Recently, I ran across this post about Vern Poythress’ Scripture memory habits. While I had been faithful in my own personal Scripture memory the last couple of years, late last year I started slacking on reviewing the verses I had memorized and this post provided me with the example I needed to get going again.
I doubt that I am the only person who struggles to be consistent in his Scripture memory. Scripture memory has no deadline and rarely does anyone ask us how we are doing in our Scripture memory. It doesn’t feel urgent in the way that many other things in our lives do. Scripture memory falls into what Stephen Covey would call the “important but not urgent” category. We need to memorize Scripture. We must memorize Scripture, but we fail to grasp the importance of it until we are in a situation where knowing God’s word by heart would be helpful.
We need to remember why Scripture memory is so vitally important for our walk with the Lord, so here are seven reasons that you need to store God’s word up in your heart.
Memorize Scripture to Know God
A billboard near my hometown displayed a Bible with the caption, “When all else fails, read the instructions” and many pastors have described the Bible as “God’s manual for life.” While these sound like fine ways to describe Scripture, they miss something very important. The last time you put together a piece of furniture and used the instructions to guide you, what did you do with the instructions once you were finished? You probably threw them in the garbage or filed them away in a drawer in case you needed them again. In the same way, I have a repair guide for my car which I only consult when I have a problem. I have never known anyone who read instructions from IKEA and worshipped the author.
The Bible has a lot to say about living a wise life that will bring great joy, but first and foremost it introduces us to the God who is worthy of the love and affection of our whole hearts. The Bible’s first verse introduces him, and the whole of Scripture is a testimony to his character, glory, love for his people, and plan to redeem a people for himself.
The only way for us to know God is for him to reveal himself; we are not going to climb up and pull him down. He must disclose himself to us. He has done this generally in creation. Romans 1 says that we can look at the world which God has made and see something of God’s power and glory–yet, it is in the pages of Scripture that we see God the most clearly.
Memorizing Scripture fans the flames of our love for God, because every page testifies to who he is. I knew a dear saint who learned that someone close to her had died. As she heartbreakingly absorbed the news, she responded, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of Lord.” Even in her pain and sorrow, in the following weeks and months, she spoke to almost anyone who would listen about the goodness and grace of God in sustaining her during her trial. How does someone go through this kind of trial and speak about the goodness of God? It doesn’t happen because she’s been reading an instruction manual, but because she has been drinking deeply from the ever-flowing fountain of God’s revelation for decades.
Memorize Scripture to Fight Against Sin
Every Christian struggles with sins that they don’t understand how to fight against. We feel Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 when he says that he does the things he doesn’t want to do and can’t do the things he knows he should do. How can we fight against sin daily when it seems like sin always wins?
God has not left his people powerless in our war against sin. He gave us his Spirit to empower us and he gave us his word. In the Bible’s longest chapter, Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” Here he gives us one powerful function of God’s word: when we store it up in our hearts, it aids us in our battle against our indwelling sin.
God’s word reminds us of the futility of sin and the beauty of walking in holiness. When we face temptation, God’s word convicts us of the foolishness of succumbing to it. When we face a difficult ethical decision, God’s word shows us which way we need to go. This only happens, however, as we read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s word. The Spirit brings these things that we have committed to memory to the forefront of our minds and helps us fight against the sins that so easily entangle us. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Memorize Scripture to Grow in Godly Character
Just as Scripture reminds us of the sins we should avoid, it points us to the areas in which we need to grow. In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us that instead of being conformed to the thought patterns of this present world, we should be transformed. The word for “transformation,” from which we get the English word “metamorphosis,” is only used in three other places in the New Testament. Two of them refer to Jesus’ transfiguration, and the other refers to the process by which we are transformed into the same image of Christ “from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
In Romans 12:2, Paul also says that this process of transformation happens “by the renewing of your mind.” For many years, Christians have believed that the motivation for our walk with the Lord comes from our emotions. For example, when I was in college in the late 1990’s, the slogan for our campus ministry one year was “Are You Excited?” The problem with an emotional approach to the faith is that it cannot sustain Christian growth for the long haul. No one can stay excited long enough to follow Jesus faithfully.
Instead, we need to see the central role that our minds play in our conformity to Christ’s character. Scripture does not speak about a difference between believing with the mind and believing with the heart. Instead, in Scripture, the heart is the center of our intentions, thoughts, and will. When we bathe our minds in Scripture, it changes the way that we think and the way that we live. It helps us to better understand what we are to love and what we are to reject. This process of reading and reflecting on Scripture forms and shapes our character.
Memorize Scripture to Understand Sound Doctrine
Before the turn of the new millennium, a Christian song entitled “Jesus Saves” became popular. The song’s basic message was that Christians do not need to concern themselves with doctrine and theology; they just need to know that Jesus saves. This sounds wonderful until you realize that the song’s premise falls apart with two simple questions. What if you told someone “Jesus Saves” and they asked, “Who is Jesus and what does he save me from?” The second you open your mouth to answer these questions, you are talking about theology.
With the pressures facing Jesus’ church in our culture and the number of people who say they follow Jesus abandoning truths that Christians have held dear for centuries, we stand in great need of understanding the basic message of the Bible and the truths that it teaches. Theology is not an obscure discussion about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, but a conversation about the world’s most important questions. Who is God? Who are we, and why are we here? Who is Jesus and what did he come to do? Why should Christians be part of a local church, and what should these churches look like? Do we have hope in this broken world, and how do we know that this hope is real? These are all theological questions, and memorizing Scripture will give us a greater sense of the answers.
A man who has been a great friend and mentor of mine provided me with the best example I have of what it looks like to be committed to Scripture memory. During one of our many long talks, I asked him how he decided on what verses of Scripture to start memorizing first. He replied that he started with passages of Scripture on the character of God and then moved on to verses on important doctrines. He wanted to understand theology more deeply and knew that the Bible was the best place to start.
