Mrs. Miersma is the wife of Rev. Thomas Miersma, missionary in Spokane, Washington. Previous article in this series: August 2007, p. 446.
As we draw these articles on royal children to a close, we will look briefly at one additional means to develop our ability to deal with the written and spoken word, especially with a view to understanding the Word of God. Having considered in previous articles the importance of regular and meaningful conversation with our children and the important part that reading aloud with our children can play in developing their God-given abilities, we turn to the importance of memorization, especially memorizing Scripture. Finally, we will remember to follow the path of prayerful dependence upon our faithful Father God as we take up this marvelous calling He has given us.
Psalm 119:11 speaks of the word as being hidden in our heart, and this stands, significantly, in the section that begins, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” This psalm speaks repeatedly of meditation upon God’s Word, of being taught it, and of our delight in it. This is no less true for us than it was for the Old Testament saints. In Deuteronomy 11:18 we read, in a reiteration of the instruction of Deuteronomy 6, “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul….” Colossians 3:16 admonishes us to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly….” One of the great strengths of our churches and Christian schools is the insistence upon regular memory work. It is a joy to see announcements in our bulletins of Bible memory projects for the whole congregation. With memorization falling on hard times in many spiritual and academic circles, let us continue to cling to this practice.
When we memorize something we make it a part of us, something that goes with us everywhere and at all times. Then when we cannot read the Scriptures, we can still meditate upon them, whether on the job, while driving, or on a sickbed. If the Scriptures are taken from us by persecution, we will still have them dwelling in our hearts. For this to be true, Scripture must become part of our long-term memory. While I do not know a great deal about how our minds work in this regard, I think we all recognize that there are things we can put into temporary memory, like phone numbers or addresses, which we forget once we no longer have a use for them. Then there is a short-term memorization, which we often use in our school years when we “cram” to learn something for a test. Finally, there are those things that we learn so thoroughly that we either are always able to recall them or to relearn them easily with minimal review.
Obviously, it is in this last category that we would desire to place memorization of Scripture, Psalters, and much of our catechism instruction. To memorize in this way requires regular review of what we have learned. For some, this memorization will be comparatively easy; for others it will require much more work. But the rewards will be great. If memorization comes easily to you or to your children, then use this gift—don’t let it languish. Even if it is difficult, do not give up. Like any other skill, the ability to memorize improves with practice. The more we memorize, the more easily we will be able to memorize; and, normally, the younger we begin to teach our children to memorize, the easier it will be for them.
Memorization of Scripture is not only an activity we should encourage in our children. We should set an example by memorizing with them. While our young children will s o m e t i m e s have the ability to memorize more quickly than we do as adults, there is no reason that we should set a certain arbitrary age at which we will no longer memorize. We could make memorization a part of our family worship, or we could memorize with our children at bedtime when they are younger. We can also make use, as a family, of the memory work required of our children in school or catechism, including a time to review regularly what has been learned.
What should we memorize? While there is a place for learning individual “memory verses” (as in, for example, our catechism lessons), learning passages of Scripture will generally be more beneficial for long-term retention. Psalms that speak of the greatness of our God (Ps. 8), of His care for His people (Ps. 23, 27), exhortations to praise and worship (Ps. 100, 117), confession of sin (Ps. 32, 51, 130), or the walk of the child of God (Ps. 1, 15, 24) are a good starting point. The Psalms encompass the whole experiential life of faith of the child of God, and learning these Psalms will give our children a spiritual reservoir to draw upon as they face various trials and temptations. Learning the Apostles’ Creed, the doxologies, and Psalters will help our preschool and young school-age children to participate in the worship service. We can help make our celebration of Christmas a more spiritual one by memorizing Luke 2 or by learning some of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Christ (Is. 9:6, 7; Is. 11:1-5).
Another approach that is beneficial is to learn a series of texts that teach the cardinal truths of the Christian faith or texts that illustrate the five points of Calvinism. When learning these verses we ought to make sure that we and our children learn also the place in which the text is found. This will be valuable to us and to them because we will be able to find the passage in which the text is located even when the exact wording has faded somewhat from our minds.
Do our children need to understand what they memorize? Ideally we will explain the meaning of the passage as much as possible, but having a full understanding of the words memorized is not necessary. As our children grow in understanding, they will be able to understand more fully what they have already learned. We are usually more likely to underestimate than to overestimate our children’s abilities in this regard.
