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Spiritual Exercise through Scripture Memorization

What do you think of when you see a treadmill? Physical fitness? A heathy lifestyle? Sweat? I think, Oh, look! There’s a garage sale.

You may detect a bit of cynicism. Blame it on deceptive advertising. The attractive and impressive models that grace the box on exercise equipment with their finely sculpted bodies have never come within 100 feet of a potato chip. They torture themselves for a living. They promise us non-olympians the “thrill of victory.” Nope! It’s “the agony of defeat.” So after failing, we let that treadmill silently mock us for a few months and finally drag the piece of junk onto the driveway to recoup some of our money (hoping we kept the box).

Consequently, we might approach the subject of Scripture memorization with a similar kind of cynicism. We may have attempted it with the greatest of intentions, only to fizzle out when our brains cried, “Uncle!” For me, the key to persevering with any exercise regimen boils down to this: I will do it if my life depends on it. Well, actually, it does. Both body and spirit require exercise. In my case, memorizing God’s Word is an indispensable and effective spiritual exercise for sustaining my soul.

A Divine Prescription for Indwelling Sin

We often think of the gospel as a remedy for sin, but it is a preventative as well. Israel’s first leaders, fully aware of the people’s propensity to sin, commanded them to recite God’s Word (Deut. 6:6-7; 11:18; Josh. 1:8). It is not ordered only as needed, but on a regular basis – “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Debt. 6:7). The very structure of much of the Bible, with poems, songs, and proverbs, lends itself to repetition and memorization.

The psalmists attests to the efficacy of memorizing God’s Word:

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Ps. 119:11

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.

Ps. 37:30-31

Fitness for Battle

Spiritual disciplines, such as Bible memorization, take on a greater urgency when fitness is not for show but for survival. We will see battle. God’s word is our sword (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Isa. 49:2; Hos. 6:5; 2 Cor. 6:7).

Do you use a Bible memory app?

smartphone Free Stock Photos, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Smartphones have replaced much of what used to be stored in a paper notebook or a briefcase. In addition to our calendar, to-do list, and contacts, we can also carry our Bible memory verses in a dedicated app. These apps track verses to be learned and those we have already memorized and provide helpful ways of reviewing them on a regular basis. I use the app, Remember Me. If you have different app that you would recommend, please share it in a comment. Thanks!

Jesus memorized Scripture. If anyone could do without spiritual exercise, it was the incarnate Son of God. Yet, the Gospels record him fasting, rising early to pray, and quoting the Bible. Jesus used memorized Scripture to repel the temptations of Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). If Jesus used God’s word to repulse temptation then it is the gold standard of defensive strategies.

What we take in by the Word, we digest by meditation, and let out by prayer

Thomas Manton

Transformational Thinking

In addition, God’s Word is transformational. At conversion, a transformation took place in us in response to the gospel (Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23-25) through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, that was just the beginning of a lifelong process of conforming us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-30). We are commanded to stop conforming to the pattern of this world and to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). This renewal happens by feeding on the word of God (Eph. 4:21- 24; Col. 3:9-10). Memorization can facilitate meditation on God’s Word which renews our mind and transforms our life.

Effective Praying

Accordingly, meditating on Scripture should provoke prayer. “What we take in by the Word, we digest by meditation, and let out by prayer” (Thomas Manton). Promises should lead to thanksgiving, commands to confession of sin, gratitude for grace, and cries for help. Psalms of praise spur us to join in the chorus. Do you want your prayers to be effectual? Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn. 15:7). Effective praying does not start with asking for what we want, but with loving God and wanting what he wants (Matt. 6:9-10).

Where to Start

If you want to know where to begin, start by memorizing passages that encourage your own growth in grace. It is okay to memorize for the purpose of evangelizing others, but as they say on the airplane, “Put on your own oxygen first.” You will quote Scripture more naturally, if the verses have made a deep impression on your own soul.

If you are battling a particular sin, find a passage that addresses that sin. Be careful not to lose sight of the grace of God by loading yourself down with laws. Include passages that urge obedience as a response to God’s goodness (e.g. Rom. 6:12-14; 12:1-2; Jn. 15:9-13). When you read or hear a verse that particularly stirs your heart add it to your to learn list. Take your cue from the Bible and recognize passages that lend themselves to recitation (e.g. psalms, proverbs, the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, promises). Then set aside time and make use of downtime to review, review, review.

Delighting in God

As spiritual creatures, we require spiritual sustenance and exercise. Memorizing Scripture is not the only way to nourish and build up our faith, but it can be one of the most effective. As Christians our goal is to delight ourselves in God (Ps. 37:4). What better way to do that than to treasure his Word in our hearts.

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