Chuck Swindoll once wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.”
Is that how you view scripture memorization?
Donald Whitney writes, “Many Christians look on the Spiritual Discipline of memorizing God’s Word as something tantamount to modern-day martyrdom. Ask them to memorize Bible verses and they react with about as much eagerness as a request for volunteers to face Nero’s lions. How come? Perhaps because many associate all memorization with the memory efforts required of them in school. It was work, and most of it was uninteresting and of limited value.”
Can I let you in on a little secret Christian? Come in close. Alright, here it is, you can memorize scripture. But can I tell you something else? You should memorize Scripture. I know, I know. As soon as I give that command, you’re tempted to react like my kids do when I tell them to go and pick up their room or when I say, “no tablets at the table.” But before I tell you why you should, I want to consider why we often don’t. I have five reasons that I believe are common excuses (?) for why we often fail in this spiritual discipline.
Common Excuse #1: I Don’t Have Time
I get it. You’re busy. I’m not downplaying that reality in your life, but could it be that we’re not managing our time wisely? Consider this figure below.
Andy Naselli says, “What is urgent dictates what you do. And when you feel pressured to complete urgent tasks, that tempts you to unwind by escaping to quadrant 4. Perhaps you fritter away time by consuming social media candy — a cat video, a feel-good story, so-called “breaking news” about a celebrity you don’t really care about. Social media can be like a magnet in quadrant 4 that constantly pulls you in and keeps you longer than you want to stay.”
He adds, “For a Christian, memorizing the Bible goes in quadrant 2 — important but not urgent… But if you really believe that memorizing the Bible is important, then it should be part of your daily routine. It’s one of the big rocks.”
Memorizing Scripture doesn’t have to be an hours-long activity. But if you’re like me, you need smaller chunks of time. I have found that works best. Instead of sitting down and staring at a verse for extended portions of the day, I’ll focus on the verse for small chunks of time throughout the day. It might be 10 min at one point, another 5 minutes at another point, and then later on in the day for a portion of time. Figure out what works best for you and stick with it.
Common Excuse #2: I can’t memorize
Remember that secret I told you earlier? You can memorize scripture. You know how I know that? Have you remembered your phone number? Your address? What about lyrics to songs? Can you remember songs from 10 years ago? Chances are that you have. You can memorize Scripture, don’t believe the lie that you can’t.
Again, Naselli is helpful here. He says, “Your mind is like a muscle, and memorizing is mental exercise. Memorizing is to your mind what working out is to your body. Memorizing makes your mind stronger, healthier, sharper, more energetic. And the more you work at memorizing, the better you get at it. Memorizing Bible passages is hard work. But it’s not that hard. You can do it.”
I’ll link some valuable resources at the bottom of this post that can help you in your Scipture memory.
Common Excuse #3: I Just Don’t Want To
I don’t like eating vegetables instead of sweets. My kids don’t like cleaning their rooms. But just because we don’t like doing something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. We need to be reminded that memorizing Scripture isn’t just another task to perform, it’s a means of grace given to enjoy God.
Maybe if we truly understood why memorizing Scripture is essential to our Christian lives, we’d find more motivation.
Common Excuse #4: I Don’t Know How
Maybe this is you. Maybe you have the desire, but you don’t know where to start. It’s not indifference, but ignorance (I say that charitably) that’s stopping you. If so, stick around. I hope you’ll find some of the suggestions given helpful.
Common Excuse #5: I Don’t Know Why
This excuse is like #4. I hope that by the end of this post you’ll see the beauty and value in memorizing God’s Word. This leads me to my 2nd key point: why should we memorize Scripture?
Reason #1: It Aids in Spiritual Battles
The Christian life is not playground, it’s a battle ground. We are, whether we acknowledge it or not, involved in spiritual battles daily. The apostle Paul calls for believers in Christ to strap on their spiritual armor for the day of battle. One of our pieces is the Word of God. Paul refers to this as our sword. It’s offensive and defensive.
I automatically think of Psalm 119:9-11, which says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Notice the language of the psalmist there? The Word of God aids us as we seek to walk in purity, keeps us on the narrow way, and guards us against error. Donald Whitney says, “A pertinent scriptural truth, brought to your awareness by the Holy Spirit at just the right moment, can be the weapon that makes the difference in a spiritual battle.” He adds, “One of the ways we can experience more spiritual victories is to do as Jesus did—memorize Scripture so that it’s available for the Holy Spirit to take and ignite within us when it’s needed.”
