Cruising Down 16
The other week a friend walked into my office, and as we caught up on life he shared with me what his LifeGroup had been at work on: memorizing Psalm 91. After we said our goodbyes the idea of memorizing Psalm 91 stuck with me. Sometimes I’ll joke with people that as a pastor I don’t need to pull out my Bible because I’ve got it all memorized; it’s funny because I’m poking at the inflated expectations some people have of pastors. The truth is that memorization, whether that has to do with names or Bible passages, doesn’t come easy to me. But, for whatever reason, I felt the desire to memorize Psalm 91 well up in me. So I got on it.
That next week, as I drove to work every day, I opened the ESV Bible app on my phone and started playing the audio reading of Psalm 91. I listened to the luminous tone of David Cochran Heath’s voice as he read verse 1, then I hit the back button and listened to it again. And again. And again. Then I started to recite the passage out loud with David. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High…” I hit the back button and recited again. “…will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” By the time I’d arrived at work I had verse 1 pretty well memorized and a good start on verse 2. On my drive home, I kept going. “I will say to the Lord, my refuge…” That first day I had the first two verses memorized.
Every day, my drive to work and back was like this. I started noticing things. I realized that there was something different about saying these words out loud. I’d read Psalm 91 many times before; it’s a very familiar passage. Yet, when these words whose tracks had been well trod in my mind left my lips, they would catch in my heart in ways I had not expected. “…under his wings you will find refuge.” When I spoke this out loud, I recognized these words weren’t just words, it was the voice of God – meant for me. As I repeated the words of this passage over and over, it was like sifting for gold and these nuggets of meaning and significance would come glinting into my awareness. “You will not fear the terror of the night…” Cruising down Route 16, I would have to stop the recording as my soul warmed to the realization – this is for me. I found that these moments of realization would stick with me throughout the day. I was less anxious, more present, more with-God and with-others.
You should know – I did not expect this. I just thought memorizing Psalm 91 was just a good thing. A thing a pastor should be doing, right? It’s one of the classic passages of Scripture, of course I should have it memorized. I should have the whole Bible memorized. But it turned out mere memorization was never the point, it was just the means God used to show me a little more of him, and in the process, change how I experienced my day.
Now, you probably think I’m going to close this by saying, “You should memorize Scripture too!” Well, maybe, but this experience was mine and it may not be yours. Don’t get me wrong – memorizing Scripture is great, but it’s not a guarantee that you’ll experience the same thing I did. Here’s what is true, no matter what: we are more formed by our habits than by what we think we believe. I found that it wasn’t as important for me to have just read Psalm 91, what shaped me more was the habit I pursued of repeating and memorizing Psalm 91 every day. That habit, that activity, is the means God worked through to gift me moments of his presence and goodness.
So the thing I leave for you is this: what habits are shaping you? Because they are. Maybe you listen to talk radio on the way to work. How does that effect you? Maybe you scroll through Facebook every day. When you put down your phone what emotions and thoughts does your time leave you with? How many of the habits you have placed throughout your day shape you in ways that turn you away from God and away from your fellow man and how many towards?
If you do pick up memorizing a Scripture, I hope you do it as a way of opening up space in your heart and mind for God to be with you. I pray that he would bless your efforts in a way like he did for me.
Pastor Larry Hackman
Photo Credit: Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash