about memorizing a whole book, or even a whole chapter—it’s a conversation between you and God as you read His Word and let it live in your heart and mind. If you’re open, God will change you through it.

No longer are the stories that I grew up reading dull and boring because I’ve heard them a thousand times already . . . Nor do I need a prize to get me motivated—my prize is the immeasurable riches that I am finding as I walk with God through His Word.

 

4 Reasons Why Not Knowing Our Future Is Good

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

My sister does this thing that drives me bonkers. She will take a book and, rather than reading it from start to finish, she will skip around the chapters, often reading the last page first. She says that it takes the stress out of reading the book if she knows how it will end.

I might hate to do that with a book, but I would love to do that with life. It’s for the exact same reason my sister reads a book from the end: I dislike the feelings of stress and uncertainty. When I was in school, I wished that I could be certain that I would pass all my exams and be settled in a job in 10 years’ time. Then I could sit back, relax, and just enjoy studying (yes, I am a geek).

To combat day-to-day uncertainty, I make lists and plan my day so that I know how I will be spending every single minute. No second goes unaccounted for. Wasted time makes me feel terrible because it can never be got back, and one thought that always goes through my mind is this: What if I’ve failed to do something that will be really important in the future? For example, would I have a novel published by now if I had spent more time working hard on writing it?

As you can imagine, living like this isn’t really sustainable. Things come up and plans have to change (Proverbs 16:9). There’s no way I can come up with a plan that will take into account every possible life event.

While I was writing one of my many lists one day, I started to think about why I was so desperate to control things. One of the reasons that surfaced after some time of honest reflection was that I didn’t really trust that God was in control. I thought that I could control things if I planned and did things in a certain way. Essentially, I wanted to be God. Being patient and trusting that God knows what He is doing is not easy.

But the reality is that I am powerless to control things. I can’t stop illnesses, deaths, or disasters. All I can do is manage my own response to such events. And even that requires me to seek God’s help on how to respond well and deal with what life throws at me.

Coming to terms with my own limitations and weaknesses has helped me to see more clearly why not knowing the future is a good idea.

Here are three reasons (in list form!):

 

1. Knowing the future is overwhelming.

If we knew everything that was ever going to happen to us, we might not want to keep on living. For me, that involved going to university. There were many things that happened in those three years that I did not enjoy, and if I’d known about all of them before I started, I would never have dared to take that step.

But those were experiences that I needed to go through in order to grow, and God used them all. For a little while after I graduated, I was able to help new students who were trying to adjust to life away from home. Thankfully, God kindly reveals His plans to us one step at a time, along with all that we need for each day as it comes. Only He is able to handle knowing everything, and His plan is infinitely better than any one that we can come up with ourselves. Colossians 1 describes what Jesus has done for us and how He is completely in control. Whenever I feel worried, I read that chapter; it gives me confidence that nothing that happens to me is a surprise to Jesus. It tells me that He has a plan and that He is good.

 

2. Not knowing the future can deepen our walk with God

God did not create us to be self-sufficient but to be dependent on Him. When we don’t know what will happen in our lives, we learn to trust Him—not ourselves or our resources.

God isn’t being mean by holding back information so that we will be forced to trust Him. Instead, He’s giving us opportunities to experience the goodness of His faithfulness and wisdom. Because I don’t know what’s coming, I can go to God and tell Him what I am worried about and leave it with Him. Taking everything to God like this can deepen my relationship with Him by causing me to explore His character and learning to trust Him.

At the end of the day, we can rest assured in God’s plans: His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not the same as ours (Isaiah 55:5-9).

 

3. Not knowing the future makes me recall God’s goodness

Not knowing what is coming next allows us to focus on what we do know—that God is good and faithful, and that He gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught that sparrows do not worry about what they will eat because God takes care of them. His point is that if God cares so much for birds and plants, what more us? He doesn’t just know the future; He has planned it and made sure that everything we need is there for us.

We might not know the details of how our life will pan out, but we can be secure in the knowledge that God does, and that He has our best interests at heart. As I think back to 10 years ago when I was setting off to university and wondering where I would be in 10 years’ time, I can see how God has taken care of me and provided for me throughout. Not only did I pass all my exams, but I am now working in a non-profit organization, and I think my 18-year-old self would be surprised by it!

Looking back and seeing what God has done gives me confidence that for the next 10, 20, or however many years are ahead of me, He will keep on providing for me, probably in ways that I don’t expect. And it’s okay that I don’t know how it will all work out, because God does.

