In the USA, it is common for every person in a household to own at least one if not several Bibles. Certainly, there will be at least one in some location in the house where it may sit quietly gathering dust. Christians in America have such ready access to the text of the Bible in church worship guides, online at numerous sites and even on their phones that they have no concept of a place where a single verse of scripture would be as precious as diamonds. Unfortunately, the evidence of many studies of the US population tells us that ready access to the Bible has not translated into changed lives. One study reported that less than half of all Christians even believe that the Bible is a reliable source of truth.
Other studies report that, despite plenty of copies of the Bible available for people, very few people ever read it. In the culture of the USA, people pay coaches to help them be diligent in the development of their physical bodies, but very few discipline themselves to take any time at all to read and study the Bible. There are all sorts of online sources that will drop a reminder or even an actual text to read into someone’s email inbox every day. Evidence suggests either that the recipient only glances at or skims the mail, or that the recipient simply saves that mail for some more convenient time – every day.
There is a fairly vigorous debate among Christian leaders these days about the place of the Bible in Christian life. You can get the drift of this discussion in a well-written post by Michael Bird. There is a manner of regard for the Bible which can itself become idolatrous, but going all the way back to the Apostle Paul, there has been a solid understanding that the Scripture which God inspired is worthy of attentive regard and study.
This issue has special value for Christians in countries where simply being a Christian is an invitation to public scorn. In Bhutan, for example, someone who is known to have become a Christian could lose his job and would likely be unable to find another one. In Sudan, where the majority of the population is Muslim, someone who converts to Christianity is immediately an enemy of the state. In Nigeria, Boko Haram, a Muslim militant group, has staked out the northern half of the country for itself, and it works diligently at the goal of “cleansing” its territory of all non-Muslims. In Iran, more than one convert to Christianity has been arrested and tortured in an effort to force the convert to recant his faith.
In all such settings, the Bible is precious. Stories that tell how persecuted Christians treasure even a single verse from the Bible. After a church was burned down in Nigeria, members returned to salvage what they could from the ashes. Even small scraps of pages from the Bible were gathered up reverently and hopefully, and people read and savored those tiny bits of inspiration. Imprisoned in a shipping container with 18 other Christian women, one of the women managed to obtain Bible, and she shared it daily with the others; all shared the responsibility to keep the Bible hidden from their guards.
It used to be common in Christian Sunday Schools for children to memorize Bible verses every week. It is not so common now. Public schools require very little memorization, and church schools have followed suit. If Christians were less complacent about their continuing freedom to read the Bible and worship as they please, they might memorize more of the Bible. In Vietnam, a Christian man imprisoned for 18 years tells everyone that he recited over and over the memory verses he had learned as a child in Sunday School. During his long imprisonment, those memory verses sustained his faith.
Other Christians have such a hard time obtaining Bibles that distribution of any that become available is tightly managed. One house church in a restricted nation made the rule that anyone who wanted a Bible needed to prove he would actually use it. The church only gave a Bible to someone who had memorized all 176 verses of Psalm 119. Some Christian groups consider a Bible a treasure to be shared. Since it takes a long time to read the whole Bible, they tear a Bible into sections and pass the sections around. Members memorize as much as they can before passing their sections on to others.
Did you memorize verses in Sunday School as a child? How many of them can you say now without prompting? Do you ever challenge yourself to recite some of those verses as a personal meditation? Do you challenge yourself to memorize any new verses now that you are an adult? Do you think memorizing Scripture is a worthwhile endeavor? How do you use your Bible? Do you own a dusty one? Please share your comments.