Memorize Scripture to Share the Gospel
Have you ever wondered, “How will I know what to say when I try to tell people about Jesus?” You hear your pastor talk about sharing the Gospel, and you think about the family member who has never believed. You know you need to talk to her, but you’re afraid that you won’t know what to say and that she may ask a question that you don’t know the answer to.
While even the most skilled evangelist gets butterflies in his stomach when he opens his mouth to share the good news, there is a way to gain greater facility in talking to people about Jesus. Memorize Scripture, and as you store up God’s word in your heart, you will give yourself access to a treasure-trove of truth you can use when you are talking with nonbelievers about the Gospel.
If you want to grow in your knowledge to better share the Gospel, memorize verses that go along with a Gospel outline. The one I use when talking about Jesus is “God/Man/Christ/Response,” which you can learn more about in Greg Gilbert’s excellent book What is the Gospel? I talk about who God is and the fact that he created us for him. Then I move to his creation of human beings in his own image and our fall into sin. This leads to the solution to our dilemma in the person of Jesus, and share who he is and what he has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection. Finally, I point people to how they can respond to the Gospel through repentance and faith.
The God/Man/Christ/Response outline gives you an impetus to memorize Scripture about the character of God, about who humans are and what our basic problem is, about who Jesus is and what he accomplished for us on the cross, and about the response Jesus calls for to his offer of salvation.
Memorize Scripture to Help Other Christians
Any Christian walking with other believers in biblical community has a myriad of opportunities to help brothers and sisters in Christ who are going through difficulties. What do we say in those times, though? If a friend experiences a miscarriage and asks why God would let her go through this, what will you say? How are you going to know how to counsel a friend on the spot when he tells you that he is dating a girl who is not a follower of Christ? If a good friend decides he is going to leave a Bible-believing church for one that is not, how are you going to show him the error of his ways?
Having an arsenal of Scripture in your mind and heart is a mighty weapon to wield on your friends’ behalf. Often you will be in a spot where you can’t grab your Bible or fumble around on your phone, so you will have to speak from what you know. Instead of reaching for a well-worn cliche, you can give them sound advice from God’s word.
Recently a well-known former pastor told a room full of people that they should ignore people who would quote Romans 8:28 to them and tell them that their suffering is part of God’s plan. He said that people who quote Scripture can’t “walk with you” and that instead, you would need someone who could offer you “solidarity.” Unfortunately, this is advice from the enemy of our souls and not something anyone who walks with Jesus should listen to.
If I cannot help someone with God’s word, what do I have to offer them? At best, I can give them platitudes that are cobbled together from fragments of Scripture. You can share stories or personal anecdotes, but what power is there in that unless it points back to God’s word? The words of the Bible are the words of the Spirit, which he gave us for our instruction and comfort. This is the best thing we can offer struggling and hurting people. Store it in your mind and heart so you have it at your disposal.
Memorize Scripture to Be Encouraged When Times are Hard
When I was younger, there was a popular show on television called Rescue 911. The show took real life 911 calls and reenacted the situations, along with interviews with the people who were involved. It seemed as if every scenario started the same way. A family was going through its normal routine. Kids headed off to school and the parents left for work. It was just a normal day and then out of nowhere, tragedy struck. Reruns of Rescue 911 scare me more than any horror movie because it reminds me that our worst days often start as normal days.
Several years ago, I experienced one of these days. My wife and kids were out of town with family and I was about to walk into a missions team meeting at our sponsoring church to present our church plant’s budget needs for the next year. My Dad called, which was strange for a Wednesday night since he was usually at church. What I heard next devastated me. Tests pointed to him having a lung tumor and chances were that it was cancer. Over the next few days, we would discover that he indeed had fast-growing cancer that had already spread to other parts of his body.
I woke up the next morning in an empty house with nothing but my Dad’s predicament on my mind. If this is cancer, what will they be able to do for him? How hard will his treatments be? How is my Mom handling this? I need to do something to help, but what can I do when I live three hours away? Is this the beginning of the end of his life? These questions and others filled my mind and heart with crippling anxiety.
There was nothing I could do and seemingly nowhere to turn, which is often God’s way of drawing our hearts to his word. In my mind, I went to the passage everyone says we should turn to in difficult times. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I couldn’t and didn’t stop there but kept going. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, and those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What shall we say then to these things, if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave himself up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?” I kept going until I had quoted the rest of Romans 8:28-39. I woke of wracked with anxiety over what the coming months might bring, but God’s word encouraged me and brought me back to remember the important truth that the all-sovereign God loves and cares for his people.
I started tucking away Romans 8:28-39 early in my Christian life. Everyone told me these were important verses for Christians to know and they had been a great help to me along the way already. Then, one sad morning, when I did not know what the future held, the Bible reminded me that whatever I was about to face was in the hands of the sovereign God who loves me, sent his son to die for me, and who works all things together for the good of his children.
Moving From Why to How
Often we need to know why we should do something before we talk about how we should do it. If you are ready to get started, I want to point you to a few helpful resources.
I use an app called ScriptureTyper to help with my Scripture memory. You type the first letter of each word to memorize the verse and it has a built-in schedule for review. (I talk about why you need a review schedule in this post.) ScriptureTyper comes with some preloaded sets of passages for you to memorize, or you can work off of this list of the first 15 verses a Christian should memorize or this list of eight longer passages to memorize.
Make an appointment with yourself every day to work on your Scripture memory. As you are consistent with this over time, you will see a myriad of ways that the Lord uses it to conform you to the image of his Son and to help you live a life that bears fruit for his kingdom.
“Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year“
For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
His Word in My Heart by Janet Pope