College gets romanticized as a time for parties and lifelong memories, and while for some that may hold true, my college experience could not be further from that lifestyle. I decided to attend a school way outside of my budget. Because of this choice, I needed to accelerate my graduation to afford such expensive schooling. Unfortunately, for some semesters this meant 20+ units, working a job, maintaining some sort of social life, working at a church, and participating in a campus ministry. Keeping up this sort of lifestyle left me exhausted and utilitarian in my approach to my faith, and because of this, it became very easy for me to justify “better using” time I had set aside for scripture memorization or recollection of the verses I had already committed to memory. Scripture should have been what I clung to in those hectic days, and I’m sure my heart and mind would have been different had I committed the words of God to my heart each day, but, in my blind self-sufficiency, I believed I did not need it.
People often quote Psalm 119 when talking about the importance of committing scripture to memory, citing the psalmist’s many promises to “store up God’s word in one’s heart” (v. 11) or to delight in God’s word (v. 16, 35). Plus, Jesus Christ, our example for perfectly righteous living, quoted scripture in all circumstances: for instance, in the wilderness while Satan tempted him. This implies that Jesus in his human life had memorized scripture. The Bible makes it clear that scripture is important, yet many of us do not find time to think about scripture, let alone memorize it. However, the Bible does not suggest this practice for nothing: there are real, spiritual benefits for a life and mind steeped in scripture.
The Holy Spirit inspired people across generations to write the words of God so that God’s people could have his words to guide them and lead them.
Scripture is God’s word. The Holy Spirit inspired people across generations to write the words of God so that God’s people could have his words to guide them and lead them. Considering that all people have sinned and therefore deserve death, this is a pretty radical, generous gift.
Romans 10:8 says that the word is in our hearts and in our mouths. This near proximity for believers is partly due to the fact that the Bible says all believers will have the Holy Spirit living inside of them (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14), but there are other factors. There is also general revelation, the evidence of God available to all people (Rom. 1:18), that may be the explanation for how the word can be in us. However, there is another explanation that works with these other two: we can memorize scripture and effectively “hide” it in our hearts.
Scripture memorization can be abused—it can easily become a way to shame new believers, pressure performance, and overemphasize head knowledge of God. A few weeks ago, I witnessed a man quizzing one of my coworkers on certain verses, and she walked away frazzled and embarrassed because she hadn’t grown up in a Christian home and didn’t know even the “common” verses. Despite this, memorization of scripture is one of the most powerful ways to encounter God. In moments when we feel that we, or other people, are abusing the memorization of scripture to focus on works rather than on God’s grace to us in giving his word, we must remind ourselves that the misuse of good things doesn’t make those good things bad. These are his words we are learning, not the words of a lunatic or a ritualistic religious fanatic. God’s words tell us how to follow him. Scripture is so important to our Christian lives that we are told, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1 ESV). Since Jesus is God, then he is also the Word. We can assume that any words God gives us should be precious to us. We cannot ignore something so foundational to our very existence, even if we are juggling a busy schedule.
We may look at the ease with which our technology can access the Bible as an excuse not to work on scripture memorization. After all, when do we ever leave our phones at home? However, the effect of scripture in our minds is unparalleled by technology. In times of trouble, your phone will not send you a text saying, “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again” (Psalm 71:20 ESV), but when scripture is in your heart, it will show up when you need it. God’s word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), and you can be sure that it will have relevance for your needs, even the daily, mundane needs you do not think God would care about.
I have found that when I want to memorize scripture, it is helpful to read the whole passage that the verse is from first, in order to understand the context of the verse. In that way, we can avoid making scripture mean something it doesn’t. Then, I find it helpful to read the verse at least three times straight through; that way I can get a feel for the rhythm of the verse. This helps in recollection of the verse later, because if you can remember the general rhythm of the sentence, the words are much easier to recall. After that, I find it helpful to start with a few words of the sentence, writing them down and saying them aloud in order to incorporate both visual and auditory learning. Once I’ve mastered one small section of words, I add the next few words on and say the entire sentence thus far so that I can continue to learn the previous section in congruence with the new section. Each person’s learning style is different, but these tips can help you approach the discipline of memorizing scripture.
Though we may have neglected scripture memorization, we can take comfort in the fact that God has grace for us when we are weak, and he has made us with his word written in our hearts.
Looking back on my college career, I see moments when scripture was a balm to me, an instruction, a joy, a fear, a struggle, a chore, a conviction, and a blessing. Though we may have neglected scripture memorization, we can take comfort in the fact that God has grace for us when we are weak, and he has made us with his word written in our hearts. Still, we should not let our busyness be an excuse to neglect scripture memorization; God has given us this incredible tool for knowing him better.