 

With that, what should now be at the top of my to-do list each day is a reminder that God is in control (even when it feels like He isn’t), and that having to change one of my plans is not the end of the world (because God already knows it’s going to happen).

Knowing everything isn’t the answer. It can’t deepen my walk with God or teach me about His character. It won’t even help me deal with the things life throws my way. What is worth knowing is who God is, and that knowledge leading to trust is what will help me navigate the future. It’s much more reliable than any to-do list or plan.

How Can I Love the Church that Hurt Me?

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

Seven days after I came into the world, my dad became the pastor of the church that I would grow up in. Unlike my siblings, I never knew a time when my Dad wasn’t a pastor. I quickly learned that people either hold pastor’s kids to an unreasonably high standard, or wait to see when they rebel and fall off the rails.

I didn’t like either.

If I could get away with not having to tell people what my dad’s job was, I would. I did not like being scrutinized. All I wanted was to figure out what I thought about God and church without an audience. By the time I was 20, I had reached my conclusion.

I knew the Bible was true, and I had no problem with God. But I didn’t like Christians, which was slightly problematic seeing as I was one myself.

I could understand non-Christians hurting people. I could even get my head round Christians lashing out in the heat of the moment. But Christians deliberately hurting other Christians?

There had been times as a kid in church when I was the only one who got told off for something a group of us had done. As I got older, I listened to people gossip about my family; their caring tones and concerned faces were merely a cover to finding out what they could from me. Eventually, I narrowed my world to just me and God. I let people in so far and no further. I kept hidden the things that were really important to me as much as I could.

When this kind of hurt led my dad to leave the church we were at, I decided that I had had enough of Christians. God might love me, but His people definitely didn’t.

As I found out about other things that had happened in our church over time—things that were unjust and that hurt my family—my hurt turned to anger. The more angry I felt, the less I felt I could go to God, and the more my relationship with Him deteriorated.

I was stuck in limbo. I did not want to walk away from God because I loved Him and because I knew that the Bible was true. But I did not want to associate with His church, since that was a painful place to be. It became so painful that I finally realized that I needed to do something about my attitude and how I was thinking and feeling.

Passages like Hebrews 10:25 and John 15 convicted me. They told me that the church is God’s plan. Jesus told His followers to “abide in my love” (John 15:9), which sounds great, until He explained that to abide in His love means we have to obey His commandment—to love other Christians (15:12). That part I’m not so thrilled about, because it means opening myself up to potential hurt again.

Because I’m still very much working through this, it’s not been something that I’ve talked about much with my family. But here are a couple of things I’m finding as I address my flawed thinking:

 

1. Christians hurt each other

It may seem obvious, but none of us are perfect, Christian or otherwise. So we will hurt each other; I hurt people. I can feel as defensive and hurt about my injuries as I want, but at the end of the day, I have hurt other people too. I need to be forgiven just as much as I need to forgive.

In Matthew 18, Jesus answers Peter’s question of how many times we should forgive people by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant. The story goes like this. There’s a servant who owed a massive amount of money to the King which he couldn’t pay back. The King rightly wanted to throw the man in jail, but the servant pleaded for mercy. The King, in an amazing act of grace, cancels the servant’s whole debt. The debt-free servant now bumps into a man who owes him a small amount of money and demands that the money be repaid then and there. The man can’t pay, so the debt-free servant throws the man in jail, ignoring his cries for mercy. Word gets back to the King, who is royally furious, and he metes out justice and throws the unmerciful servant in jail.

This story has in some ways haunted me since I was a kid, because I really wanted grace for myself, but I have a hard time giving it out. I was thinking about all this recently and I came to the conclusion that if I met the people who had hurt me and my family back then, I would want them to know that I didn’t hold it against them.

It’s unlikely that I will ever see them again—life has taken me a long way from them—but that doesn’t mean that I can’t forgive them. Forgiving them means not wanting bad for them but praying for their good. And for the relationships I have with Christians now, it means being quick to apologize when I get things wrong.

 

 2. There is no higher standard

Other people may have been holding me to a higher standard of behaviour because of who my dad was, but God wasn’t. God holds us all to the same high standard that none of us can meet. And just as none of us can meet that standard, all of us are offered grace because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus’ blood paid for all of the times we mess up and hurt each other.

Every time we don’t meet that standard, there is grace to make us right with God again. So when I feel like that higher standards are being applied to me, which still happens sometimes, I can put my mind at rest by reminding myself that Jesus has paid for my sin. I don’t have to try and earn my way back in. It’s comforting to know that God isn’t waiting to catch me out, but is waiting with grace and forgiveness.

