An Appeal for Scripture Memorization

Posted by Howard VanderGriend on

I have come, somewhat late in life, to have discovered an interesting truth and blessing in the Bible, something that is encouraged all through scripture and yet something most of us (myself included) usually largely ignore. It is something that we greatly encourage our children to do and yet as adults, we don’t take seriously or invest the time.

Open up a concordance to the word “heart” and you might be amazed how many times it is used in scripture. Glance through these references and you will be amazed how familiar they are: “Create in me a pure heart”, “ a fool says in his heart”, “if anyone sets his heart …”, “men look at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart”. Literally hundreds of references in scripture to the importance of our heart in our relationship with God. King David discovered this vital spiritual element when he pleads (Ps. 139) “Search me, O God, and know my heart …”.

We get a sense that this mysterious core, this mystical center of our being as humans is the clearing house, the central processor, the nerve center for everything that is coming in or out, the foundation of how we interpret everything we see or experience. Our heart is critical - it is critical to our identity, critical to our relationships, critical to our growth in Christ. Yet, maybe something we largely ignore and abuse by lack of (1) exercise and (2) proper nutrition. Any muscle that is not exercised or fed will deteriorate, and so it is with our spiritual “muscle”, our heart.

David is called a man after God’s own heart. The Psalms are full of ”heart” references. “I have hidden you word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (119:11). Solomon’s advice in Proverbs is “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you …. Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” (2:1,5). I don’t think we need to fill up pages with verses to get the point that God himself tells us to put his Word within us. To Read it, Study it, Meditate on it, Apply it - but most importantly to internally WRITE it in our hearts. It’s great to own a Bible(s), to see it with our eyes, to have it on our cell phones and T-shirts and bumper stickers. But David says, “I will praise the Lord who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me” (Ps. 16:7). There is eternal value to writing scripture on our hearts, there is an unexplainable benefit of protection that comes when scripture is firmly embedded in the core of our being.

Moses commanded the people to do it, David praises it benefits, Solomon pleaded for it, the prophets and Disciples and Jesus all made it vital to their ministry and spiritual lives. They wrote God’s Word on their heart. They committed it to memory. They incorporated it in their messages and prayers, it came to mind in the night and during the day. How much more feasible is Paul’s admonition to pray continuously if we have scripture close to our thoughts and tongues because it is readily available in our memory.

But you don’t understand, I can’t memorize scripture. God didn’t mean those passages to apply to me. Besides, I can remember how to drive all over town, what my favorite restaurants are serving, when my favorite shows are on TV, how to play my favorite games, who are the players on my favorite team … but can’t remember the very Words of God. Its enough to have just a general Cliff notes understanding of what is in the Bible, the specifics aren’t necessary.

Sorry, that was a bit unfair. But God would not have instructed us to do something that was impossible for us. He does give us things that are difficult - and memorizing scripture IS difficult. But there again, it reflects the attitude of our heart, it reflects our priorities and our obedience and our trust in His designed process of sanctification. So by now you feel guilty and have resigned yourself to yet another impossible spiritual discipline which will inevitably fail because I have tried before and gave up, I can’t remember those verses I learned in high school, I keep forgetting to put the scripture passage before and after the verse I memorize (after all, knowing where it is found is just as important as the text, or so I have been told).

What does writing God’s Word in my heart do? It begins to reorganize my brain. It starts to create pathways and realign synapses. It drives out and replaces thoughts and images that have taken up residence for years but now find themselves being crowded out with transformed thinking. It causes passages to come to mind when other people are speaking or songs are playing or one is praying. It reveals links between scriptures which we never noticed before without needing a cross reference edition of the Bible. It creates an insatiable desire for more and more. It comes to mind when sin or temptation is knocking at the door. It soothes when in spite of knowing better, we opened the door to our idols and now have to deal with the consequences. It is a reassuring gift from God to bring racing and anxious thoughts back to spiritual reality.

That’s what I want, that’s what I need. Not magic formulas. Just simple truths slowly etched in my heart (and brain) from consistently writing God’s Word on my heart.

Pick a passage that you enjoy, or is meaningful, or someone recommended. Write or type it out. Put it somewhere where you are several times a day or spend a period of time each day. Read a line and say it back in your head several times. Come back to it later in the day and say it again. The next day review those words again and add another phrase or simply a word. Review and review. Find a memory aid to help with a difficult group of words. There’s no hurry. It may take a month to learn several sentences. That’s several sentences more than you have memorized in probably the last several years. The goal is not volume. You’re changing your thinking. Your putting something in your heart that you and God are able to talk about in the middle of the night. The very words of God are becoming part of your thoughts and prayers. Memorizing one passage successfully is going to encourage you to want to memorize another, and another. Review completed passages often (at least every week). Try a longer passage, an obscure passage. Be amazed at things that were in a familiar passage that you never noticed before, words that stand out and become much more meaningful, phrases that suddenly have a deep application to circumstances that you are going through or others are experiencing.

There is an unexplainable mystery in how God works. Memorized scripture is not just a magic potion to ward off evil (so we memorize one passage for each problem we may encounter). God’s Words are powerful. Jesus is in the desert being tempted by Satan and uses scripture not simply as a rote response to the devil’s suggestions. They are that but so much more. They say, “I have given my heart to someone greater than me, I have made His thoughts my thoughts, I have made His ways my ways. Even though there may not be a specific verse addressing this specific situation, I have begun to learn the nature of the God I love and serve and this will turn out for my good. I have no need to fear. I have stilled and quieted my soul.” Jesus responded to Satan with scripture. They weren’t magic words. They reflected trust for His Father, as we do when we put His words in our heart and let Him use those words to slowly and effectively “re-write” our brain and our thoughts and our attitudes.

Our hearts are crucial. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov.4:23). We need to take the care of our hearts more seriously. God has given us the answer, has provided the “super-food” to nourish and protect our hearts. It fits so well and it tastes so good.

Tags: bible, scripture, scripture memorization

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