Reason #2: It Strengthens Your Faith
Proverbs 22:17-19 says, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you.”
How does Scripture memory strengthen our faith? When we’re consistently dwelling on the truths of God’s Word, we’re reinforcing our hearts and minds with His Word, which is truth. We face battles daily. We struggle daily. We’re tempted daily. We’re inundated with worldly wisdom and philosophy daily. If we wish to remain strong in the faith, not content to be tossed to and fro by the waves carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, craftiness and deceit, we must know the Word of God.
Reason #3: It Assists Evangelism & Discipleship
Have you ever had a conversation with a non-Christian or Christian and wished you had a word to give them? I can’t tell you how often I meet with individuals who express their frustrations, needs, and concerns with life. What’s helpful to me in these counseling situations are the Scriptures. God, by His grace, and through the work of His Spirit, brings to remembrance the truths of His Word, which help me as I seek to disciple them.
Similarly, memorizing Scripture assists our evangelism. How often do you find yourself in a situation where you have the opportunity to share the gospel, yet you don’t have your Bible with you (I get it, today we can have God’s Word on our phones, but you get the point)?
Sure, we can spit out the general idea of God’s truth to unbelievers, but how much more impactful is the word of God when it’s quoted? The apostle Paul said, “and we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thess. 2:13).” The Word of God is the means that God ordains to save and sanctify His people.
I would encourage you to think through “gospel verses”. These verses would cover God’s holiness/righteousness/justice, man’s sin/rebellion, Christ’s life/death/resurrection, and man’s need to repent and believe by grace through faith.
If you’re looking for a summary of the gospel to memorize, might I encourage you to think through Ephesians 2:1-10 as a starting point?
How Do We Memorize?
This is subjective. I can’t offer you the right way to memorize Scripture. You’ll have to see what works best for you. We’re not all made the same. What works for some might not work for another. However, I will attempt to give you some helpful principles, which can aid you in this spiritual discipline.
Principle #1: Have a Plan
It’s been said, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail,” and that’s certainly true when it comes to memorizing Scripture. I would encourage you to pick a topic that you would like to study and memorize. If you’d like to start with the gospel, start there. If you’d like verses on faith, start there. A helpful resource might be the Navigator’s Topical Memory System. Yes, you can pick verses at random, but it might be easier to start with a focused theme. Whatever you do, figure out what you want to memorize and begin.
Principle #2: Write Out the Verses
Writing down the words helps you stay focused and often gives you a sense of relief. For me, it’s helpful to write down the verses on index cards that I can put around my office for constant reminders. You can write verses on sticky notes, index cards, or pieces of paper. You can put them in your office or tape them around your house. I can’t tell you how often I have seen pieces of paper taped in my house that my wife was using to memorize. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, it could be beneficial for you to place them next to the sink for when you’re washing dishes, or on the mirror in your bathroom. Whatever you do, have them in a place where you can readily have accessibility to them.
Principle #3: Memorize the Verses Word-Perfectly
As Donald Whitney has written, “There’s a great temptation, especially when first learning a verse, to lower this standard. Don’t settle for just getting close, or getting the “main idea.” Memorize it word for word and learn the reference, too. Without an objective standard of measurement, the goal is unclear and you may tend to continue lowering the standard until you quit altogether.”
Principle #4: Get Accountability
We need help to be disciplined. We’ll often be more consistent when we meet or talk with another regularly about our goals. Find someone or a group of people that you can memorize with and hold one another accountable.
Principle #5: Start Small
If you’re just starting out memorizing Scripture, I wouldn’t encourage memorizing large portions of text. Something is better than nothing. Most people can’t wake up and run a marathon without any training. But we can start by walking. Most people can’t go into a gym for the first time and bench press 400 lbs. But you can start somewhere and build. Take a verse or two at a time and set a goal for meditating on a verse for 60 seconds at a time. As you progress in your discipline, you’ll be able to add to your regiment.
I pray that this has been helpful and encouraging to you. As we close, can I let you in on a little secret? Come close. With God’s help, you can do this.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
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