Philip Turner, small-town attorney, realized he was waking up in the intensive care unit of a hospital somewhere, for reasons he couldn’t fathom. There were machines and strange blinking lights and sounds. His body didn’t feel right, and concerned faces hovered above him. He closed his eyes and tried to think. He listened to the electronic hums of a strange and sterile place, the beep beep beep of a machine he’d rather not have heard so close to his ear.
It had been a balmy evening in Shelbyville, Illinois, and a friend had dropped by Philip’s house, suggesting a nocturnal plane ride. Philip and his wife, Bobbie, were game. They drove out to the town’s small airstrip, climbed into a four-seater Beech Musketeer, and a few minutes later were airborne, looking down on their serene, sleeping town, recognizing landmarks, and feeling like birds soaring through the moonlit darkness. A few minutes later the runway lights came into view, and the passengers prepared for landing.
That’s the last thing Philip remembered. Later he learned that the nose wheel of the Musketeer hit a power line, flipping the plane over. Bobbie was thrown through the side window onto the ground while Philip remained suspended, head downward, in his seat belt with over a hundred fractures.
As he regained consciousness, Philip’s mind was fragmented with scattered, confused images. Hours passed, and as his head began to clear, a series of thoughts suddenly came into his mind like brilliant shafts of light. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us. . . . Who hath saved us, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace. . . . Fear not. . . . For God so loved the world. . . . Is there anything too hard for me?
These were fragments of Bible verses, but Philip wasn’t a religious man, and he didn’t go to church. He hadn’t opened a Bible in years, and he had certainly never memorized any Bible verses.
Or had he? Slowly a few vague memories filtered into his mind. A little circle of red chairs. Old Mrs. Wolf with an open Bible on her lap. Little cards. Awards.
As a five-year-old boy, Philip had attended a Sunday school class, and the teacher had drilled them on Bible verses. Those who learned the verses were given prizes, but Philip had never earned any awards; he had been a disappointment to Mrs. Wolf. Yet down in the depths of his brain, those memory verses lay like dormant seeds, waiting for just the right moment to germinate.
Philip and Bobbie slowly recovered from their injuries, and in the process they committed themselves to Christ and started going to church. Many years later, as he recounted the story to me over the phone, he was enthusiastic about memorizing Scripture and about the need to plant Bible verses in the minds of youngsters of all ages. His life had been changed by verses he did not even remember having learned.
Some people question the value of rote memory, and I’ll admit that just memorizing words for the sake of words is of limited value. But Bible verses are not just words. We may not fully understand every verse we memorize, but the act of learning it pins it to our short-term memories. From our short-term memory, it filters into our long-term brain cells. It sinks into our subconscious minds, and as time passes the results can be dramatic.
And always dramatically good.
That’s what I learned while listening to Mr. Turner tell me about the little circle of red chairs, about an old woman with an open Bible in her lap, and about the power of memorizing the most potent words in the universe—the verses found within the covers of the inspired Word of God.4
When we memorize a word, phrase, line, or verse from God’s Word, it’s like implanting a powerful radioactive speck of the very mind of God into our own finite brains. As we review it or hear it spoken again, it sinks deeper into our heads. As we learn it “by heart,” it descends into the hidden crevices and fissures of our souls. As we meditate on it, it begins sending out its quiet, therapeutic waves of influence. And, as the apostle Paul said, we are transformed by the renewing of our thoughts (see Rom. 12:2).
That’s why the Lord commands us in Proverbs 7:1, 3: “Treasure my commands. . . . Write them on the tablet of your heart.”
And that’s why He promises in the first psalm that as we internalize His Word and mull over it day and night, we’ll be successful, converting His logic into our lives. We’ll be like apple trees planted by rivers of water, bearing fruit in season, with leaves that don’t wither; and whatever we do will prosper.
The wise store up knowledge. (Proverbs 10:14)