Fast forward your life for a moment. If God grants you length of days, imagine your body gnarled and dried-up, your eyes dim, your ears straining to hear, your mind confused. What will comfort you then? Will sip or sweet or picture or gadget or tweet? Even if a loved one is near, if you do not recognize spouse, son or daughter, what joy will it bring? When you have no one or no thing to which to cling, what will be your solace and help?
Now rewind back to the present. Just as for any trip we must prepare and pack for the journey, so you should be preparing for your time to walk through that dark valley. What you should begin packing now, like gold into a chest, is the Word of God into your mind and soul. To do so is to call Christ near, both now and for the future.
My daughter Emory has been working in a dementia unit for the past several months, assisting as an activity coordinator. Often she has the opportunity to lead a devotional time. She told us recently when she asks Bible trivia questions, such as “Who built the ark?” she is met with dull stares and silence. Yet when she starts quoting a verse, many of the residents begin saying them with her. She can even stop mid-verse, and some will finish the text. Often they start smiling and recounting an event. Their earlier preparation is paying dividends now even when their minds are no longer able to invest in the treasure.
In hearing this I was reminded of my internship under Dr. Blackwood over twenty years ago. He had me visit regularly a mother of an elder in the church who was withered and bed-ridden. Lying there in the fetal position, she showed no sign of responding to anything I said or asked. But when I started quoting Psalm 23, the thin lips began to move and a faint whisper could be heard.
We know we are to memorize Scripture, so that we can dwell in meditation upon His Word day and night (Psalm 1). But are we creating Scripture memories? In other words, do you have certain portions of Scripture associated with significant events and people in your life? Might these bring greater comfort to us in our demise?
When I hear certain verses, powerful memories and associations with God’s presence in my life come to mind. John 17:3 brings the freshness of my salvation and the wonder of my Lord as a college student back to me; Hebrews 10:38 my clear call late one night into ministry; with the phrase “thy grace is sufficient” I see my tiny grandmother (she could walk under my outstretched arm) and her scrawl at the bottom of her letters she wrote me when I was in college, her prayers God’s means of directing me in the midst of my carousing into contact with Christ who conquered me. The Psalms that we sing have especially been an ongoing, running commentary to me. When singing Psalm 4, “May you sacrifice now sacrifices just, in Jehovah only placing all your trust,” I feel again the sweet pain of sending a dear friend away in the ministry; Psalm 128 brings my loving, fruitful wife to mind; Psalm 37’s injunction to cultivate faithfulness in the midst of wickedness the falling of those towers ten years ago; Psalm 131 a wrestling with God and its inevitable humbling; Psalm 42’s honest cry, “Your waves have all rolled over me; on me your breakers fall,” has been a lifeline again and again in ministry. A loud and joyous belting of the Traveler’s Psalm, Psalm 121, has started our family trips. Will it come to mind on my last solo journey? Will the faces of the ones I sang it most often with also come to mind?
How might we aid not only Scripture memory but Scripture memories in ourselves and others? Here’s a few ideas. Maybe you could add others.
- Choose a verse that captures your hope for your child and pray it regularly for your son or daughter.
- Use a text on birthday cards that would have a special meaning between you and the recipient.
- When going through a trial, use the same psalm over and over again. I’m always amazed at what I finally learn after what must be the fiftieth or hundredth singing.
- Mark events such as graduations, marriages, moves, etc. with a singular verse of promise.
- When given a remarkable providential blessing, devote time to thanking God by recalling texts of how He has honored what His Word says He will do.
- At the death of someone close to you in the Lord, find a verse that explains the transition. The Scripture will not only help comfort you in your mourning, but help you get ready yourself.
Let me end where the Heidelberg Catechism begins. Each phrase in this beautifully written answer on our comfort is taken from Scripture, and calls us to pledge both a willingness and a readiness to always live unto Him.
Question 1.What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.