In Exodus 14, the people of Israel are fleeing Pharaoh. With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, the LORD is delivering His elect people from slavery in Egypt. God is doing the "impossible-according-man" so that "[his] name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Despite God's display of power and love, the people are facing two terrifying prospects. In one direction, they see the menacing horde of Pharaoh bearing down on them. In the other direction, they see a dark and formidable sea. According to human reckoning, if they go back they will die by the hand of Pharaoh. If they go forward, they will be drowned in the sea. Predictably, the people begin to grumble against God and his servant Moses. "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?... For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14:11-12). However, through the mouth of Moses, God declares, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14). Then, God parted the Red Sea, brought his people through on dry land, and destroyed the Egyptians. After seeing his salvation, "…the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).
This text has rich applications for us today. I want to highlight one application for every Christian and one for church planting specifically.
First, the application for every Christian: You cannot accomplish salvation by your own strength—you must be silent. Israel looked in front and behind them and saw no human means of salvation. Every true believer comes to a point in his or her life when salvation seems impossible. Things are too dark on all sides. Morality isn't enough; hard work isn't enough; ceremonies aren't enough. Rather than grumbling at our situation, God says to us: “The LORD will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” Don't fall into the pessimism of the world which says that your situation is impossible. Don't fall into the optimism of false religion which says that you can work your way out by human strength. Rather, fall into the arms of Christ who can sustain you. "You have only to be silent"! The Lord Jesus Christ fought for you on the cross as he bore your sin; he fights for you now as the Mediator in heaven through the power of the Holy Spirit; he will fight for you as he comes again to judge the living and the dead.
Second, the application for church planting: You cannot plant a church by your own strength—you must be silent. In ministry, it is easy to fall into pessimism. You look at the tasks ahead and they seem impossible. It seems impossible to gather enough people to launch public worship. It seems impossible to lead people to Christ in a world that is diametrically opposed to the gospel. On the other hand, it is easy to fall into worldly optimism. Church planting becomes a business proposition where God doesn't even need to show up. You must simply network in the community, do outreach, tell people about the work, find a good meeting place, and be charismatic. If you do "A" then "B" will inevitably follow. Though it's always hard, businesses are started and sustained every day by unbelievers without prayer. False religions and cults grow and prosper without the Holy Spirit. How do we avoid pessimism that says planting a church from scratch is impossible? How do we avoid worldly optimism that says it is just a marketing scheme? The answer is Exodus 14:14: “The LORD will fight for you and you have only to be silent.”
God has done the impossible in the accomplishment of our salvation in Christ. He parted the Red Sea of sin and brought us through on dry land; he defeated Satan, the Pharaoh of this world, and will ultimately destroy him on the last day. We also see that God does the impossible in his application of salvation in the world. God does the impossible as he calls sinful people like you and me to himself. God does the impossible as he raises up new churches to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, disciple children, send out missionaries, and care for the marginalized. God does the impossible as he gathers teams to plant new churches around the world every day. We must be silent! Yet, being silent doesn't mean that we are inactive. God parts the waves and calls us to walk through on dry land.
Through technology, modern people have unprecedented access to information. While this is a blessing in many ways, we are constantly bombarded by new information through YouTube videos, Facebook posts, Tweets, and Instagram photos. It's hard to slow down and truly meditate on what is most important.
The Bible says that a believer who meditates on God’s Word is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season." (Psalms 1:2-3). The apostle Paul says that we should let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly which leads to a life of worship, thankfulness, and love (Colossians 3:16).
How do we meditate on God's Word and how does it dwell richly in us? Well, this comes primarily through the ordinary means of grace. We sit under the preaching of the Word every Lord's Day. We see the Word visibly displayed through baptism and the Lord's Supper. We develop patterns of personal prayer and Bible reading. Recently, I've seen the value of Bible memorization which I want to encourage you to pursue for several reasons.
First, Bible memorization forces you to slow down and consider what a passage of Scripture is actually saying. For example, I recently memorized Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I had read this passage many times in my life. Yet, when I memorized it, I finally saw the connection between the command not to be anxious and prayer. Paul says, "Do not be anxious about anything." How do you do this? “By prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” Often, anxiety expresses itself through a repeated voice in our hearts and minds. “Will I make a fool of myself?” “Will I have enough money?” “Is this the right decision?” “Will the situation work out OK?” Instead of being anxious, we are commanded to pray and give thanks. Prayer is the antithesis of anxiety.
Second, Bible memorization helps God's Word come to mind when you need it most. For example, a few weeks ago, I was driving to Hope Explored and felt anxious about a few details in the church plant. I had that “anxious-broken-record” on repeat in my mind. Suddenly, I remembered Philippians 4:4-7 and realized that I was disobeying Scripture. I was anxious because I wasn't praying and giving thanks. After repeating the passage several times in my head, I began to pray. The anxiety disappeared and the second part of the Philippians passage proved to be true—I experienced the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and I knew that God was guarding my fickle heart and mind through Jesus Christ.
Third, Bible memorization helps us encourage others more effectively. After memorizing Philippians 4:4-7, I met with a friend who had recently lost his job. I was able to point him to this passage and the impact it had on me. I'm not sure this would have happened without Bible memorization.
Finally, Bible memorization is an incredible way to think God's thoughts after him. That may sound strange at first but it's true. The great theologian, Herman Bavinck, says that the task of all theology is "to think God’s thoughts after him and to trace their unity. This is a task that must be done in the confidence that God has spoken, in humble submission to the church’s teaching tradition, and for communicating the gospel’s message to the world” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, pp. 25). The Bible is the inerrant Word of God. It is truthful in everything God intends to teach about himself, the world, and how we are to pursue relationships with God and others. Through Scripture memorization, you have immediate access to the wisdom, truth, artistic beauty, literary structure, and logical flow of God's Word which is sharper than any two-edged sword and profitable for teaching, reproof, and instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.
Would you like to add Bible memorization into your daily routine?
If so, here are some ideas that have been helpful to me.
First, consider memorizing large passages or entire books of the Bible. While memorizing isolated verses is certainly helpful and profitable, memorizing consecutive verses or chapters helps you enter into the logical flow of God’s Word. It also forces you to memorize passages of Scripture that may seem irrelevant at first but come to life in rich applications as you meditate on God's Word.
Second, consider using technology to aid your memorization efforts. Some of you are “Luddites" and suspicious of technology. That’s fine. People have memorized for thousands of years without iPhones! You can always write the passage out by hand, read it over a lot, and then get a friend or family member to quiz you. For me, I find technology helpful. Specifically, I highly recommend an app called “Bible Typer”, which gives you a great Bible memorization system. You upload the passage in whatever translation you want and then memorize it. The app then enters your passage into its smart review system where, every time you correctly recite the text, it automatically lengthens the period of time until the next review. Eventually, you will review every passage you've memorized at least once a year.
For more reflection, here's a helpful video on memorization from John Piper.