Sunday 1 June 2014

Bible-saturation Benefits

In response to Reverend David Lim's sermon yesterday, I've decided to write this post regarding the importance of reading the Bible. Although it's just one of the sub-points of his entire sermon, I think it merits a post on its own. I must admit that I did not read any extensive books/teachings/sermons regarding this issue. All that I'm writing is but personal experience and what I think is just logical.  In today's tech-savvy times, it is actually extremely convenient to whip out our smartphones, e-Bibles to check on verses, seek out commentaries. And Google helps us make things easier, by searching out key words that linger in our mind to find out specific verses within the Bible. It actually works great, really. But what I desire exceeds great. I desire amazing, and I found it by accident to be honest.

I myself have memorized several books of the Bible. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, nearly all of 1 Peter and am now about midway through James. Initially, I accidentally stumbled into doing so while I was in army about  nearly one and a half years ago. I was on an overseas training trip and was literally bored to death. While lazing on my bed, out of the blue, I just took out my Bible and randomly landed on Philippians and I just started to memorize verses without any real reason (well, people do say that reading the Bible is good after all!). After the first day I just continued because there really is nothing to do during the trip. Several days later, it became some sort of habit which I continued, and when I saw the benefits that I totally didn't expect, no one needs to tell me that it will be good to continue, so I did. Today I praise God for the amazing things that He let me experience through this habit, by His grace.

#1 I think one of the most amazing benefits, and today continues to amaze me, is how I came to see these verses in a new light. They gave new meanings to many things that I experience and see. As we go about our lives, whether in church or outside of it, we often encounter situations or see scenes. Now imagine these situations/scenes are captured as a picture on your Instagram or Facebook. How would you tag them or describe them? That is when the verses that I memorize will come to mind and became the caption for that picture. And then I understood both the situation/scene and the verse more. The first time this happened, I was simply blown away and overwhelmed, that God can amaze me with His word and creation in such a manner. That I needed BOTH. I needed to SEE, and I needed to HEAR His word, which is now repeatedly heard as I keep them in my mind. Without either, I cannot comprehend the glory of God. 

One of the examples for the above is this: Ephesians 3:7-8 "I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentles the unsearchable riches of Christ." When I realized my failings, and yet still given trust and opportunity to serve Him, these verses came alive there and then and became the caption for what I experienced as I was struck by my own sins. I saw a sinner (me) being used by God through the gift of God's grace. These are but one of the countless, new, refreshing ways I understood God and captured His heartbeat. Of course, I cannot remember every single incidents. But you know that a touch of God changes the soul forever, whether we remember these touches or not. But the effects of that touch is permanent. And I think that these won't be possible unless we memorize the verses, to HEAR them as we SEE. To give an analogy, it's like as a student, if you do not study your lecture or tutorial materials prior to a session by a guest speaker that talks about his/her experiences in the workplace, there is no way you will appreciate what was said, and you'll just feel that the session is a 'waste of time'. Indeed, your time. Even if you learnt something from what was said by the guest speaker, what you learnt is no longer built on what you learn through your modules. Instead, it's starting from ground zero altogether. But as Christians, we want to build our growth based on an understanding of the Word, and then having this growth enhanced by our experience of God and this experience makes the Word comes alive and the cycles goes on till "we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13, advisable to read verse 14-15 as well)

#2 Another of my unexpected discoveries/benefits is that we become Bible-brained. This means that our brain becomes a Bible, and in it is filled with verses such that we would naturally think according to it or 'along its lines'. To further illustrate: I'm sure that when we think about stuff, we at times think about them in words. Like if I think about my LGmates relationship with me, beyond visualizing our interactions, I'll also use words like lovely, sweet, sacrificial etc. But great familiarity with memorized verses may change these word-thoughts into other forms, such as "God can testify how I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus" Philippians 1:8. It still talks about love, but the extent of love can be more accurately expressed by such verses, instead of "I love them very much". Some of you might think that 'aiya, it's just a difference of words/terms, I still feel the same anyway". Well, I don't profess to be an expert on that, but personally I do think a lot in terms of words. So the value attached to these words is very significant to me. And our actions are heavily influenced by our thoughts, no? If I say that I love them very much, I might be willing to go a mile for them. But if I say that "I love them with the affection of Christ Jesus", then I will become willing to do what Christ did for them (or at least work towards that more consciously). Using and interacting with verses in our everyday thoughts and life is also encouraged in Colossians 3:16:
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit
*I personally don't think we're spared from teaching and admonishing ourselves :D

Furthermore, Philippians 4:8 says:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
What is the most true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy thing? The Word of God, of course. Therefore we are actually obeying the Word of God as we memorize verses and keep them in our mind and keep thinking about it. 

