How memorizing Scripture has helped me
Written by Robbie Down
Have you ever worked really hard for an exam—cramming in as many terms or formulas as you can bear so you will perform well on the test? Only to forget it all a day later?
This is a common way we approach studying, but it doesn’t actually improve our memories. There is no routing or wiring happening in our brains. It doesn’t create a routine by which our brains will remember the facts, we just jammed it all in and hoped it was floating around somewhere when it came to the test. We’ve all done this before to a certain extent—often because we don’t actually deem the things we have to remember all that useful.
But what about memorizing something you’ll always need? Memorizing Scripture is one of the most important spiritual disciplines for a Christian. It is greatly equipping for all those who commit to it. One of the reasons it is helpful to memorize Scripture is to fight the temptation of sin. As one of the psalmists says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
Accessing the truth of God at any moment is our most powerful tool against habitual or compulsive sin. This has created strong moments of conviction in my day-to-day life. For example, I work as a part-time barista at Starbucks. Just like any other work environment, gossip is a common language among the majority of employees. I’ll catch myself about to dig at a fellow coworker—remembering what Scripture says about gossip and taming the tongue.
This is where the difference between reading the Word and knowing the Word becomes distinct. A portion of living out my faith is going to be credited to the Scripture I can remember.
For me the most transformative part of memorizing Scripture was how it actually worked in my life. Think about this. Imagine reading a chapter of the Bible every day. Soaking in the words, thinking about their meaning, only to forget them as soon as you close the cover. How meaningless! Reading the Bible like you read an instruction manual is useless—the living Word of God needs to transform your heart.
Throughout my mid-teen years, I wrestled with lustful thoughts. I remember being so aggravated that I couldn’t control my mind and felt guilty that I was dwelling on such impure things. It was a cycling sin that felt uncontrollable. It seemed like I tried everything. I tried reading the Bible more often, praying against it, and asking friends to hold me accountable. None of it seemed to permanently change my thought cycle.
Finally, I told my camp leader about my struggle. “Try memorizing Philippians 4:8, you know, the one about thinking on whatever is pure, lovely, true and stuff.” I was desperate, so I tried it. I read it again and again until it seemed it was actually in my mind for good. It didn’t give me all pure thoughts or all perfect intentions. But what it did do was give me “a double-edged sword,” as Hebrews says, to fight those temptations when they arose. Whenever my mind would wander into an impure place, I would recite aloud, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right….” Through this habit, I was able to experience the powerful transforming work Paul coins as the “renewing of your mind.”
A method David often speaks for how to read God’s Word is to meditate. An easy way to better understand this word is to picture how a cow eats. As you know, cows will not chew and swallow their food just once, but many times before it is fully digested. This is the way we ought to digest the Word of God. Not reading it just once and thinking mm that’s good and then forgetting what it tastes like. Instead, we should ingest the words over and over until we actually know them.
We are encouraged to meditate on God’s word all day long (Psalm 119:97). Certainly, this doesn’t mean we walk around with a Bible reading and re-reading a verse all day until we pass out. Rather, through the practice of committing to memory the richness of God’s Word, we can chew on it slowly and really experiencing its worth.
Paul tells us to put on the full armour of God. Even the strongest knight—fully clad with shining armour and an impenetrable shield—is useless in battle without his sword. As we boldly charge against the enemy, may we unsheathe the sword that is the powerful Word of God and wield the truth He has graciously given to us.