Why I memorize scripture08 Nov 2020
In this time of sitting at home and trying not to watch the news, I’d like to recommend a new hobby: memorize scripture. Scripture memorization is a spiritual discipline that has helped me love God more and to walk closer to him in my day-to-day life. In this post, I want to explain to you the ways that scripture memorization has helped me. In my next post, I’ll talk about the how of memorizing scripture. But that can wait. Before we get to the how, we need to talk about the why. As a good friend of mine says: “I can only be me.” As such, these are my reasons why to memorize scripture, but I hope they will resonate with you, too.
Scripture memorization gives me words for my prayers.
Prayer is one of the ways I draw closest to God, but it’s also a place where I can feel continually frustrated. All too often, it seems like I don’t know what to say. I may be distracted or confused by my emotions to know what to say. I can feel “stuck” in my prayers, or they might feel shallow and not communicating what I want to say.
It’s in these times that I find scripture memory–particularly the Psalms–so helpful. I will often pray the words of a Psalm or a passage, making them my own. If I’m feeling envious, I can pray through Psalm 49 and remember that this world’s riches mean nothing compared to knowing God. (“Do not be overawed when other’s grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases… For they will take nothing with them when they die; their splendor will not descend with them.) If I’m feeling scared, I can pray through Psalm 23 and remember that God is caring for me like a shepherd cares for the sheep (“he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.”). If I’m feeling apathetic, I can pray through Psalm 100 to remind myself of the gratitude I can feel to know God. (“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name!”). I’ve found that sometimes it helps to pray through scripture that mimics the emotion that I feel (Psalm 130–“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord!”). Other times, it helps to pray through a Psalm with a different set of emotions to lead me out of whatever funk I’m in. Whatever the case may be, scripture memory makes it easy for me to pray through scripture. Through it, God teaches me how to speak to him by using his own words.
It makes the scriptures come alive.
Memorizing scripture has helped make the scriptures come alive for me in two different ways: the first in the process and the second as a result.
First, the process of memorizing scripture forces me to think about a verse or passage more deeply than I have before. For instance, when I memorized 2 Peter 1:3-4 I had to ask and answer questions that help to lock the scripture in my mind:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through them he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Here are some of the questions that came to my mind when I started meditating on this scripture:
- When he says “through them” (twice), what is he referring to? Is it the same both times?
- How might God’s glory and goodness be tied to his promises?
- How could his promises enable us to participate in the divine nature?
- Is there a specific promise he’s referring to?
- In what way is the corruption in the world caused by evil desires?
- How does participating in the divine nature enable us to escape the corruption in the world?
Before I memorized this scripture, this passage didn’t make me think about any of these things! But in memorizing it, the words came to life. I found that the more I meditated on them, the more they had to say to me.
Second, memorizing scripture enables me to draw connections between different parts of the Bible. When I’m reading Paul talking about wanting to become like Jesus in his sufferings and resurrection, I can quickly remember what Jesus said in John 12–“unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” I can see the connections between the Old Testament and the New, between the words of Jesus and his apostles. These connections are often some of the most exciting and inspiring realizations I have in my Bible study, and scripture memory makes them easier to discover.
It reminds me why I’m fighting to follow God.
When I’m feeling discouraged, depressed, downtrodden, or any other word that begins with d [🙃], I need to remember who I am and where my identity and security come from. Having scripture memorized makes this much easier for me. Scriptures like Colossians 3:1-4 remind me that my security and identity come from Jesus. Scriptures like Philippians 1:20 or Daniel 3:16-19 give me examples of godly individuals in the past who have followed God boldly all the way to the end. When I’m down, it’s rare that I’ll instantly pull open my Bible (though it’d be great to do that more, I’m sure). Yet having scripture memorized enables me to remember God even if I’m stuck in my head since the scripture is right there too.
It exposes sin in my heart.
I hope you’ve experienced hearing a scripture and have it expose the sin you were committing or considering at that very moment. It’s not a particularly fun feeling, but it’s one that gives us a tremendous opportunity to become more like God if we choose to repent. The sins that tempt me most are not particularly unique: greed, pride, lust, arrogance, and selfishness. When I memorize scriptures that expose these sins, they make it easier to “short circuit” these harmful desires that separate me from God and other people. The word of God is sitting there in my mind right next to the sin, shining a light on it and uncovering the lies Satan tells me to make sin seem desirable. Of course, I can still choose to ignore what God is telling me at that moment. But to have scripture so immediately available still serves as a powerful tool to remind me of who God has called me to be.
It enables me to speak God’s words to other people.
Although I can like the sound of my voice, the reality is that I don’t have the words people need to hear. My words might soothe or encourage for a moment, but it’s only God that can heal people forever. When I memorize scripture, I can speak God’s own words to people. Whether to Christians or non-Christians, I can simply be a channel for God to say what he wants to say. When I grasp this, it is both freeing and empowering. Rather than search for a perfect word on my own, I can ask “what does God say about this?” and go from there.
You can memorize scripture too
I hope that by sharing from my own life I’ve persuaded you that memorizing scripture is worth it. I’ll be posting soon about how to memorize scripture, but it felt rather hollow to do so without talking about the why. Like any spiritual discipline, memorizing scripture loses its power if we think of it as some magic spell that will grant us intimacy with God by performing it. Yet when I use scripture memorization to get closer to God, I find it is one of the most powerful tools available. I hope it will be for you, too!
[EDIT: You can read about my process of memorizing scripture on my next post.]