11 Things I Learned From Memorizing A Whole Book (of the Bible)
Lessons from James
“It is well to have a good memory and that is the best memory which remembers what is best worth remembering.” — Charles Spurgeon
When I was in college, a friend and I challenged each other to memorize the book of James in one semester — all five chapters of it.
It was the first time I’d memorized such a large chunk of the Bible.
(Why James? We chose it because we wanted a book that would last one semester. James contains a little over 100 verses, one semester contains a little over 100 days — Voila)
Alas, I can no longer recite James from memory. But what I do remember has made a significant impact on my thoughts and life.
Here are 11 lessons I learned (and am continuing to learn) from the book of James*
Dangers of Double-mindedness
When he asks [for wisdom], he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (1:6–8)
I once heard someone say we have two minds: our own, and Christ’s.
Double-minded means trying to use both minds. It doesn’t work. When praying (or in anything, really) go with Christ’s mind.
- Even if we do not doubt, God can still say no. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t answer the prayer, it just means he has something else in mind.
- “Do not doubt” is easier said than done. In difficult cases, I like to pray Mark 9:24 — “I believe, help my unbelief!”
Temptation and Blame
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (1:13–14)
We shouldn’t blame God when we fall. That’s an exercise in futility.
It’s better to just admit our fault, and return to Him.
In any case, asking “why did this happen?” is less important than asking “where do I go from here?” unless the former question informs the latter.
Good Gifts Come From God Alone
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (1:17)
When you remember that everything good comes from God, it’s easier to be thankful.
Not just for family, friends, food, and granted prayer requests, but for everything: Hard-earned accomplishments, serendipitous accidents, intrinsic abilities…
And there’s another benefit of acknowleding God’s role as the sole Giver of Gifts:
If/when your own generosity goes unacknowledged, remember that your ability to give is itself a gift from God. That will keep you from being resentful or bitter at real or imagined slights.
In summary, good things comes from no other source than God. If it is good, it comes from God. If it is not good, it does not come from God. The end.
The Law is a Mirror — It shows you what’s wrong, it doesn’t FIX what’s wrong
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (1:23–25)
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?…Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do (2:14,18)
In the endless debate between grace and works, these verses helped me understand a little better what is going on.
Put simply: God’s Law is like a mirror. We look into a mirror to see the dirt on our faces, but we don’t use the mirror to clean the dirt off our faces.
Likewise, we use the Law to see what’s wrong with us, but we don’t use “following the Law” to obtain spiritual cleanliness. Only grace does that.
We should do our best to follow the Law, not because we will succeed (by ourselves), but because that’s the only way we can see how far off the mark we really are — through experience, not theory.
Humans have a desire to be independent, and do things on our own, but at times we need to learn a little bit of humility and leaning on God.
Trying, and failing, to follow the law will make us turn to God for help, and that allows Him to be our support.
True Religion involves action, not just good sentiments
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (1:27)
Religion has a bad name in the society I live in. Most people blame it for every kind of social ill imaginable — for hypocrisy, dogmatism, terrorism, etc. I personally don’t like the word “religion” either, because it also has those connotations for me.
But the religion here mentioned is referring more to a life in God. “True” religion. True faith.
I believe this verse is literal. Those who want to follow true religion will care for widows and orphans.
As for the second half of this verse: there’s a fine line between being IN but not OF the world. Sometimes we cannot help being touched by icky situations, but we can keep ourselves from being polluted by them: We might get dirty when we’re walking around outside, but we don’t have to eat the dirt.
Watch Your Words
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (1:26)
The tongue…is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (3:6)
It’s almost funny how vividly James describes the dangers of the tongue.
But in practice, it’s not so funny. Unwise words get people in BIG trouble.
This applies to what we write too, especially on the internet, where things are never truly erased.
This verse reminds me to think twice before I write or say anything non-beneficial or negative.
The Responsibility of Teachers
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. (3:1–2)
There are so many teachers and coaches, particularly in the areas of spirituality and personal development.
Some are wise, experienced, wonderful mentors. Some are frauds. Some are clueless.
I cannot judge others. I only know, for myself: My life experiences and studies qualify me to teach some people, but not everyone.
In general, I should not be too eager to teach, or be an authority. Not unless God calls me to.
Teachers are held to a higher standard (Matthew 5:19), and being looked up to as a teacher can be dangerous if I am not humble.
How to Deal With Ambition and Envy
If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (3:14–15)
If we’re honest, we all have ambition and envy in our hearts.
Some of us might be proud of that, thinking it a precursor to success. Others might be ashamed, thinking ourselves weak and unspiritual.
What this verse teaches me is not to be proud OR ashamed (or hypocritical) about either ambition or envy (or anything else we struggle with).
If we just confess, honestly and without drama, that we struggle with things, our honesty will help ourselves and others come clean and be free.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you…Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (4:7,8,10)
The devil isn’t as powerful as he wants us to think he is.
That’s why he frequently tries to get us through our pride — the hardest vice for most people to overcome.
But here God says, if we humble ourselves before God and actively resist the devil, he (the devil) will go. He must.
You who say “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (4:13–15)
We should make plans, but not get too attached to them. God always gets the final say.
This is not a bad thing, not being in control…although it can feel scary.
But if we trust God and His Word, we can relax, and just enjoy life — knowing who’s ultimately in control.
Healing Each Other
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (5:16)
Lesson learned from this verse: If you are sick, in body, mind, or spirit, confess your sins.** Not just to God, but to another fallible human being like yourself.
And ask them to pray for you. Then return the favor.
By doing this, it’s possible that not only the person prayed for, but the person praying will be healed. (The verse doesn’t clearly specify that only the person prayed for is healed, after all!)
Honest vulnerability allows love in, and love heals.
It’s worth a try :)
Cover your bases. Pray and see what happens.
Memorizing James was a great practice for me. Not only did it exercise my brain and help me develop a stronger interest in and understanding of God’s Word — it helped me make a good friend.
So, if you have any friends zany enough to join you on a quest to memorize a book of the bible, I recommend giving it a try.
Thank you for reading
If you have any experiences reading/memorizing/learning from James or any other book, I’d love to hear about it!
*The Bible calls itself a Living Word. Which means that it speaks to us all in different ways, according to our backgrounds and needs. What I learned from James at this point is specific and relevant to me at this stage of my life, and I would just like to share what I learned.
No doubt there are more riches to be mined, and perhaps what you learn — even from the same verses — may be different from me, because of our different life situations. In that case, I’d love to hear what you learned!
**Not every sickness is a direct result of a sin. In fact, most probably aren’t. However, sin can act like a wall between us and the healing God wants to give us. So it’s probably a good idea to acknowledge and turn away from anything you know to be sin (don’t beat yourself up with unnecessary shame, only legitimate sins apply)
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