Memorizing Scripture seems like a daunting task for many of us. Why is that? For some, the memory is not as good as it used to be, or at least as we remember that it was! “I have a bad memory” is often used to justify not even attempting to memorize God’s Word.
Still others have simply never tried to commit Scripture to memory. Like any never-before-attempted task, fear and uncertainty can inhibit making a start. Others who have overcome that fear still flounder, not knowing where to start and how to proceed committing Bible verses to memory.
When I began preaching 1 Peter on Sunday mornings, I asked the congregation to commit themselves to memorizing it. Even most of us who have memorized Scripture for years have never tackled a whole book at once. Working our way through 1 Peter on Sunday mornings seemed like a great opportunity to try to commit that whole book to memory. One member commented to another, “I am glad Pastor Tom didn’t ask us to do this when he started Jeremiah!” That would be a tough book to put at the top of our Bible memory list! But 1 Peter is only 105 verses long. If we average learning 3 verses a week we can have the whole book memorized in a little over 8 months.
Why should we try to do this? Well, the Bible gives us many good reasons. Let me give 3 of them very quickly.
1. Memorizing God’s Word helps us live the Christian life more faithfully
In Psalm 119:11, David prays, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” By “hiding” God’s Word in your heart, you will be better equipped to fight your daily battle against sin. The wise man speaks to us like this: “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, And apply your heart to my knowledge; For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you; Let them all be fixed upon your lips, So that your trust may be in the LORD; I have instructed you today, even you.” (Proverbs 22:17-19) Keeping the words of God within us will help us to keep our trust in the Lord. In other words, this discipline will encourage us in the fight of faith.
This is clearly demonstrated by Jesus Himself during the wilderness temptations described in Matthew 4:1-11. He was able to withstand the assault of the devil by reciting Scripture from memory.
2. Memorizing helps in witnessing
When Peter had the unexpected opportunity to preach at Pentecost, he was able to do so by quoting verses from the Old Testament (Acts 2). He did not have a scroll from which to read. He had to communicate from what he had committed to memory. It is no wonder, then, that Peter writes, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (2 Peter 3:15). The Word of God is the Spirit’s sword (Ephesians 6:17). In order to wield it effectively, we need to have it readily available in our minds. Memorizing Scripture does that.
3. Memorization helps with meditation
The Lord commends meditation to us as a valuable spiritual discipline. It will be helped and encouraged if we are memorizing Scripture as a regular part of our lives. The Psalmist prays, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). Furthermore, the whole book of Psalms begins with these words: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:1″“3)
The Lord made a similar point to Joshua before he led the people into the Promised Land: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)
The likelihood of mediating on God’s Word will be much greater if we have portions of it committed to memory and readily available to our minds and hearts.
Andy Davis is a friend of mine who pastors the First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. Andy has given a lifetime to working on and encouraging others to be engaged in memorizing extended passages of Scripture. He contributed a chapter on this very point in the book I edited, called Dear Timothy. Following are his arguments for memorizing whole chapters and books of the Bible. The following words are taken from his chapter.
1. It honors the testimony that Scripture gives about itself: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), and “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). God does not waste His breath, so there are no superfluous words in Scripture. And you will find that some of your most powerful moments of conviction, insight, and encouragement will come from unexpected places in the Bible.
2. Since so much of Scripture is written as a flow of thought, with the author making some overall point through logical argumentation, memorizing the whole passage enables you more readily to grasp the central thought. You won’t loose the forest for the trees. Nor will you lose the trees for the forest. The whole book of Hebrews will come together as a symphony of united truth, and each individual verse in the train of thought will sing its own tones with a new clarity. This “forest and the trees” benefit will also help you build a sound biblical and systematic theology overall, while at the same time understanding and preaching/teaching individual verses properly as well.
3. You will be less likely to take verses out of context as a result of memorizing the whole book. One of the most common ways that people who oppose you will seek to blunt the force of your case in a doctrinal dispute is, “You’re taking that out of context!” Careful work on the whole book will help you avoid that error.
4. Your joy will keep increasing, as will your awe at the miraculous infinity of truth in the Scripture, as you continue to discover new truths day after day, month after month. The discipline of memorizing whole books will take you into uncharted territory, and since “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful…” (2 Timothy 3:16) you will derive benefit from the journey of discovery.
Encouragements to memorize God’s Word
1. Remember that the Lord has power over your mind. “Then He [Christ] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Jesus worked effectively in their brains to enable them to understand. He can just as readily work in you to enable you to memorize. Do your best. Make a sincere effort, and pray for Him to bless your efforts.
2. Think of the benefits that come from memorizing God’s Word! Who among us wouldn’t want to have our lives shaped more and more by Scripture? Every Christian would like to have the actual words of the Bible fresh in his mind, ready to be incorporated naturally into conversations. These are two of the benefits of Scripture memory. Of course, there are many others, as the verses I have cited above indicate. Too often we don’t memorize Scripture simply because it isn’t important enough to us. We don’t like to admit that, but it tends to be true. How motivated would we become if someone promised us $50,000 for every chapter we memorized? Would you do it? Would you at least try? The benefits of memorizing God’s Word, as we know, are far greater than money.
3. Have a plan. One reason that it might be a good idea for you to start working on 1 Peter is that many of the folks in the church will be working on it with you. Wherever you start, in order to keep committing Scripture to your memory, it is vitally important that you set aside time each day to work on specific verses. Even 5-10 minutes a day would be a good start. If you can do that twice a day, you will progress even faster.
Try your best to be consistent and work on Scripture memory every day. I find it helpful to write the verses down on a piece of paper or card (or a pda). That way I can carry them with me and work on them throughout the day. Review what you learn. As you get more verses learned, you will need to incorporate some time to review the older verses while working on the newer ones. Oftentimes, it is in the review process that some of the most fruitful thoughts for meditation emerge.
Finally, ask others to help you – to pray for you and work with you on memorizing. One of the blessings of working on a book like 1 Peter together is that we can assist one another during the course of our regular lives. When talking on the phone or in the foyer or before a class or over lunch, ask a friend or family member to “check you out” on the verses you are working on. Offer to do the same for them.
Pray that the Lord will cause His Word to live in the hearts and minds of His people and that we will become more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
Tom Ascol is Pastor of Cape Coral Baptist Church, Florida.
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