An Unexpected Experiment
Over a pleasant holiday meal, my lovely sister-in-law casually suggested that she, my sister, and I memorize the entire book of Philippians. Maybe it was the turkey and dressing or the sugar from the desserts, but I agreed. At the first of the year, we began, verse by verse, to set Paul’s letter to the Philippians to memory.
We started with complete commitment and a plan. Learn one verse a week, then each week we’d meet and take turns reciting our verses. Due to the distance between us, a virtual chat group made this possible.
We began to meet regularly and soon realized it would take us more than two years to finish. Now beyond the initial excitement, I wasn’t sure we could get through the arduous task of committing four chapters, with more than one hundred verses and over two thousand words, to memory. The reality of our undertaking was harsh, but ultimately, we decided not to let the length of time deter us. We held our resolve to accomplish the goal.
A year into our memorization experiment, I recognized changes in myself as God’s divinely inspired Words settled in my heart. Inward changes started to manifest on the outside through my actions and attitudes. Knowing God’s Word instead of Googling God’s Word changed the way I saw people, the world, and my life in a way I hadn’t expected. Memorizing Scripture transformed my perspective by turning my gaze upon God. Even with only a small portion memorized, I felt God’s Word continually renew my heart and calm my mind.
A Foundation Set by Moses
Moses also recognized the importance of memorizing Scripture. Unable to join God’s chosen people as they entered the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of God’s work in their lives and commanded them in the way they should live. The book of Deuteronomy reveals that their future would be blessed if they would do two things: love God with all their heart, mind, and soul, and write the Words of the whole law on their hearts.
“These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you” Deuteronomy 6:1-3 (NIV).
Alternatively, consequences of neglecting the Word of God were significant. The people of Israel would be tempted to serve the false gods of the land. They risked losing God’s protection, provision, and presence. By writing the Words on their hearts, however, they were protected from going their own way and forgetting about the one true God.
Like the Israelites, we are also exhorted to remember His Words by setting them on our hearts. The Words of Scripture are divinely inspired, able to transform our hearts, our minds, and our actions. Sharper than a two-edged sword, it can withstand any opposition. Moses knew the value and strength of God’s Word.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts” Deuteronomy 6:6 (NIV).
In Moses’ day, it was believed that the heart contained a person’s intellect and insight. To have God’s Words on their heart meant Scripture constantly pervaded their conscious thoughts. Memorizing Scripture places His Word at the forefront of our thoughts and helps us ponder what He has done, what He will do, and what He thinks about us. Moses continued his exhortation to the Israelites:
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” Deuteronomy 6:7 (NIV).
As parents, our obligation is to emphasize the importance of Scripture to our children. I think one way this is best cultivated is through the virtue of Scripture memorization. The word “impress” in the verse above expresses an act of precise and painful engraving so that the Words may never fade. The Israelites were to recite Scripture so often the children would absorb the Words.
During my own memorization journey, my son often helped me by listening while I recited long passages. This was an excellent opportunity to teach and model how knowing God’s Word is precious and transformational.
This passage further encourages us to make God’s Word part of our whole life—at home or work, whether resting or awake. Moses not only told the people to write Scripture on their hearts, but gave instruction to bind it on their arms and foreheads and display them on their gates and door frames. God’s commandments are to permeate every part of life. Scripture written on our heart goes wherever we go, in any circumstance or situation.
God’s Word comforts and strengthens us in times of despair and pain. It protects us from temptation. His Words give us joy and a vocabulary for worship. Our minds are renewed, and our hearts made alive through its influence.
A Worthy Pursuit
Memorizing Scripture is not a quick or easy process. Any effort to know God’s Word must begin with prayer. Ask God to provide the ability, resources, and wisdom to memorize Scripture. Setting God’s Word on our hearts takes an intentional effort and a consistent commitment. The reward, however, is eternal and worthy of the focused effort.
There are many approaches to setting Scripture to memory. I use a repetition and review method—reading and then repeating a selected verse at least ten times each until the verses are memorized. This method tends to take me only five or ten minutes a day, yet affords great progress.
Writing down Scripture also helps with memorization. Research suggests that we retain more when we write than when we read. Writing a passage on a card and then carrying it with you affords both, giving you the opportunity to review it throughout your day—while standing in line at the coffee shop or grocery store, or waiting in the school pick-up line.
Even your phone can be a helpful memorization tool by listening to Scripture aloud, either through a Bible app or by recording and replaying.
My most significant word of advice is to find an accountability partner. Accountability grows relationships and keeps us on track. Without my sisters, I’m not sure I would have ever memorized so much. I am grateful for their help and inspiration.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they did not have God’s Holy Word as we do today. We are blessed beyond measure to have sixty-six books representing God’s love for us—hundreds of New Testament passages to help us get to know God and understand His power.
God’s Word has the power to change hearts. It is the Good News with the power to save, equipping us to do the work we have been called to do.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV).
Whatever method you choose to memorize Scripture, I urge you to make it a priority each day to engrave God’s Word on your heart. It will change what you know about God, and it will surely change you.
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