Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Hiding God’s Word

I am forever grateful for the people who taught me to memorise Scripture when I was a child.
My mother died when I was ten years old. A few months later, to get me off his hands for a while, no doubt, my Dad sent me to a Scripture Union boys’ camp at Victor Harbor, a popular holiday town in South Australia. I was actually two years too young to attend, but because of the circumstances, they allowed me in.
The speaker at this camp was a wonderful children’s evangelist named A.H.Brown. His story-telling ability was legendary. If I live another fifty years, I shall never forget his breath-catching, heart-stopping narration of the tale of Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. And I am sure I shall never hear anyone tell it better.
My first encounters with Mr Brown (as we always called him) were not promising. One night we were all sitting around a camp fire while he related an African fable in which a rabbit climbed a tree. Protected by the half-darkness, I turned to the lad next me and exclaimed smugly, ‘How long since rabbits have been able to climb trees?’
I was not as well hidden as I thought. Mr Brown stopped short, turned slowly, glared at me, and said sternly, ‘I told you when I started that this was only a fable.’ My embarrassment was acute.
On Sunday morning, one of the lads went down the street and bought a newspaper. I didn’t know it, but we had been expressly told that going to the shops on Sunday was forbidden. I picked the paper up, sat on a seat outside and began browsing through it. Suddenly, a voice called urgently. ‘Quick! Bring it in here!’ I looked up somewhat puzzled and began to wander into the dormitory.
Behind me, the others could see what I could not see – the figure of Mr Brown looming awesomely upon me. Before I reached the door, he caught me. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Not only do you break the rules and buy a newspaper, but you try and hide the fact by running inside when you see me coming!’ He gave me no chance to explain. The paper was confiscated and I was then unpopular with its owner as well!
That night we all went to the local Church of Christ for the evening service. Mr Brown was the preacher. He spoke on John 3:14-15 –
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
He told a dramatic story about an old medieval manuscript which depicted the people of Israel in the days of Moses trying desperately to save themselves from a plague of venomous desert snakes. Some struggled, others prayed, some relied on helping their suffering neighbours, others tried to flee – and all failed. But those who simply looked at the snake on the pole were saved. And so Mr Brown invited us to look to Jesus.
I sat at the end of one of the church’s unusual slatted pews, stirred by this simple, vivid message. Young as I was, and out of favour as I had become, I felt impelled to stand to my feet. I did. I looked. And I was saved.
Looking back, I can see that the little Baptist church I was attending at the time had many weaknesses, but they did teach me some powerful principles. ‘If you want to grow as a Christian,’ they said, ‘you must pray and read the Bible every day.’ To be honest, I didn’t always do it! But sometimes I did. They introduced me to Scripture Union notes. These were of enormous value. Through them I discovered some of the great evangelical authors, whose writings also were to stand me in good stead. In recent years, it has been my privilege to write for Scripture Union. This has been a special joy.
Then at the age of 14, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. What an impact this made on my life! It seemed that I could hardly get enough of the Word of God. I used to rise at six every morning and pray and read the Scriptures. In summer time, it was a pleasure. In winter, it was not so easy! I can still remember huddling over my little table in my cold un-heated sleepout (the only heating we could afford in our home in those days was the kitchen stove and a small kerosene heater in the lounge room, neither of which was of any help to me), wrapped in overcoat and gloves, with a woolen scarf around my neck, studying the Bible and wrestling with God in prayer.
Somewhere I found a small red-covered note book and wrote reflections on my reading each morning, until I had actually completed a commentary on the whole gospel of Mark! The over the next couple of years, I did the same with John. I tackled Revelation next – but that proved rather more difficult, as did the Minor Prophets! Nevertheless I struggled on. I kept and treasured those notes for many years – although I confess I never read them – until, to my sorrow, they were destroyed in an office fire in 1987.
There was only one other Christian in my class at my high school, but within two years, we doubled our numbers. We used to pray together at lunch times and encourage each other.
Then in my sixteenth year, I transferred to another secondary school, and found myself in a large class of 48 boys, of whom eleven were Christians! What a year we had! We weren’t very popular with the others, but we certainly made our presence felt. We all made a covenant with each other that every school day, we would learn one verse of Scripture by heart. Taking a clue from a missionary speaker who visited our lunch-time prayer group, we labeled the memory verse a ‘W.T .’ – a ‘wondrous thing’ (Psalm 119:18, AV). Then each day, as soon as we met, we would challenge each other to quote our ‘W.T.’ That year we learned by heart the whole of Romans 8 and numerous other passages.
Later at University, we continued the practice of exhorting each other to regular prayer and Bible Study. I remember confessing to a friend one day that I had missed my Bible reading. ‘How could you miss it?’ he asked in astonishment. I was so ashamed, I kept it up without a break for a long time after that! Today, the value of that regular input of God’s Word is immeasurable. How grateful I am to God that he brought the right people across my path to encourage me in learning it by heart.
In recent years, I have continued to try to memorise Scripture. I have also tried to do it accurately. Many people know the Bible in an untidy way. The verse they want is half-way down the page, in the first part of the Bible, underlined in green, just near a thumb-smudge. This is fine as long as we have our own Bibles! I discovered that accurate learning of Scripture means knowing chapter and verse as well and being able to find a text in any edition of any translation.
Moses said, ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts’ (Deuteronomy 6:6). And David wrote, ‘I hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (Psalm 119:11). I thank God that I learned these principles while I was young enough to derive the greatest value from them.

Barry Chant

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Barry Chant is a regular speaker at church services, seminars, conferences and conventions. Hundreds of thousands of his books have been sold around the world. He has degrees in arts, theology and ministry, a diploma in education and a PhD in history. He was the co-founder and former president of Tabor College, Australia.

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