Awhile back, I finished memorizing Philippians. Since that time, I have tried to keep those four chapters memorized — a harder task than I imagined! Also in the days after memorizing this little book, I have had three unexpected experiences that have shown me that memorizing Scripture is even more beneficial for church leaders than I might have originally thought.
The first unexpected experience happened during an elders’ meeting. We were discussing an issue in the church when one of the elders who knew I had memorized Philippians said something like, “Steve, isn’t that like what was going on in Philippians 1? What does it say there, and what is your understanding of that section?” This was not technically a situation that required memorization. We all could have turned to Philippians, looked at the passage, had a discussion, and concluded something. But in the flow of that meeting, dealing with a particular matter, it was helpful that I could (somewhat) quickly quote the passage, share a couple of thoughts, and then we were able to move on.
A second unexpected experience has happened numerous times in my role with Christian Communicators Worldwide, specifically when counseling church leaders. I have been surprised how often what I have memorized has been precisely what pastors and missionaries need to hear and consider in whatever situation they are facing. Yes, Philippians is quite potent on some critical areas in church life, so it makes sense that this letter speaks to church leaders. Yet I’m more convinced than ever that much of what we memorize from anywhere in the Bible will be useful in counseling. God seems to make it so.
The third unexpected experience I have had recently that points to the value of Scripture memory for church leaders is connected to a health problem. Early one morning around the time I completed memorizing Philippians, I had a vertigo attack. The room spun and spun for two hours, and I didn’t dare move unless I wanted to face undesirable physical consequences. Since that time, I have experienced dizziness off and on, but it was significantly bad the two days before Thanksgiving (a month after the attack) when the dizziness turned into brain fog and an inability to read without significant discomfort. I had to lay in bed with my eyes closed. As a pastor who teaches most Sundays, I found myself wondering, “What about Sunday’s message? Should I find somebody else to fill in?”
Then something surprising happened: I began to quote in my mind the passage for the next Sunday’s sermon. I was able to do that because I was teaching through Philippians. As I was recalling those verses, I was able to think about them with a fairly clear mind and even consider how to communicate the passage effectively. This was not only unexpected and productive, but I even sensed God’s help and love in a unique way.
Though I should have memorized far more Scripture in my life than I have, these unexpected experiences are encouragements from the Lord to move on to another section of Scripture. I already tried once after Philippians, and failed miserably (I’m blaming the holiday season!). But I’ve picked it up again recently with another small book in the New Testament. Pick your own passage of Scripture and join me. Start small — maybe just a verse or two a day, five days a week — and I’m positive you’ll have your own ministry stories to tell.