It was one of those random run-ins with a person I hadn’t seen in some time. I asked the normal and expected question, “How have you been?” but didn’t expect his answer. Having recently retired, and looking for some new direction in his life, he decided to commit to memory some Scriptures––and not just a few random verses, but large chunks––chapters and even entire books of the Bible. He confessed it had been one of the most challenging, but personally rewarding experiences he could remember.
Before you write him off as some eccentric with a freakish memory and too much time on his hands, let me assure you that you can do the same thing––and you should. In fact, I think God expects you to employ the power of your memory in learning Scripture. King David, a man after God's own heart, expressed that heart in his desire to memorize Scriptures:
"On (God's) Law, (the happy man) meditates day and night." (Psalm 1:2)
"I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)
If Jesus is any model for us to imitate, His example is a powerful motivation. When He was weakest and tempted by Satan in the desert, He responded by quoting Scriptures that clarified His Father's will for Him (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
If you’ve been with us in our weekend services this past year, you have received some business cards with Scriptures on them and have been challenged to commit them to memory. In fact, in the services, we’ve tried to help you get started by having you repeat the verse while blanking out key words. This is a direction we intend to continue. We are committed to memorizing Scripture!
If you are still reading, I imagine the excuses are starting to bounce around in your head like popcorn over a fire:
“I just can’t memorize. My brain isn’t like yours. Mine is like a cup with no bottom: what goes in falls through, holding nothing.”
Frankly, unless you are severely learning-disabled, you can memorize information. Try this little test:
What is your phone number?
What is your address?
What is your previous address?
What is your Social Security number?
Amazingly, most of us have already memorized a random series of numbers and words that identify our geographical location, the way we contact each other electronically, our governmentally assigned ID number, as well as a host of other disconnected information. The fact is--we can and do memorize what we think is useful and vital. The question is, do we think the Scriptures are as important as our phone numbers?
If we do, we’ll have a pleasant surprise. Memorizing some statement or passage from Scripture with a discernible flow of thought is much easier than trying to commit to memory a set of random numbers with no rhyme or reason.
“I just don’t have the time to sit around and memorize. I’m a busy person!”
I have found over the last few months that the best times I can work on memorizing is in the small snatches of time that I am waiting in lines or for an appointment, or when I have a few moments of time not long enough to do anything else.
If I’m attempting to memorize just a sentence or two (like Ecclesiastes 12:13-14), I usually take a few minutes before I go to sleep and when I awake.
Besides--we always find time to do what we consider is important. If we think something important, we’ll find a way. Otherwise, we’ll find an excuse.
“Why bother--what good is it anyway? I have a Bible. If I want to know what’s in it, I’ll open it up and read it.”
I can only respond by admitting that I have never had the Scriptures affect my life so deeply as when I have committed them to memory: Psalm 1––concerning the two directions of life; Psalm 139––revealing what God knows about you; Romans 8––reinforcing God’s providence and love for you; these and other passages that I have memorized have deeply affected how I think and how I live. As a teabag left to steep in scalding water, so the thoughts and statements from the Bible left over time to steep in my mind--have grown stronger and more poignant with each passing day. God’s words have returned to instruct me, reassure me, comfort me, rebuke me, and--at times--even to haunt me. As one once wrote, “It is not how much you get into the Bible, but how much the Bible gets into you.” If that is true, then memorization clearly is one of the gateways to God’s Word getting “into” us.
“I don’t really want to expend the mental energy to try. Frankly, by the time I get home and have some free time, I’d rather read the paper, watch TV, or turn my mind off--not turn it up!”
I must admit, I have thought the same way. Still, anything worth doing is worth expending some effort on.
I read once where the result of senility, often occurring as we grow older, is the loss of one’s inhibitions, so that the senile person says and does whatever has been in his mind and heart all along. In other words, those of us not affected by senility have the blessing of holding in check that which we think or are tempted to do; we are able to censor our baser thoughts and impulses. As one grows senile, he looses the ability to keep his guard up; whatever has filled his mind--good and bad, shabby and bright, exemplary and embarrassing, all comes leaking out. We all have known some who in senility have become foul mouthed, angry, and demanding; others, no longer having any guard, become sweeter, more bold about Jesus, and a joy to be around. I have to wonder: what will I be like if and when my guard dissolves?
I have no idea whether or not I will be able to stop or control the onset of senility. What I can do now is bathe my thinking so that when my brain becomes a glass house, what is seen will be what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). As God’s Word takes root in my mind, my thinking and entire perception of life gradually changes (Romans 12:1-2).
OK, OK! So let’s say I’m willing to try. Where do I start?
1. Start with something short––any of the recent verse cards in Ecclesiastes or the Gospel of John would be a great choice; or if you have a statement in Scripture that has meant something to you, choose that one.
2. If you choose something other than one of our verse cards, copy the Scripture on a separate sheet of paper or 3x5 card. By seeing it as a whole, you will more easily be able to trace the flow of thought. So before you start memorizing, study the passage and ask yourself, “Exactly what is He trying to say?” Whatever the length, try to trace the flow of thought. I have found it helpful to paraphrase the meaning of each phrase in my own words.
3. Carry the card or paper with you in your pocket. Pull it out whenever you can and read it. Try to memorize it a phrase at a time, rehearsing what you have already learned.
4. Don’t give up. If you get discouraged and drop it for a while, return to it later. You’re not under any deadline. If you get busy and forget it, come back to it when you remember. The tortoise who finished beat the rabbit who didn’t. Don’t give up.
5. Finally, I have found that enlisting another person to memorize the same passage and keep me accountable is an indispensable encouragement. And as you are memorizing, share what you’re doing with someone else––ask them to see if you can recite the passage correctly. It will help you and encourage them.
Take the challenge. Let me know what passages you’ve chosen and how you’re coming. You’ll hear nothing but clapping and cheers from me if you even try!