Tag Archives: Memorization

A Good First Step

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Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:11 (NRSVCE)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I dove in and began devouring the Great Story. A mentor encouraged me to do more than just read it and study it, he encouraged me to memorize pieces of it. The first verse he challenged me to memorize was Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

It was a great one to memorize first because it set the course for me spiritually. Continuous meditation on the Great Story and applying what I learn to the words, actions, choices, and decisions of my daily life became the path to spiritual prosperity.

Even as a young man I inherently realized that “prosperity” and “success” were not referencing wealth and riches we conjure in our minds when we hear those words. That said, I have found that meditating on and applying the behavioral and financial principles and wisdom found throughout the Great Story have had tangible benefits for me along life’s road.

The lyrics of today’s Psalm could easily be a riff on Joshua 1:8. David centers the song on the benefit of God’s law, precepts, commandments, ordinances, and decrees. David poetically lists out the benefits of God’s Word:

  • It revives the soul
  • It makes the simple wise
  • It brings the heart joy
  • It gives enlightenment
  • It is worth more than gold
  • It sweetens the journey
  • It brings “great reward.”

In the quiet this morning I find turning and looking back forty years of life’s road. My boss encouraging me to memorize Joshua 1:8 was the first step in this ongoing spiritual journey. This chapter-a-day habit is part of it; Spending a few minutes each morning reading, thinking about it, and trying to let it inform my words and actions each day. Yesterday’s chapter had me praising and thanking God as all day long I meditated on how great my life really is. Today’s chapter reminds me that endeavoring to apply the principles of Joshua 1:8 (continuous meditation, consistent application) has played a huge part in prospering my life with goodness in so many ways.

Jesus said, “The one who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. The one who knocks will find that doors will open.” Which is why I keep pressing on each day asking, seeking, and knocking. I always discover more just a little further up and a little further in.

Note: Part 2 of the Wayfarer Weekend podcast and my conversation with Kevin Roose about being Companions on the Journey will drop tomorrow.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

“Worth Repeating”

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Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.
Exodus 37:1 (NRSVCE)

On Saturday, Wendy and I were driving to our friends’ house for a dinner party. We passed by a church that had a large LED sign out front that had a simple Bible reference in giant letters: “Isaiah 41:10.”

Immediately upon seeing the sign and without thinking, I said out loud, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 is a verse that I memorized when I was in high school. It became a favorite one for me to quote whenever I was anxious, afraid, or stressed. Sometimes, I had it written on a piece of paper in my pocket. Whenever I reached into my pocket for something and felt the paper, I would say the verse in my head or whisper it to myself. I used it as an affirmation, a reminder, and an antidote to negative blurts that sometimes run rampant in my brain.

Let’s be honest: Today’s chapter of Exodus is boring. Not only is nothing more than a description of the design of the furnishings for God’s ancient tent temple, but it’s almost an exact repeat recitation of verses from about ten chapters back except with the verb tenses changed from future tense (“make a…”) to past tense (“made the…”).

In my perpetual journey through the Great Story I’ve come to learn that sometimes spiritual lessons are not within the text, but outside of it. It’s not what is being communicated that holds value for me as much as how it’s being communicated.

Ancient cultures like the Hebrews often used repetition to help fix something in the reader’s (or hearer’s) brain. Our brains learn from repetition, and by giving the same description twice it both told the audience that it was important and made it more likely that it would be remembered.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think about that verse from Isaiah. I can’t remember the last time I’d quoted it, but all it took was seeing the reference and it came pouring out of me. As I pondered that this morning I realized that it wasn’t something that I simply memorized to pass a test or check it off a to-do list like your notes for a history exam. It wasn’t like memorizing lines for a role on stage in which I memorized it for a period of time for a specific reason only to dismiss it when I no longer needed it. I memorized the verse, but then with repetition tied to countless moments of anxiety, stress, or fear it got ingested into my soul. It became a part of me.

I had a mentor once tell me, “the Word isn’t for reading, it’s for eating.” Just as food is digested to feed the body with critical, life-giving nutrients, so verses like Isaiah 41:10 become nourishment for soul that devours it. And that process of spiritual digestion begins with same principle used in today’s chapter: simple repetition.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Book, and the Journey

While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, the priest Hilkiah found the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses.
2 Chronicles 34:14 (NRSVCE)

I was just 14 years old when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. The first thing I did after making that decision was to begin reading the Living Bible that I’d received for my confirmation a few years before with it’s puke green, imitation leather cover. I’d learned about the Bible all my life. I’d read verses from it, but I’d never really read it. Somehow I knew as I launched out on my faith journey that I had to read the Book for real.

A short time later I had an after school job and my boss asked if I’d like to do a Bible study together. I jumped at the chance. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we met together in his office. One of the first things he had me do was memorize Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (FYI, I typed this from memory. It’s still in there!)