On a significant side note, I think with Christians especially, using verses to speak with each other can lead to less confusion as compared to using words that are not considered Scripture. Once I had an issue with one of my friends and during the resolution of that issue, we both wanted to continue the friendship in a way that doesn't stumble one another. I could have said: "Let's live in a way that doesn't stumble one another." It sounds good, but what does that really mean? In the end, I used a verse from Ephesians 4:29: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." And I think that this makes it much clearer than "let's not stumble one another with words." I'm not sure my interpretation is correct, but I believe the Bible also recommends us to do that. In Ephesians 5:19a: "Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit" and also Colossians 3:16, which is quoted above.

#3 Thirdly, one of the more obvious benefits is that we can encourage one another with verses as and when we need to instead of referring to our e-bibles or googling them. At times, we are actually given enough grace while ministering to someone, that we can somehow recollect a portion of a verse that we believe the person we are ministering to needs to hear. Hopefully, we can then google it, and provide the person with the verse in its entirety. But what if we do not have an access to Google? Or an e-Bible? Or what if we don't even know these verses exist, or for whatever reasons remember them wrongly? Then truthfully, you cannot invoke the 'Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God' (Ephesians 6:17, the Armor of God) to chase the devil away and speak the Word of God into that persons life. Yes, there are other words we can say, perhaps a summary of what we learnt in church from the Word of God. But you also know there are times when having the specific verses will be much more effective. At times, perhaps only bible verses have the authority to speak into that person's life. Without memorizing them, we might become severely restricted in our encouragement, edification and ministering to other people. Of course, when we use a verse, it'll be wise of us to be certain that the person hearing it knows the meaning of this verse and why it was given. To be sure, simply interpret and explain it to him/her!

Having said that, at least you're still objective about ministering, since you are not the one facing the direct situation or have unmet needs. But what if you're the one who needs to be ministered to? And what if there's no one to minister to you? Can you minister to yourself through the Word of God? Perhaps, if you're emotionally stable. But if you're not, the consequences might be ugly. After all, if you are grief-stricken, it is difficult to be objective about anything. But if you memorize the Word and hold it closely to your mind and heart, in such times, theses verses become natural, almost instinctive. They will jump out to protect you against the devil. The fruit of that protection can be seen in Galatians 5:22-23 (the Fruit of the Spirit) and James 1:4
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The immediate reward, not even the heavenly reward, of passing that test holding on to God through the power of His word, is just peace, joy and wonder at His power and glory. And you know how amazing that is!!! The heavenly reward, however, is even more amazing: 
James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
#4 Lastly, one of the most unexpected benefits I received is that memorizing ensures that I'm always growing, even when I'm in the valley or spiritually downcast. When all is good, it is easier to track our own growth. Generally we are more receptive to learning more. However, when we are in the valleys or the darkest night of our soul, sometimes we don't want to pray, don't want to worship, don't want to go for service/LG/meetings, don't want to meet people/shepherd/leaders. I personally have many such moments, even extended ones. Throughout this time, by God's sustenance, I generally, on-and-off, kept up my Bible memorization. I'm reluctant to use knowledge/familiarity of the Bible as a marker for growth, but I think that the Word holds power, whether we like it or not. And even for me, who wasn't doing spiritually well, having the Word of truth in my mind, I simply couldn't stray too far and I just couldn't resist its power and authority. I didn't really apply it in my life, but I didn't dare blatantly defy the Word. We can choose to reject our leaders' opinions, we can choose to heed our emotions, we can choose to succumb to our circumstances. But when the Word of truth is so deeply ingrained in our minds, we simply cannot reject it. It is so tangible and true, you know? And through it I lived and breathed and grew till God carried me out of the valley. So keep this habit, you really don't know how much of a lifeline it can be when you really can't hang on anymore! :D

Therefore, I do sincerely admonish you, who is reading this post: If you have not already, why not just try memorizing? The benefits of doing anything for God always always always far exceeds its cost :)

#By the way, all the verses I use in this post, I memorize by heart. Although my memory gets fuzzy and I can't remember 100% of them all, all the verses I used, I did not Google them to know where they are. Yet I still remember the verses' meaning quite accurately. (But I still need to google for accuracy sake to be doubly-sure that I did not remember wrongly :P)

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