There are two books that will change your life. Neither of them is on the current Top Ten Best Seller List. You will not see their authors parading through television talk shows promoting their writing.
There two books to which I refer are The Bible and the hymnbook. They should be mainstays in every library. There are many versions and variations and all are invaluable.
I wrote recently in this space about my upbringing on the King James Version of the Bible. I recalled how I was encouraged to read and memorize scripture and I recommended that as a helpful and healthy practice. Any translation will do.
The scriptures of the Old and New Testament have provided me with great comfort and strength over the years. Committing the words of Holy Scripture to memory allows you to recall it anywhere and at anytime. I promise you there is no better prescription for mental and spiritual health than having the Word hidden in your heart and imbedded in your brain.
I have found that memorizing the words of hymns has served a similar purpose. It is one thing to sing the words from the printed page or projected on the screen as you worship with others, but you cannot always have the words before you when you are alone. If you have memorized the words you can sing them in the dead of night and as you drive down the highway.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been faced with temptation and from somewhere deep within my subconscious I have heard the words: "O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above." Although this song, Come Thou Fount, was written over 300 years ago it is powerful today.
At times when I have wondered if God had abandoned me or was not interested in my circumstances I have found myself singing, sometimes silently and sometimes aloud, "Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!" or my spirit responds, "Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side" from the song written by Katharina A. von Schlegel.
When I am challenged to allow my mind and body to become something other than what God intended, the melody and the words of the contemporary song by Jesse Dixon spring forth: "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you."
When I feel alone and friendless I hear "He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own." When it appears that the whole world is against me, that beloved hymn Amazing Grace pops into my mind and mouth: "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; 'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home."
My musical memory bank is one of my most treasured possessions. The list of songs of faith that have buoyed my spirit and anchored my life is extensive. I cannot recall them all and do not have time and space to recount them if I could. But I have committed them to memory and God brings them to my consciousness when they are needed.
I commend the practice of memorizing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." I promise they will be valuable resources to you. This Lenten season would be a good time to begin that discipline.
PS. What is your favorite song of faith?
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," Feb. 27, 2012, North Georgia Conference, United Methodist Church.]