That first memorized verse set the course for me spiritually. I have been journeying through God’s Message ever since. The Book is the source material of faith. I have read it through in a year. I’ve read it in different translations and paraphrases. I have studied it academically. I have studied it alone and in groups. I have memorized parts of it. I keep plumbing the depths, discovering new layers, and finding new meaning as I make my way through it again and again from altogether different waypoints in my own Life journey. (And, I continue to read it with those few brave souls who follow along here a chapter a day!)

In today’s chapter we are nearing the end of the Chronicler’s historical summary of the Kings of Judah. Mannaseh had reigned for fifty-five years and the nation had fallen back into its idolatrous ways. Now young Josiah becomes King and leads the people in a revival back to the God of their ancestors. First, he gets rid of all the idols in the land, then he begins a restoration campaign of the Temple of Solomon. This was not a quick process. The restoration of the Temple began 18 years into Josiah’s reign. During the restoration they discovered the Book of the Law (what we would know today as Genesis through Deuteronomy). In other words, the source material of the Hebrew faith had been lost and forgotten for years. They didn’t even know where it was, let alone did they remember what was in it!

How long had they been stumbling along without the source material of their faith? What were they relying on to inform them, encourage them, and instruct them? Oral tradition? The memory of old priests? How did they know they were living in accordance with God’s Law if they didn’t even have a copy of the Law to reference? The discovery of the Book of the Law was huge, as we’ll find out in the final few chapters of Chronicles.

This morning I’m thinking about my never-ending journey through the Book and the Great Story. How different my journey would be without this Source of wisdom, history, instruction, inspiration, encouragement, admonishment, and insight. I’m so thankful I took Joshua 1:8 to heart. I’m so grateful that I’ve not had to fly blind in my faith journey, that I’ve had the Book as my Source material.

Thanks for reading along with me.

My Eternal Mystery, My Forever Friend

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.
2 Kings 22:8 (NIV)

Occasionally I have had people ask me how my “chapter-a-day” journey began. It goes much further back than blogging. The roots of it go all the way back to early 1980s. I was in high school and had only recently struck out on my path following Jesus. I had an after school job, and my boss was also a follower. He invited me to join him in studying God’s Message together, and the first thing he asked of me was to memorize Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

I did memorize the verse,  and I took it to heart. As I meditated on the verse during the memorization process, I came to mull over the word “meditate.” It struck me in those early stages of my journey that God’s Message was to be more than something I give a nod to on Sunday morning when the pastor refers to it. It was supposed to be more than a routine duty that I check off my daily task list of religious self-righteousness. God’s Message was the guide. It was the constant companion and the mystery to be endlessly understood. It was something to ingest and digest on a continual basis. It was something to dive into, excavate, mull over, and apply to my every day circumstances. Success in the spiritual journey came through the conduit of meditating on the Message.

Thus, what became this chapter-a-day blog began in a young man wearing Forenza parachute pants and sporting a righteous mullet. I’ll let that imagery sink in while I transition back to today. 🙂

The setting of this morning’s chapter is Solomon’s Temple. It is the Temple of the Lord built to the exact specifications prescribed in God’s Message through Moses and by plans developed by David. It was built to be the worship center of YHWH whose first command was “don’t have any other gods before me.”

But, over time the temple had become a multi-cultural interfaith religious center filled with the worship of all sorts of local dieties, some of whom practiced all sorts of nasty things we can scarcely imagine today. The scroll of God’s Message had been so long forgotten that the High Priest didn’t even know where it was nor remember what it said. When the scroll is discovered during some Temple renovations, it is a major find. When King Josiah tells the priest to “Inquire of the Lord for me concerning this book,” the priest has to scour the city to find a lone prophetess named Hulda who was “keeper of the wardrobe.” [Note: I’ve learned in theatre to always trust the costumers. They make a lifetime of keeping track of things long forgotten by others!]

The Message had been packed away, put aside, and forgotten. The words that were to be the guide for the journey weren’t even known and barely remembered. Without the guidebook, the people naturally wandered until they found themselves spiritually lost.

This morning I’m reminded of the simple principle that came out of meditating on a verse that I was asked to memorize as a kid:

If I’m going to be successful in this journey of following after God then I have to do my best to do what God’s Message says. If I’m going to do what God’s Message says then I have to constantly discover what that is and what it means. The Message has to become my source material, my constant companion, my eternal mystery, my forever friend.

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

Some Things Bear Repeating

Gnomeo & Juliet
Gnomeo & Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 108:1-5 (NIV)
[and Psalm 57:7-11 (NIV)]

Wise King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are always taking what has been and repurposing it, recycling it, or building on it anew. It’s part of the creative process God bred into us when He, the master Creator, molded us in His own image. For example, consider Shakespeare’s famous romance Romeo and Juliet. One does not have to search far to find countless adaptations of the Bard’s timeless story:

Adaptations and regurgitations aren’t inherently wrong or bad (though some of them are certainly poor reflection of the original). The truth is that some things bear repeating. As children we hear our parents repeat the same things over, and over, and over. As parents we repeat the same things to our children over, and over, and over. It often takes us hearing the same message repeated ad nauseam before it finally sinks in and gets applied. As an actor, I repeat the same lines over and over and over again as part of the memorization and rehearsal process. It never ceases to amaze me how often I will say a particular line countless times, but find new depth of understanding and meaning after hundreds of repetitions.

