If you would have asked me a year ago if I had any verses memorized, my response would have been anything but impressive. I probably could have rattled off John 3:16, if for no other reason than I’d seen it at sporting events so many times, but that was about the extent of my abilities. You can probably imagine my reaction then when I was asked if I would memorize Psalm 6, to be recited to the congregation on a Sunday morning.
Naturally, I procrastinated until the week that I was to recite this Psalm. I fumbled my way through a couple articles on how best to go about memorizing something and started trying to internalize the Psalm. Who knows how much time I spent that week simply reciting these verses over and over again. I had barely managed to get to the point where I could recite the Psalm entirely by memory by the time that Sunday morning came.
I’ll refrain from trying to embellish the rest of the story. I got up there and everything went fine. But here’s the crazy thing, I still remember the Psalm! I think my assumption was that I would forget what I’d learned just like most of the information that I crammed into my head in high school or college. Useful for a moment but quickly forgotten. But as I sat down to write this, I challenged myself to recall Psalm 6 once again. Sure enough, over a year later, it’s still there. Even more, this experience has also laid the foundation for introducing Scripture memory into my regular rhythms of spiritual discipline.
As I reflect back on this experience and my continued pursuit of memorizing Scripture, there are three areas in my life where I’ve realized that this discipline has aided me in my pursuit of Christ. Three areas that I hope motivate you to consider Scripture memorization as part of your regular discipline of following Christ. Maybe memory isn’t your strong suit, or you’re content with what you already know. I’ve been there. But I’ve also come to believe that the effort to overcome those things was worth it. Here’s why:
1. It helps you pursue sanctification
Paul, in his letter to the Romans argues that, “...those whom he (God) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). Whatever your view on predestination or election, what’s clear here is that the outcome of those who are predestined is that they would be shaped into the image of Christ, that they would become like Christ. Most of us know this process as Sanctification. Later on in the book of Romans, Paul encourages the church in saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). So while we have been destined to become like Christ, there is also a real sense in which we participate in that process. We are to pursue transformation over and against the ways of the world. This transformation will then aid us in our pursuit of discerning the will of God and a life of doing what is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Sanctification is not a passive process on our end, but one in which God invites us to participate, giving us the knowledge and tools necessary for us to do so. When we memorize Scripture, we are depositing information into our minds and hearts that the Spirit can use to bring about the transformation that Paul is talking about. We can’t expect to become more like Christ if we are not seeking to know the things that he has revealed about himself and commanded us to in his Word. When we commit to memorizing Scripture we are committing to filling our minds with words that God will empower to transform our minds.
2. It protects you from sin
As we pursue formation into the image of Christ, we will naturally begin rejecting and turning from our old ways and patterns of sin. This is a mark of a true believer: the desire to repent from sin and turn to God. The Psalmist instructs us regarding the utility of God’s word to this end. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). They have stored the word in their heart for the purpose of avoiding sin. This isn’t a cursory knowledge of God’s word or the mere understanding of a theological concept. When we have God's word in our hearts we possess the ability, by the power of the Spirit, to avoid sin. We see Jesus put this into practice in Matthew 4, where in response to the temptations of the devil, he says, “...Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus’ strategy is to defend himself from sin and temptation with God’s word. We would be wise to do the same.
3. It empowers you to teach others
Perhaps the most familiar command in all of Scripture is that which is found in Matthew when Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The command to those who follow Jesus is to go and teach people to obey him. The implication? That these people would also come to know what Jesus has commanded them. We can’t teach what we don’t know. People don’t need a nice saying or a personal opinion tied to some anecdote in your life. They need the power of God’s word to sink into their hearts to the point where they love Jesus and begin living in obedience to him. The easiest way for us to do this is if we know his Word. Not just the concepts, not just the general ideas, but the very words which he has given to us.
Certainly this is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start. I used to think that memorizing Scripture simply wasn’t worth the time and effort. And I acknowledge that it won’t come as easily for some as for others. But God has given his people his words so that they might pursue him, run from temptation, and be empowered to teach others to live in the same way. In my opinion, these ends are more than worth the sacrifice.