My wife and I learned to speak Swahili in the DR Congo using a self-directed language learning method which helped us learn a second language the same way we learned our mother tongue when we were babies. The method is simple: Learn a little, and use it a lot. This approach is the exact opposite taken by today’s educational system. School today, especially Higher Education is often like trying to drink from an open fire hydrant, with negligible time remaining for assimilation and application. I think we should learn the Bible the same way we learned our mother tongue: Learn a little of it and use it a lot, making it part of our core knowledge, keeping it from going in one ear and out the other.
I am trying to memorize Philippians 4:4–9, a powerful passage of Scripture. I find that meditating on the passage changes how I think and feel—even how I see the world. The Bible itself states, “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). To help me learn more Scripture, I borrowed an idea from Billy Graham that has made the Bible part of my daily life. Billy has been known to put an open Bible on a table or counter in his house so that whenever he walks by, he can easily stop and read it. I decided to do this in my office at school: I leave an open Bible atop a small bookcase, open to the phrase on which I am trying to meditate that day. As I go through my day, I take moments all day long to read the phrase from the open Bible, thinking about its live-giving truth.
Right now, my daily Bible reading plan follows five bookmarks in my Bible. I read one of Proverbs’ thirty-one chapters each day of the month (according to the calendar date). I read one of Psalms’ 150 chapters every day, which allows me to complete the entire book every five months. I read a passage from the Old Testament, one from the Four Gospels, and one from the remainder of the New Testament. Except when reading Psalms and Proverbs, I read just enough of a passage to have read something on which to reflect. Sometimes I read only one verse—sometimes a whole chapter. That’s because Bible-in-a-year plans don’t work very well for me. When I try them, I often find myself reading only to make up lost ground, because I’ve gotten behind the schedule. I also find myself without enough time to reflect on what I’ve read and consider how to apply it. Reading from five different sections of the Bible helps me eat a more balanced spiritual meal, and it gives me time to digest my spiritual food. After reading, I usually write a prayer to God in my journal, using material from the passages I have just read.
I’m not a big fan of tattoos. I usually wonder: Are you sure you’ll want that on your skin when you are seventy or eighty years old? But I make an exception for Scriptural tattoos, which seem to recall the Bible’s insistence that we take the commands of God and “tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 6:8) and “bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:3). One student of mine has her arm tattooed with a picture of a tree and the words “abide in me,” from John 15; another student simply has the word “beloved” tattooed on her arm, from 1 John 3:1.
In one of the last letters Paul wrote before dying, he told Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). The Word of God is the bread of life. We have no excuse not to be spiritually well-fed followers of Jesus. We have many versions of the Bible in our mother tongue, but it’s time that we actually read them, reflect on what they say, and get some tattoos on our heart.
REFLECTIONS: Find a place in your home or workplace to put an open Bible where you will constantly see it during the day. Pick a phrase of Scripture daily on which to meditate, then chew on it all day long. Put it where you will constantly see it—on your fridge, dashboard, mirror, cell phone, etc.
My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
Proverbs 3: 1-3