A Matter of the Heart
Putting God’s Word in Your Brain Isn’t Enough
by Mike Smith
For counselor and NavPress author Gary Smalley, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word is much more than mastering a spiritual discipline—it’s a matter of the heart.
Gary began memorizing Scripture a long time ago, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that the impact of really getting it into his heart became apparent to him.
“When I was in seminary in the late 1960s,” Gary explains, “I worked with a group of kids, memorizing one chapter of Scripture a week.” After seminary, however, he stopped. He’d memorize an occasional verse, but didn’t have any kind of plan or discipline.
“What’s key,” says Gary, “is not getting the words into your brain, but getting the Word of Christ in your heart.”
That doesn’t mean he was idle. Gary has been a successful counselor and his books have sold more than six million copies. As a result, he’s appeared on numerous TV shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and NBC’sTODAY. He was successful and was trying to pass his calling on to his children.
But the stress of his success was taking a toll and in 2000 he suffered a heart attack and later had a kidney transplant. “I remember telling God, ‘I think I’ve done enough for you,’” says Gary. “I was focused on managing the rewards God had given me—and walking away from the Rewarder Himself.” Gary says God whispered to him, “When are you going to return to Me?” That’s when God led Gary to memorize and meditate daily on Colossians 3:1-17, a passage that includes the admonition to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . .” (verse 17).
“The key,” says Gary, “is not memorizing the verses, per se. It’s not about getting the words into your brain. It’s about getting the Word of Christ into your heart. It’s about bringing emotion and passion to bear on it.”
Why is the heart so important? Gary says, “When I counsel couples, I tell them, ‘You don’t have a communication problem. You don’t have a sex problem. You have a heart problem!’”
Gary has seen the impact of hiding God’s Word in his own heart. For years he had struggled with thoughts he knew to be wrong until one day he was just sick of it and wanted to be free. He remembered Jesus’ words, “. . . the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). “I asked God what I should memorize,” says Gary, “and He showed me Galatians 5:13,14. I memorized those verses and meditated on them with great passion and emotion—crying out to God for freedom. And He delivered me.”
The life-changing results Gary saw as a result of memorizing and meditating on Scripture led him to create Guarding Your Child’s Heart.
Gary began memorizing and meditating on Scripture to change other areas of his life—such as complaining. “When I talked to my wife about this concept of memorizing and meditating,” says Gary, “she told me, ‘I’ll think about doing that when I see changes in you!’” Some time later, she had seen significant change. He said, “She told me, ‘You haven’t complained about anything for days!’ She’s on board, now!”
The impact of memorizing and meditating on Scripture extends beyond Gary’s own life. About seven years ago, Gary noticed that his grandson (then ten years old) was complaining a lot. Gary wondered if what had changed his heart would also work for his grandson. He told him, “I hear you complaining about your mom being too strict and about all the people in your life who are making you unhappy. But the problem isn’t those people. You have a heart problem.” Gary gave him five verses of Scripture to memorize. Then he helped his grandson learn how to meditate on them.
The results were dramatic—even in a very short period of time. “Now, as a 17-year-old high school student,” says Gary, “he’s an ambassador for Christ. He influences others. And so does his sister, who is also memorizing and mediating.”
All of this led Gary to develop Guarding Your Child’s Heart, a book and video series that helps parents establish their children’s faith through Scripture memory and meditation. “Getting God’s Word into our hearts is so critical,” says Gary. “Our beliefs determine our attitudes and actions. But our thoughts can shape what we believe. So it’s important that the Scriptures are in our hearts to shape what it is we think about. It really is a matter of the heart.”
Visit NavPress.com to learn more about Gary’s new book and video series.