This article is part of the ongoing series Meditating on God’s Word.
Meditate on the Word by Memorizing It
I don’t know of a single exercise that is more rewarding and enriching for me than memorizing God’s Word. I agree with Dallas Willard:
Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization.”
Of course, I’m not talking about just knowing a verse or two. Many people can quote parts of the Bible (even Satan can quote scripture), but very few “let the Word of Christ dwell in [them] richly,” (Col. 3:16). The place for knowing Scripture is in your heart. The Psalmist says, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you,” (Ps. 119:11, emphasis added). So, what I’m referring to here is memorization that is coupled with meditation; that is, mulling over the verse or passage that you’re trying to memorize so that it saturates your heart.
After all, “to meditate,” according to the Psalmist in Psalm 1, (“on his law does he meditate day and night”) means to “mutter” or “mumble.” “Meditate” is an onomatopoeic word that imitates the low sound of murmuring or muttering. The same word is used in Psalm 2:1 negatively, where the Psalmist says, “the peoples plot in vain.” The word for “plot” is the same root word for “meditate” in Psalm 1:2. Just as conspirators whisper and murmur and plan evil, the blessed person whispers and mumbles God’s Word. A primary way to mumble or whisper God’s Word to yourself day and night is by memorizing it, so that you can carry it with you all day. The Psalmist says: ”Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day,” (Ps. 119:97).
Four Benefits of Scripture Memorization:
1. Memorize Scripture to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
If you compare Colossians 3:16-17 with Ephesians 5:18-21, you will notice that they are very similar. The results of “letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16) and “being filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18b) are practically the same. In other words, I think there is a connection with letting the Word dwell in you richly and living under the control of the Spirit. And, I would certainly say this is true from experience. When I have wonderful experiences in God’s Word, and I’m constantly thinking on the scriptures I’m memorizing, I am more prone to walk by the Spirit in my daily interactions. God’s Word and Spirit always go together.
2. Memorize Scripture to pursue purity.
As the Psalmist says: ”How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word,” (Psalm 119:9). Even though this question was penned over twenty-five hundred years ago, it’s still a critical question for every generation: “How can a young man keep his way pure?” And after twenty-five hundred years, the answer is still the same: by living according to the Word. By what method did David attempt to fill his mind with God’s Word? Verse 11: “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Scripture memory has an amazing purifying effect. R. Kent Hughes testifies, “I have seen the disciplined memorization of 1 Thessalonians [a passage on sexual purity] change a man’s life.” Pursue the glory of God and a life of purity by memorizing God’s Word.
3. Memorize Scripture to help you fight against Satan.
Jesus modeled this for us in his wilderness experience. In response to Satan’s temptations, Jesus quoted God’s Word. Likewise, as Paul is listing the battle gear for spiritual soldiers, he talks about taking up the weapon of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17). How will you go through the battle without a sword in your hand? Luther said:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
Sadly, Christians often treat the sword of the Spirit like an old sword in a museum. We admire the ancient weapon. We notice its beauty. We see it placed in a place of honor. But we deem it practically useless for modern warfare. Don’t we need some different weapons now in this sophisticated age? No. There is nothing out-of-date about God’s Word. You need it to overcome your enemy. Your weapons are prayer in the Spirit and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17-18).
4. Scripture memory makes meditation possible when you can’t read the Bible.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to try to memorize a book of the Bible. I had memorized several verses, but I was challenged to memorize Ephesians. I had a daily commute of about thirty minutes, and it became a rich time for me, as I pulled onto the interstate and said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has….” I was able to take my copy of the Bible with me. Often in the morning, when I’m getting ready to leave or as I’m looking out the window, or when letting my dog (Titus) outside, I’ll quote Psalm 46 or Psalm 103. God is good to us in giving us the capacity to memorize. People memorize all kinds of things, from statistics on baseball cards, to Nintendo passwords to phone numbers.
I once asked our congregation that if they were kidnapped on a mission trip and had their Bibles taken from them, would they be able to teach Ephesians from memory? God told Joshua to not let the book depart from him (Josh. 1:8). How was he to do this? He didn’t have a “pocket Bible.” Joshua was to carry it in his heart. Take your Bible with you by having it in your heart.
This kind of kind of memorization will help you give counsel to people, as well. Proverbs speaks a lot about the mouth of the wise and the effective use of timely words. For example, the author says:
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
How can you speak God’s Word to people if you don’t know it? I have personally been amazed at how often passages that I’m thinking on become a source of encouragement, rebuke, instruction, warning, or comfort to people during the course of the day. The Psalmist says:
Your testimonies are my delight; They are my counselors. (Psalm 119:24)
God’s Word gives counsel. And God will use you to give counsel from his word if you will store it up in your heart.
Of course, the most important means of counsel to give a person is how to know Jesus Christ and have eternal life (John 17:3). Since, you may not have a Bible with you at all times, it is critically important that you know the Scriptures well enough to share the Gospel with someone. Scripture memory equips you for evangelistic witness.
Two Suggestions for Beginning the Exercise of Scripture Memory:
Make Time to Memorize Scripture.
You aren’t too busy for this. I find it interesting that one of the busiest people of his time, William Wilberforce, who helped abolish slavery in England, was able to memorize Psalm 119. He wrote in his diary 1819, “Walked from Hyde park Corner, repeating the Psalm 119 in great comfort.” Surely if a guy as busy as Wilberforce, can memorize Scripture, we can as well on our morning walks or commutes.
True, not everyone will memorize Psalm 119 or even entire books of the New Testament. That’s not my point. My point is filling your mind with the Word of Christ. Challenge yourself. If you have a terribly hard time memorizing a verse, then stay with a verse. If you can do a verse, go for a passage. If you can do a passage, go for a chapter or a book. The reward will be worth the effort.
Practice Scripture Memory Everyday.
You have to review or you will be prone to lose what you memorized. Don’t do Scripture memory like college students cram for a test. Do it like a disciplined athlete, who works out everyday. Start with a review of yesterday and add to it every day. If you miss a day, which you’ll do, just pick up and keep going. As you review and memorize everyday, consider writing it down, or sitting down and trying to type it on the computer without looking at your Bible. I think you will also increase your ability to memorize large portions of Scripture if you will say it out loud, as well. Above all, never doubt the value of memorizing God’s Word.
 Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, 7.
 R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, rev. ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 29.
Tony Merida serves as the Lead Pastor of Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, NC and as the Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five children. Tony is the co-author of Orphanology and author of Faithful Preaching. He travels and speaks all over the world at various events, especially pastor’s conferences, orphan care events, and youth/college conferences.