Would you like to hear God’s voice more clearly? Would you like to be filled with the Spirit’s power? Do you yearn for greater wonder at God’s glory? Hungry for insight into life or wisdom for life’s many choices?
If you have even the slightest spark of spiritual life, you will answer resoundingly, “Yes!” I think we all desire these things and request them frequently in our prayers. But our actions prove how much we really desire these things. God has given us means to experience dramatic growth in each area mentioned. But unfortunately it requires work, sacrifice, and discipline.
“Oh, I was hoping that it could just kind of happen by magic. That I could hear a great sermon, or attend a worship service that would change everything.”
Yeah, me too. In fact, I keep hoping and praying for such an experience. Sometimes God does work that way. The instantaneous filling of God’s Spirit is powerful to change us. But from the track record of history and the recorded experience of the saints, it seems that the normal way God transforms his people is through His Word.
God’s Word is not like our words. We use words to describe things or attempt to convey thoughts. But God’s Word creates and transforms. God speaks, “Let there be light,” and the planets and galaxies rise, shining in space. Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come forth!” and a man dead for four days springs to life. When God speaks into our soul, we are changed. His voice is the most explosive power in the universe. Power of this magnitude is terrifying. Who else do you know that could destroy you and your soul with a single word?
Thankfully, the heart behind such awesome power is full of great mercy and tenderness. It is a heart of an artist, full of beauty. It is a kind and compassionate heart.
At some mysterious level, it seems God has restrained the power of His voice. At least for the time being, He has given us freedom to decide how much we want to tap into this power. We have to seek for wisdom diligently and will find it when we seek with all our hearts. But make no mistake, this power is available to all through the pages of the Bible.
I believe the equation is simple: the more you get the Bible into you, the more you will experience the benefits mentioned at the beginning of this article. It’s what God’s Word itself promises:
The key to abiding in Christ and having a vibrant prayer life is to have His “words abide in you.” (John 15:7)
Joshua 1:8 promises that if we meditate on God’s law day and night (which is only possible if it is memorized), then we will be prosperous in the ways that matter.
The first verse I memorized as a little boy was Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your Word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”
If you crave victory in your life and in your spiritual warfare, how can you hope to succeed without your sword “which is the Word of God”? (Eph 6:17)
Jesus makes so clear that we are sustained not just by bread, “but by every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)
All Scripture is profitable for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16)
God’s word is the source of the blessing and transformation we desire, but the benefits are directly proportionate to how much we implant the word in our soul through memorization and prayerful meditation.
In light of these verses, let me ask you, “Is there a more valuable thing you could be doing than memorizing scripture?” I honestly don’t think so. Memorizing scripture is not enough and it is not the end goal. But it seems to me that it is the necessary doorway we must pass through to obtain the life our spirits yearn for.
This is not legalism where we try to earn God’s favour. We don’t memorize to soothe a guilty conscience or feel better about our attempts to please God. We memorize to learn the truth about who God is, His Father heart, and the great lengths the Trinity has gone to rescue us. It will only be in the meditation of these truths that we will be freed from the crushing burden of legalism.
It is through memorization that we keep God’s word with us throughout the day.
Is your prayer life dry? Do you wish you could hear God’s voice in prayer? Memorizing the Bible makes God’s voice crystal clear. You may not always like what He says, but you will hear His voice. You cannot hope to achieve true intimacy with God unless you are listening to His side of the conversation.
Memorization of scripture makes the benefits of scripture available in ways that are simply not achieved any other way.
“But memorization is hard!” Believe me, I know. It often takes all the willpower I have to push my lazy mind to focus. But like any exercise, the work begins to pay off and becomes a source of pleasure, even addictive. Is there anything in this world better to become addicted to than the precious words of God?
The benefits are profound, but Satan will be relentless in seeking to make you fail in this endeavour. And these days, with all the mobile devices, he has more tools at his disposal to distract us than ever before.
But let me shout that this pursuit of the memorization of scripture is so worth it: comfort and peace as the truths of God’s goodness and sovereignty become so real to you. Greater joy and worship as God’s kindness and beauty become ever more clear. Temptations will lose their deceptive power as God’s truth transforms your thought patterns and you see that God is the source of every good and perfect gift. (James 1:18)
Like any successful plan you will need more than just the motivation you are (I hope) feeling right now. You will need strategies to take this to the habit level.
Tips for memorizing.
Understand and utilize the way memory works.