For young children the easiest things to memorize will probably be Psalters and other songs. One of the great benefits of the gift of music that God has givenus is its ability to help us remember words in connection with it. When we use songs to help our children memorize the alphabet and other facts, we see how quickly they are able to learn in this way. The music that fills our homes, especially the music that has words, words that we may think we are not even listening to, is the music,with its words, that will fill the hearts of our children. The devil wants to use that music to fill the hearts and minds and mouths of our children with his message. When we listen to music with words, we should be very careful as to what we are bringing into our homes. Often, the words convey some sinful message, whether overtly or subtly, with powerful emotion, the music enhancing and imprinting the emotion along with the words. Perhaps the sinful message is doctrinal heresy, or perhaps its “style” conveys a certain attitude toward God. Let’s not fool ourselves by saying, “But I don’t listen to the words.” You do, whether you realize it or not, and so do your children. Rather use the gift of music first of all as a means to fill the hearts and minds and mouths of your children with the praises, the works, and the wonders of God. If our children learn their Psalter for school or catechism, but it stands in isolation from the rest of the music of the home, it will not live in them in the same way.
Finally, there is also a place for the memorizing of edifying poems and speeches. Memorizing poems and speeches in which the gift of language is used well will help to instill in our children patterns of speech and use of language that will enable them to express themselves more clearly and more beautifully. This kind of memorizing creates a model for them in prayer, as in learning the Lord’s Prayer, particularly, or other prayers that will help them gradually to formulate their own prayers in reverent, godly language. Some will object to the teaching of memorized prayers on the grounds that it does not allow the child to bring his own petitions. Yet, if the disciples needed to be taught to pray, so do we and our children, and just as Jesus gave His disciples a model prayer, so we may teach our children models of prayer, using the great model that Jesus set forth.
Rather than beginning by having our children make their own petitions, let us first teach them to make their own the simple and reverent petitions of Scripture and of saints who have gone before. Teaching them to pray as they grow in ability to understand means more than insisting on the speaking of a rote prayer; it means teaching them what that prayer means, that they may make it their own. The same is true of confession of our faith. We teach them the Lord’s Days of the catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and articles of the Belgic Confession of Faith, that they may learn to make the language of these confessions their own. It is not using the words of these confessions that will detract from the personal character of our confession. It is using them without understanding.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that it is only in the way of prayer that we may walk as stewards of the King, caring for His children. Prayer is that vital time with our Father-King where alone we receive the grace and strength to teach His precious children. There we pray for our children, that the feeble instruction we give may be used as the means in His hand to draw them unto Him. It is so easy to get caught up in all the means as so many things we must do. Prayer will keep our hearts and minds focused on the goal and purpose, not on the means as an end in themselves. The prayers, not only of those to whom God directly entrusts the care of the royal children, but also of the whole congregation, young and old, married or single, full of children or childless, are the powerful means by which God will build His church.
Pray that our lives may be filled with the grace and love of the Father-King, that by this means our children will learn His love, that by our godly example others (our children) may be gained to Christ. Pray, as fathers (and for fathers), for grace to love our wives and children for the Lord’s sake, to bear patiently with their weaknesses and infirmities, and to pity our children, not only in their physical weakness, but also in their spiritual weaknesses. Pray that we will not be exasperated with our children, but patiently discipline and build them up in the faith and knowledge of our Father in heaven. Pray for grace to continue to turn away from the desire to seek ourselves, focusing only on our own interests and hobbies, but rather to die to self and seek first the welfare of our Father’s kingdom, both in His church and in our homes. Pray for our wives in the difficult calling they have, both for their physical strength in pregnancy and childbirth and in the care of the children, but pray also for their spiritual needs to remain faithful to their calling and not in their weakness to despair.
Pray, as mothers (and for mothers), for grace to walk in quiet submission to our husbands, that we may set an example of obedience to our children. Pray for our husbands in their difficult calling as they must go out into an increasingly sinful world and face manifold temptations, especially the temptations to turn from the way of marital faithfulness and from faithful service to worldly ambition for money and power. Pray for grace to resist the siren call of the world, which calls us fools for putting our husbands and children before worldly ambition, which mocks and derides us for our large families, which tells us to seek ourselves and a career, and which tells us to put physical attractiveness and allure before the desire for modesty and godliness.
Pray together for our pastors as they instruct the lambs of the flock especially in the catechism classes. Pray for our Christian schoolteachers, that they may faithfully bring the light of the Word to bear on all that they teach. Pray that they may see themselves as those who assist godly parents as stewards in carrying out their calling, and not as those who are simply better educated “authorities.” Pray that they may have patience and love to bear with the weaknesses of our children and courage and faithfulness to draw to our attention also the sins of our children.
Pray that God will continue to raise up faithful pastors and teachers in our midst.
Pray for our children that our Father will give them a heart to obey us for the Lord’s sake, that He will work in them a teachable spirit to receive our instruction and discipline in humility, and that He will instill in them a desire to walk in the ways of their Father King. Let us all, then, continue to pray that our Father will mold and make His children after His image and likeness, for only in this way will they become truly royal children.