Thy Word I Have Hidden in My Heart
Glenda Simpkins Hoffman 6/7/2020
This week I felt stressed and anxious. The words of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving exalting Christ came into my mind. This prayer is from The Book of Common Prayer and was part of our weekly communion liturgy in in the Episcopal Church where my spiritual journey began.
Some people find liturgy boring and monotonous, and I’m sure I felt that way at times. But there was something rich and substantive about it as well that fed my soul in ways I wasn’t conscious of that time. I think that is because the prayers are based almost entirely on the life-giving words of scripture. The repetition of hearing these words week after week embedded them in my mind.
Years ago I remember reading in a book about someone who came to an Orthodox priest saying, “I just can’t get into the liturgy.” The priest replied, “The point is not that you get into the liturgy, but that the liturgy gets into you.” As soon as I read that, I realized that is what had happened to me. Without even trying, the liturgy (and these words of scripture) had become a part of who I am. So many of the great prayers come to me without thinking.
I didn’t grow up memorizing scripture as some children do, but I began to do so as a freshman in college. It was a part of what we did in the campus discipleship groups I became a part of, and I’m so grateful for it. As someone who was very anxious, having these words of God “hidden in my heart” was truly transformative. When I would feel stressed or anxious, I would begin to recite aloud or in my mind words that would calm and comfort me and help me put my confidence in God.
I don’t remember when I first memorized Psalm 23, but I do remember having this word in my life made a huge difference. It was the summer of 1982. Keith Green, one of my favorite Christian musicians, died in plane crash along with two of his children. I felt grief for his family and unsettled about this tragedy happening to such a strong Christ follower.
A month later, my older brother died in an Air Force jet crash. It was devastating. I was rocked to the core. “Walking through the valley of the shadow of death” moved from being words describing a universal human experience to becoming the reality of my life. It was a time I felt abandoned by God and alone. So I longed to know and experience God’s nearness and presence to know and believe in my heart and soul “I will not fear for thou art with me.”
So I leaned into Psalm 23 and for two years listening to and singing Keith Green’s arrangement of this psalm: The Lord Is My Shepherd https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFLRMWlCOow. God used this in my life in a powerful way to help me process my grief and to give me the confidence in God that I lacked to heed his call into ministry.
Repetition of any kind forms and shapes us whether it’s eating, sleeping, exercising, or practicing guitar or basketball. Unintentional repetition has its effect and can lead to undesirable emotions, unhealthy bodies, and reactive actions. But intentional repetition can lead to transformation helping us to become what we want to become—people who are healthy and holy and able to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
Each of the psalms selected for the first week in our VPC devotional are ones that I have memorized at some point in my life—each because of circumstances that required an intentional turn. Rather than focusing on myself and my circumstance, I needed to choose to focus on who God is and what he has, is, and will do for me.
All of us are experiencing the challenges in our nation and world. And each of us has our own personal set of challenges as well. The first prayer practice for this 100 Days of Prayer is memorization. We are hoping many will choose to memorize a psalm or two over the summer.
And if that is too much (and I know it is for some) find those particular phrases or verses that really speak to you and your situation right now and choose to hide God’s word in your heart. Repeat it daily, asking the Lord to embed it in your mind and heart. Trust, wait, and watch for how the Holy Spirit will use this word hidden in your heart to comfort, challenge, and change you.