Our memories work best in pictures, the ridiculous, and association. A huge help in my memorizing is forming mental pictures based on the main idea or the visualization of key words. I concentrate on the picture while repeating the verse over and over. Ridiculous or unusual pictures will be more memorable. The key is that a good mental picture is a powerful memory help.
I use word association by developing a picture for key words: truth is a belt, faith is a shield, Jesus or Christ is a cross, God is a throne, etc.
For example, here is how I memorized Eph. 1:4, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
I picture a Throne with pointing a finger in the classic Uncle Sam draft poster for “Just as He chose us.” I picture a cross standing in front of a giant globe (before the foundation of the world) and coming out of the cross are two people, one is full of holes (that we should be holy) the other has a red and white bullseye on his shirt with a red slash over it for the “no” symbol (aim rhymes with blame, so it is a picture of “without blame”). And lastly, both men step in a heart-shaped pool (before him in love).
Now many of you are laughing at me and saying, “Isn’t that a lot more work than just memorizing the words?” For one verse and short-term retention, yes, it is more work. But concentrating on the verse long enough to develop pictures helps cement it, and the picture will help you recall the verse in the future. Long-term retention is what we are after.
Some may object that my mental cartoons are making light of God’s sacred word. I have wrestled with that and have come to the conclusion I am not doing this to belittle or mock scripture; I am simply using the way God designed our memory to work with the worthy goal of having His Word hidden in my heart. Use whatever pictures you are comfortable forming, but visualize the text, and remember that unusual pictures will stick with you longer. Also try to simplify your mental picture into one per verse. A series of pictures for one verse will distract and work against you.
Set goals and stick to them.
Aim for a verse a day, or 5 per week. Memorization is simply lots of work and sticking to it. Your brain is a muscle and it can get stronger. Memory work will get easier. I’ve read that repeating a verse once a day for 100 days is more effective than repeating it 100 times in one day. I have also found that the cycle of forgetting and re-memorizing is what puts a passage in the long-term vault. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to finally find a passage there and available long after I have memorized it.
Challenge yourself in new ways to keep it interesting.
I like to memorize a passage with the verse numbers and then recite it forward first and then backwards, starting at the end and then going back a verse at a time. I also like to recite the passage with a shuffled order. Or randomly quiz yourself, till the reference quickly brings up that verse.This is of course much more work, but it really helps it stick. Find a partner and play Bible ping pong: Say the verse back and forth, and if a person forgets or messes up, the other gets a point.
Prayerfully meditate on the text.
These next exercises have the dual benefit of helping with retention but also re-energizing your prayer life. Go through the verse highlighting and pondering a new word each time. Then turn the verse into a prayer, or personalize it as God’s direct word to you (just don’t change the basic meaning of the text.) For example, Ephesians 1:2, “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Meditate on what “grace,” is, then ponder “peace.” Then focus on the word “God,” who is this God? Then “Father”, “Lord,” “Christ”, etc. Then pray for God’s grace in your particular struggle, and for His peace to rule in your heart, then pray the same thing for others. Each verse can be turned into a prayer of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. This habit of turning your memorized passages into prayer will prevent pride from ruining the other benefits.
Go on memorization walks.
Or bike rides or jogs. But get away from the house, iPod, and the thousands of other distractions calling your name. Use the exercise time to focus on scripture. Get a pocket bible to bring with you. The combination of physical and spiritual exercise will do wonders for your overall health.
Use your weakness as incentive to memorize.
Do you find your phone a source of distraction? Maybe make a rule that you are not allowed to check your phone till you have reached your memorization goals for the day. I love listening to and watching baseball games, but in years past I have set a rule that I was not allowed to listen or watch till I had reviewed a chapter of the Bible. These are not the purest of motives, of course, but God’s word is so powerful that it can change us even when our motives are suspect. The key is having God’s word in our thoughts as much as possible.
Just do it!
This January as the new year lies before us and we all make commitments to improve ourselves and readjust our priorities, please make a renewed and vigorous effort to plant God’s word deep in your mind and heart.
Most who read this will succumb to Satan’s sabotage, but if just a handful of you will make scripture memorization and meditation a habit, you will inspire those around you in ways this article could never do.
As the brains of this generation become more and more shallow and easily distracted, unable to really focus or think deeply, let’s start a counterrevolution of men and women who are giving their minds to Christ and who are diligently seeking to let His words dwell in them richly. It will be hard, but you will love the rewards, I promise!