FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 26, July 5, 2018
“Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” -Psalm 119:11
From time to time I have people ask me how I go about memorizing Scripture. These same people also have asked me to write about this topic. So here I go. First of all, I have found that memorizing Scripture is much more difficult the older I get. It is not impossible, but it takes far more time. Second, I am not putting myself up as an expert on the topic. There are surely far more people who have committed far more sections of Scripture to memory than me. And third, I have no “secret” technique or “silver bullet” to make Scripture memory easier to do.
I do believe, however, that the effort to memorize large sections of Scripture (whole chapters or lengthy portions, entire Psalms) is well worth the effort. After all, the Psalmist spends all one hundred and seventy-six verses of Psalm 119 proclaiming the benefits of God’s word. He tells us that he has treasured, hidden, captured God’s word in his heart, not just his mind. And why has he done so? Because the word hidden in the heart mitigates our hunger to sin against God. Scripture memory is not enough, however. Unbelievers have learned large sections of Scripture to sing Handel’s Messiah or to play a part in a play, but have never been transformed by the word they have learned and spoken or sang. No, the word must also enter the heart. That is, we must be gripped, possessed, dominated by the word so that it affects the way we talk, think, and live. So, once a portion of Scripture is memorized then you are able to bring it to mind during the day, while driving to or from work, while on your daily exercise regimen. Meditation on the word of God, resulting in practical application in our lives, is the power which brings life transformation.
But to get to the point, how can you do a better job at memorizing Scripture? As a preliminary statement, you simply must be committed to the effort. Set aside a few minutes every morning in your devotional time to memorize. If someone was to ask me how I have memorized Romans 1-12 I would say, “It took me thirty minutes to learn all twelve chapters.” By that I mean, of course, thirty minutes per day for a long, long time.
I suggest five steps in the process. First is selection. Find a passage of Scripture which you want to memorize. I suggest you work with longer passages, like whole chapters or Psalms. Why? Later I will speak of the vital necessity of review and I have found that if I try to learn a lot of individual verses then it is more difficult to develop a regimen of review. We learn by adding to what we already know, and if you memorize large sections of Scripture or whole chapters, then you can build on what you have learned. You begin to understand the context of the passage. You can also more easily remember what you need to review for that day.
Second is memorization. Make it a goal to memorize one verse per day. I cannot really explain how I memorize Scripture other than to say that I have found that if I repeat the verse out loud, many times, then I seem better able to remember it. I am not sure why this is the case, but it works for me. I have also found that if I can get the first word of the verse, then the rest usually follows pretty easily. So sometimes I develop mnemonic devices to help me remember first words of verses or passages. For example, I remember Psalm 6 by ORIDA. Verse one begins, “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Thine anger.” Verse 4 begins, “Return, O Lord, rescue my soul.” Verse 6 begins, “I am weary with my sighing.” Verse 8 begins, “Depart from me, all you who do iniquity.” And verse 10 begins, “All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed.”
Third is repetition. You just have to stay at it. Keep speaking the verse out loud until you have it. If possible, during the day, say it back to yourself a few times. You are likely to forget what you learned that morning until the verse is firmly locked in your mind, so do not be discouraged. Get out your Bible to make sure you have said the verse correctly. Unless you have a photographic memory, which I certainly do not have, then there is no substitute for repetition.
Fourth is review. Use it or lose it. This is just like learning a foreign language. You can spend time in a language lab or class and learn a great deal, but once you leave the lab or classroom, unless you practice speaking what you know, then you will quickly lose all that hard work. So, in order to keep what you have memorized, then you must develop a system of review. For example, the first thing I do every morning, after beginning my devotional time with praise to God, is to work on a new passage which I am seeking to memorize. I spend about thirty minutes on this—usually one verse per day plus reviewing what I have been learning in the passage in the previous four or five days. Then I spend about an hour reviewing what I have already learned over the years. As one example, I take Wednesday mornings to review Romans 1-12. I say it out loud and I stop periodically to meditate on glorious truths found therein. I will often praise God for those truths and turn them into prayer.
And fifth is meditation. The Bible promises great success to those who meditate on God’s word (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1, Psalm 63). Meditation is like a cow chewing its cud. A cow eats grass and swallows it. The cow then regurgitates the grass and chews on it several times as it passes through its four stomachs. Once you have memorized a passage of Scripture, then you are able to “regurgitate” it several times per day, digesting its glorious truths all the more each time. I am able to meditate on Scripture while I am on my daily run. This is also a great way for pastors and other Bible teachers to digest the passage of Scripture they are teaching that week.
The key to all of this, my friends, is to be a plodder. Scripture memory is not a one hundred meter sprint. It is a marathon. Speed is not required, but diligence and endurance are. A commitment to spending a few minutes daily, over a long period of time, with repetition, review, and meditation is the key.
So why bother? After all, the Bible is readily available to all of us. Most of us even have a Bible app on our phones. We can easily and quickly bring up any passage we wish to read or study. Paul tells us to let the word of God richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16). He tells us to renew our minds (Ephesians 4:23). He tells us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Simply put, we are so inundated daily with all manner of heresy, lies, and worldly notions about everything, that it is imperative we hide God’s word in our hearts to ward off our propensity to rebel against Him. The Scriptures are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness. Why? That the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17).