7 minutes to read
One of the spiritual habits of the Christian life that appears to be little practised today is the memorizing of Scripture. We have an overabundance of the availability of the Bible on our phones and tablets that we probably do not see the need to memorize the Bible any longer. If you’re looking for a particular verse, you simply need to Google a keyword and you will find it.
The question we need to ask and answer is, if there is any benefit to memorizing Scripture.
Is there a purpose to memorizing the Word beyond simply retaining information? To answer these questions, it will be good for us to understand what the Bible says about memorizing the Word.
The way the Old Testament refers to the Scriptures gives one the idea that memorizing the Word was an important part of the religious life of the people of God. For instance, Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”1 It is crucial to note here the reason why they memorized the Word. They memorized the Bible for transformation and not for information.
God’s instruction to Joshua tells us why memorizing the Word was important. Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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.” The goal is to be “careful to do according to all that is written in it.”
Transformation, not information, stands out as the fundamental purpose of Bible memorisation. What do we need to be transformed in our lives? Our orientation in worship, our understanding of God and of ourselves; our thoughts, words, and actions toward other people. God’s revelation properly understood and applied to our lives brings about this transformation.
The transformation is not automatic, however. Unless we meaningfully engage with the Word that we memorize, we will remain unaffected by it. The Pharisees were renowned for their knowledge of the Scriptures, but they largely remained unaffected by the Word.2
If we engage with the memorized Word in the following ways, we will be transformed by it, for our good, the blessing of others, and for God’s glory.
Delight in the Word
It is interesting to note that when the Bible speaks of Scripture memory it relates it to the heart. In Psalm 37:31 David, speaking of the righteous person, says, “The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” In Psalm 40:8 he says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Notice the focus on the heart when it comes to the place where God’s Word is stored (cf. Deut. 6:6; 11:18; Ps. 37:31; 40:8; 119:11).
In Psalm 1:2 we read of the blessedness or happiness of the person whose “delight is in the law of the LORD” (cf. Ps. 112:1; 119:35; 47; 92). Psalm 119:16 makes the connection between delight and memorizing God’s Word when it says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your Word.” Memorizing the Word enables us to delight in God’s Word and so to delight in God Himself.
Memorizing Scripture then is not meant to be a mental exercise of retaining the text in our minds. The Lord calls us to cherish His Word in our hearts. Only when we engage our hearts in memorizing God’s Word can we enjoy the deep richness of this spiritual habit. As we love and cherish the Word, we love and cherish God in our hearts, which leads us then to live according to His Word.
Meditate on the Word
Another way to meaningfully memorize Scripture is to meditate on the Word “day and night” (Ps. 1:2). To meditate means to continually think, muse and chew over an idea or thought. Biblical meditation is an important spiritual practice where a believer spends time in intentional focus and contemplation of the Word.
The important transformative effect of meditation is that it is ongoing. The Psalmist says, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Psalm 1:2 talks about meditating on the Word, “day and night.” This kind of meditation is only possible if you have memorized God’s Word. Memorizing the Word allows you to bring it back to your mind as you go about your day so that you can mull over it. This will have a transformative effect on your mind (“renewal of your mind” Romans 12:2) eventually changing the way you live.
The effect of meditation through memorization is described for us in the picture of a fruitful tree in Psalm 1 which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Meditation through memorization counters the constant bombardment of our minds with the thoughts and ideas of the world.
Apply the Word
Living according to God’s Word is not easy as we battle Satan, the flesh, and the world. The Word hidden in our hearts provides us with the moment-by-moment encouragement and instruction we need to overcome temptation and fear. Like the Lord Jesus in the wilderness, we overcome when we live according to the Word (Matt. 4:1 – 11). There is no power in memorizing the Word without applying it.
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:9, 11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word…I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” God uses His Word stored up in the heart of a believer to direct his or her steps in ways that are pleasing to Him. No wonder the Psalms describe the Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). The memorized Word in the skilful hand of the Holy Spirit can guide us through the minefields of life. Our part is to memorize the Word with the goal of living according to it.
When we memorize the Word of God with delight, meditate on it day and night, and live according to its counsel, we will see its fruitfulness in our lives. As we are conformed to Christ, we will enjoy victory over sin and Satan. The Word hidden in our hearts will make us effective comforters and counsellors of people (Col. 3:16). It will help us readily communicate the gospel to an unbelieving world. It will ultimately draw us into deeper communion with God.3
Charles Swindoll writes, “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.”4
Memorize the Word by doing the following:
Read the verse
Repeat the verse
Write the verse
Re-write the verse
Recite the verse
1 All Scripture quotations in the English Standard Version
2 Matthew 23:2–3, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (ESV)
4 Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, Pg. 61