“And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ Matthew 4:3-4 ESV
These words were spoken by Jesus after 40 days of fasting in the dessert. Jesus must have been starving and probably would have loved to have some bread. But through his response we learn that there is something he wanted more than bread and that was to follow the heart of God. In that moment, after 40 days without food, Jesus chose to reveal his true understanding of God’s word and God’s heart by reciting scripture (Deuteronomy 8).
Understanding of the scripture is so important to us. This is our relational link to God and his heart. At Awana we believe that memorization of scriptures is key and yet this is the thing we are most often challenged on when meeting with churches. This is the biggest perceived negative perception which we think comes from a misunderstanding of our intention.
Many churches are not recognizing memorization as a critical component of discipleship. Some would say, “this isn’t what we want for our club or our kids because this just isn’t where kids are at.” Sometimes we hear, “well kids just memorize their verses in the car so they can get a chocolate.” This is not to say that these churches or ministries are not using scripture. But using is different than following. When there is a need or a challenge, they will look to scripture for the answers but their search is often narrow and solution focused. The problem comes first.
This is contrary to the approach that Jesus had when it came to the understanding of the Word of God. Jesus understood the heart of God. If we believe that God is at work in the world and in the lives of his people then we want to hear what God says first. He speaks, we follow and then we respond. Scripture becomes the most relevant thing, not the problem we are trying to solve. This is a posture of following rather than leading.
We want to be a following scripture discipleship ministry.
Head to Heart
This is how we want to frame memorization for our partners and those that are considering moving away from memorization in their ministries. Ancient believers have always dedicated themselves to memorizing the word of God. Most cultures that have followed Jesus have not been literate, had scriptures available to them, or the scriptures have not been in their language. What people have found throughout the years is that something special happens when you memorize the Word of God. Memorization becomes a bridge for linking the knowledge in our heads to the relationship in our hearts. The heart is the place of relational connection to God.
Can we not see this as an incredible opportunity to take something that is ancient to the church and apply it in a present and future tense. Can we not rework this practice to see something special for our own kids. We all want this for our kids. Many children and youth leaders say, “I just feel like I am doing all this teaching but I can’t tell if it is making any difference.” Memorization can make the difference.
Through this process of memorization we learn what God is saying through his word by looking, listening, memorizing, remembering, believing and applying. All components but be present for spiritual development t take place in the life of a child. It is important to move past the quick reciting of a verse that rewards with a candy, although there is nothing wrong with candy or reciting.
Take some time each week to ask questions.
“What do you think this verse means?” If a child doesn’t understand the words he is reading it is not likely that he will figure out how it applies to his life. Help him think through the meaning of the verses they are learning.
“Do you believe what you have read?” In this case you are trying to engage something much deeper than just the cerebral cortex. By providing an opportunity to ask questions you are deepening a child’s understanding and building trust. In providing an opportunity to say they believe you are allowing them to take ownership of the words.
In discipleship we are building a relationship with God and so taking his word to heart is critical. If it is just memorizing for the sake of a candy or a signature then the point has been missed. We want to equip and encouraging clubs to move towards the heart of memorization.