  

3. We can choose how we respond

I may not like it, but living in this world means that at some point we will get hurt. What we do with that hurt is what counts. Rather than burying how I feel and holding on to resentment, I’m trying to remember what Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32, that I have been shown grace for the times I’ve failed.

Because of the mercy shown to me, I am slowly changing how I respond to people who have hurt me. I’m working on not being quick to judge but being quick to forgive. It’s hard because that’s not my nature, and maybe it’s not yours either. It all feels a bit backwards. But God has shown forgiveness and mercy to me, and in turn I’m trying to do the same.

 Like I said, I’m still working on this, and most of the time I don’t respond in the way I know I should. But I’m learning to take it back to God and let Him continue to work on my heart.

 

I’m a long way from those churches I grew up in, and if I could, I would still keep my Dad’s job a secret. I’m still afraid of being hurt, but I’m trying not to let that fear get in the way. Mostly I fail, but I’ve not given up and I don’t want to. The church is full of broken people who will hurt one another. But they are also God’s people, loved and forgiven by Him.

The church is God’s family, that you are welcome to be a part of. It’s a place that is meant to help us grow in our walk with Jesus, because it’s easier to keep fighting sin with others than when we try to go it alone. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place that is worth sticking with. No matter how bad things got or how painful they were, I didn’t want to give up entirely on the church. And I still don’t.

We Are Not the Sum of Our Bad Choices

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

You might have encountered them on the streets. The lonely, the homeless, and the addicted. They started off just like the rest of us, but somewhere along the line, one wrong choice after another led them on a downward spiral. Now, they think it’s too late for them to try and amend their ways—God wouldn’t possibly want anything to do with them anyway.

Or perhaps you have a friend or have heard of someone struggling to take care of her baby on her own after a series of bad choices. Life is hard and lonely for her. Even if God exists, He wouldn’t know or care about her predicament, she tells you.

All around us, there are plenty of such people. In fact, some of my neighbours have the exact mind-set like those homeless guys on the streets. I find it sad that they’ve allowed their past choices to trap them into living such defeated lives—because it doesn’t need to be this way.

That’s what I’ve learned from my recent study on Nehemiah 9. At this point, the people of Israel are making their way back to Israel, after spending 70 years in exile in the land of Babylon. Nehemiah has been rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem amid some fierce opposition. Now all those who have returned are gathered together and they have a decision to make: Would they follow God?

The answer is a resounding yes—they want to follow God. Nehemiah 9 therefore is their prayer of repentance. It’s a long prayer and it covers all that God did for them as a nation and all their mistakes. Just like the people we see around us, the Israelites made some very poor choices. They rejected God and did what they wanted, even when they had just witnessed God doing amazing things for them—like rescuing them from slavery.

They must have been filled with regret and shame as they recounted their past mistakes. But what struck me about their prayer was not so much the extent of their sinfulness, but how God responded to them each time they failed. Interspersed through Nehemiah 9 are beautiful phrases like these:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,” (Neh 9:17)

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness.” (Neh 9:19)

But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.” (Neh 9:27)

And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.” (Neh 9:28)

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” (Neh 9:31)

And that made me think, wow! What an amazing God we have, who has compassion and still loves us even when we do our own thing and ignore Him. In my own life, I too have failed God’s instructions like the Israelites. And one of the things that gets to me the most is when I choose not to tell someone about Jesus, because I’m afraid how that person might react.

In the UK, people often don’t know or don’t speak to their neighbours. In my street, we might say hello to each other as we leave our houses at the same time, but our conversations never go further than the weather. So even though I can see that my neighbours need Jesus, I say nothing more than “hello” when I see them, because I’m afraid that they will think that I am crazy.

When I think of all the opportunities that I’ve missed this way, I’m left feeling horrendously guilty. I know I’ve been ignoring what God has instructed to me to do: to tell people about Jesus. And I can’t help but think that He must be really mad at me.

So to read these verses is a huge relief. It feels like someone has lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders. And that is what God promises if we take time to pray, confess and ask for His forgiveness; He will free us from guilt and cleanse us from our sins. Sure, I still need to be responsible to tell people about Jesus, but I can do that because I want to obey God and not because of my guilt conscience.

So here’s the thing. Maybe you’ve made some bad choices. You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd or you’ve gone too far in a romantic relationship and you know that your actions haven’t honoured God. Or maybe the choices you are making leave you feeling hollow and guilty. If you’ve messed up and feel like there is no way God could forgive you, then have a look at what God says in His Word. Look at who God is and what He has done for you on the cross.

Come back to the God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” He won’t turn you away. Let’s not be trapped in our past choices.