A friend recently asked me if there was anywhere in the Bible that explicitly commands us to memorize. I told her “yes” and “no”. “No”, if you’re looking for a verse that uses the word “memorize”, but “Yes,” if you are looking for synonyms and implications of God’s commands. Saints are to memorize Scripture as: God commands it in calling us take His words to heart (Deut. 6); our nature calls for it as an intermediary step to meditation, which should be the aim of memorization; by implication in that Jesus recited Scripture as an aid amidst temptation and we are called to imitate Him.
My friend’s question was blessed, not only because it prompted spiritual conversation, but because it moved me to reflect on my own relationship with Bible memorization. Allow this brief account:
Age 4-13: Clung to Genesis 1:1 and John 11:35 for dear life in family worship to the laughter of my siblings and distress of my parents (Don’t know John 11:35 off-top? Look it up and get ready to be impressed. Lol!)
Age 14-20: ….it’s still Genesis 1:1 and John 11:35
Age 20-21: 1 Peter 5:6-11
Age 22-23: 1 Corinthians 13 & Philippians
Age 24-29: More Bible!
One might think that memorizing like this would give one over to pride, but glory to God, I’ve seen the opposite effect on my heart, especially when I memorize with the goal to meditate. I was definitely more arrogant in regards to Bible knowledge at age 21 than I am now (credits to the Dunning–Kruger effect). The more I do it, the more I truly believe that I am completely undeserving of these truths and that there is no bounds to their wisdom. Like Job before God, there are mornings where, with a closed mouth and a bowed head, my heart says, “I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.” (Job 42:3b-4).
Memorization has been for me like Noah and his ark. Over some 120 years Noah built the ark and waited for the flood to come. You could imagine the ridicule he faced, building a large boat in an arid land. Similarly, when memorizing books of the Bible there have been moments when I thought, “Is all this necessary? Dave, you’re being overzealous. Just memorize the popular verses.” And then, the flood comes. A counseling situation arises that needs Philippians 2:14 and not just the popular 2:12-13, or that friend needs help and there is not only no time to pull out a Bible, but it would be off-putting to do so. Or the car rides where I am telling myself lies about God’s heart for me and I need truth from Heaven to see clearly again. The flood comes and the Holy Spirit uses the Scripture as an ark for me and now I am safe.
Why all this? Well, this Sunday, Sunday School begins for GRC youth and the big project for this year is for each group to memorize a chapter in The Gospel of John collectively and present it at the year’s end. By collectively, we mean that if a group of 5 students pick John chapter 2, with 25 verses, each youth will be responsible for 5 verses. Our youth are more than capable on the memorization front, but it’s the meditation that we are eager for them to engage in. The week-in, week-out discussing the material and mulling it over in their minds, chewing on it and digesting it for their souls, that is what we are eager for. Our hope is that more than one youth in memorizing their verses obtains a hunger to do more, perhaps even a chapter on their own or a great pericope of Christs’ like John 5:19-47. That they would find the Scriptures to be what they are: eternally relevant and a present help in times of trouble; an ark for them and those they love. Church, please pray for our ark building.
David Noel, Jr. is the Director of Youth Ministry and leads CrossRoads, our young adults ministry.