When reading through the collective lyrics of the Psalms, it’s easy to feel like we’re reading the same thing over and over. That’s because, in some cases, we are. The opening verse of Psalm 108 is an almost word-for-word repeat of the last verse of Psalm 57. Likewise, the third verse of Psalm 108 is a repeat of last verse of Psalm 60.

Some things bear repeating, and some do not. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

Preparing for a Role: “How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?”

lines Ah WildernessIt’s the most common question I get as an actor from those who have never been on stage: “How do you memorize/remember all of those lines?”

There are two important things that are true about memorizing lines:

  1. You’ve simply got to do the work of memorization.
  2. There are tricks that make the work easier than you might think.

Make no mistake. Memorization does takes time and effort. You sit with your script and go over the lines again, and again, and again. I will sometimes say the line until I can repeat it perfectly, then repeat it 10 – 20 – or 30 times in a row. There is no substitute for repetition.

What those who have never been on stage do not realize is that the entire acting process does make it easier. It’s not as if you’re memorizing totally random words or thoughts. The lines you’re memorizing are generally part of a conversation. As you internalize the context of the situation/conversation the lines tend to flow naturally. If another character on stage asks your character a question, your line is the logical answer to that question. Your brain follows the order of the conversation and the line becomes like a piece of a puzzle. “This line,” the brain reasons, “fits perfectly at this point in the conversation.”

In addition, when you “block” the scene (determining when and were you move on stage) certain movements or actions become linked to a line or lines by your brain. “When walking over to the table, you’re supposed to say this,” the brain remembers.

Typically, the memorization process requires help. For our production of Ah, Wilderness! there are four stage managers who make themselves available to “run lines” with the actors. Having a wonderful wife who is a capable actor in her own right, I have the luxury of a partner who understands the need to run lines and is typically happy to do so.

Technology also affords actors simple and inexpensive tools. Using a cell phone or computer, you can easily record a “cue track.” You or another person read the line immediately preceding your line and then your line. I have an iTunes playlist of the cue track for all of my lines in Ah, Wilderness! When I’m driving or doing mindless chores around the house I play the cue track on my iPhone and listen to my lines over and over and over again. My car and iPhone also provide me with a “pause” button so I can listen to the cue line, hit pause, then try to say my line from memory.

Ah Wilderness Cue Track Sample

In the rehearsal process, you’re usually allowed to have the script (a.k.a “book”) in your hand through the blocking and working process of a scene. The rehearsal schedule will tell you when you have to be “off book” for particular scenes. One you’re supposed to be “off book” you can’t have your script with you, but for a period of time you can “call for lines.” If you forget your line you simply say “line” and a stage manager or production assistant is following along and will feed you the line. As you near performance, you are no longer allowed to call for lines and if you forget the line you and your fellow actors are required to figure it out in the moment.

Of course, the process of going “off book” is a natural stressor for actors in any production – but I think that those who’ve never been on stage imagine it to be harder and more stressful than it actually is. The repetition of rehearsals the the natural flow of the process make line recall easier than many believe it to be.

 

Chapter-a-Day 1 Thessalonians 4

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Image via Wikipedia

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

When I was young and a new believer, a string of events led me to an after school job working for a gentleman named Chuck. It was not long before Chuck realized that I was a new follower of Jesus. He invited me to meet with him on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 a.m. in his office. We went through a series of Bible studies together, and Chuck taught me the importance of memorizing verses from God’s Message.

What’s your verse for the day?” was one of Chuck’s favorite questions. There was a period of time when he asked everyone this question everyday. He annoyed people with it. In fact, one could argue that in picking out of the verse(s) each day for these blog posts are me continuing to answer his incessant question some thirty years ago.

Some verses are more than verses for a day, however. They grow roots into your heart and soul and bear luscious fruit in your life. So it is with this verse from today’s chapter. It began digging into the core of my spirit about 20 years ago and has become one of a handful of “Life verses” onto which I cling and on which I’ve sculpted my life.

These verses from today’s chapter have inspired and convicted me to talk less and listen more. They have constantly reminded me that I am called to “mind my business,” which doesn’t just mean to keep my nose out of others business, but to mind my own affairs consciously and deliberately. As a young man and to this day, these verses have inspired me to increasingly live in a way that I am God’s man, but also my own man – cutting apron strings, living independently, making difficult decisions, following the path laid out for me while weaning myself from needing the provision or approval of others.

One of the many ancillary benefits from this journey through God’s message is that we stumble upon nuggets from God’s Message that become important to our day, our week, our month, our year, our life.

What’s your verse for the day?”