by Tom Griffin
By Heart Ministry
Bringing Scripture to Life
In the delivery room, awaiting the arrival of our second child, the nurse asked if I would like to deliver the baby. Calmly and deliberately, I told her, “No. That is what we pay you to do.” I wanted an expert for this important task. Later, the midwife convinced me that it would be good, with her hands behind mine, for me to deliver the baby (I was reminded that my wife was also in the room ). We did so without problem, but I stand by my first instinct: I want an expert.
If I’m interested in getting a dog, I talk to dog-lovers; if I’m interested in airplanes, I talk to a pilot; if a computer, I talk to a nerd (they’re my best friends, anyway). So, when I wanted to understand how the Bible wants to be communicated, I turned to the author, and He wrote very clearly His intent. Whereas 49 times the Bible mentions reading the Word, 71 times it mentions hearing the Word. And when you look again at the 49 mentions of reading, 29 of those are in the context of reading so that people could hear it. That makes the revised numbers 20 for reading and 100 for hearing the Word. For every one mention of reading, there are five mentions of hearing the Word. There is a huge bias in the Bible that we should hear the Word. But, to paraphrase Romans 10:14: “How can they hear if no one speaks it?”
I’m convinced that to understand a passage of Scripture you must be able to speak it aloud because that is how it was meant to be communicated. And to speak it aloud, it is best if it’s memorized. When a Bible passage is spoken from memory, with its tone of voice and pacing consistent with the original intent, then the message comes to life. And, as it breathes the air, we understand its meaning and feel its weight, we hear its cries and embrace its warmth.
The practice of Scripture recitation — the purposeful study, memorization, and spoken presentation of a portion of the Bible — conveys the sense of a passage, bringing it alive. It can animate a congregation to participate in corporate worship and interact in disciple-building activities. Scripture recitation “raises the bar” to the study and understanding of the Bible, progressing from clarity in understanding the Word to clarity in communicating it. It is a natural bridge to evangelism. Life wants to be shared.
Study in preparation for a recitation of Scripture focuses on the context in which the passage was written: the life-relationships between people, the cultural setting and biases, idioms, and the over-arching context of the writing. Understanding the intent of the passage determines how it will be presented. There are many variables to consider when deciding how to present a passage of Scripture. A recitation will focus on just one tone, one meaning, one tempo, and one volume. Although it is intellectually interesting to consider all the variations, a recitation must bring them to a single presentation. Whereas pastors recommend that you memorize a passage of Scripture, a recitation gives the date and time at which you will be put to the test! It is very motivating.
This motivation prompts careful study to understand the meaning of a passage, and that meaning goes beyond the text. Simply reading the words results in some of the meaning being left behind, flat on the page. One must spend time with the passage, to become intimate with it.
When a passage is dwelt upon for an extended period, and its intent understood, it is possible to “feel” the passage, to experience it in a way for which there are no Words. That feeling, however, is not always warm and cozy. My feel for Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 2 was one of honest struggle and longing to know. I found it both beautiful and agonizing. It broke my heart to speak the words — words that I hadn’t just memorized in the right order; I felt them in the pit of my stomach. This is what the preparation to recite a passage does to you; it makes you feel the message of Scripture and, in doing so, unveils its heart. But I would like to be clear about the order of events in this progression. We do not simply try to “feel” a passage and then present it without study. Study comes first — analysis, research, comparison, prayerful consideration, and being open to and led by the teaching of the Holy Spirit (John 14:6).
My own experience with Scripture recitation has given me a glimpse into the working of the Holy Spirit, not only while studying to understand a passage, but also when presenting it. When speaking God’s Word to His people, occasionally I have felt myself to be transparent — to have lost myself in the transaction. The Word flowed through me to “correct, rebuke, and encourage” (2 Timothy 4:2), and I felt as if I was a witness to the message being delivered. The feeling was one of communion and empathy, an encounter with the Holy Spirit. It is certainly worth the investment of preparation.
When the passage is spoken aloud, the clarity of such expression projects a vitality and understanding that is witness to the study and practice that brought it into being. It is a rich, dense morsel and goes by quickly. Normal conversational pace is 150 words per minute. At this pace, all of Isaiah 53 takes two and a half minutes, all of 1 Corinthians 13 is under two minutes, and Psalm 23 is 45 seconds.
If you would like more information about beginning the ministry in your church, By Heart Ministry can help. Learn more at byheart.org and see examples of Scripture recited on the By Heart YouTube channel.