When I was a teenager growing up in Indiana, I won a Scripture memory contest at our church. I know what you’re thinking. Of course you did. All future pastors do, and they win at Bible Trivia, too.
Okay, I admit that memorizing more Bible verses than other kids my age, including all twenty-four verses of Psalm 139, makes me sound like a complete nerd. In case you’re wondering, I could also recite the sixty-six books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, forwards and backwards in less than sixty seconds. Not really. Just kidding. That would make me totally odd for God. But, in my own defense, I did memorize large blocks of the Bible while also playing quarterback for my high school football team. Nerds don’t play football.
Scripture memory is still the most significant spiritual discipline I have ever put into practice. I only regret that I did not keep up the practice into adulthood as diligently as I did as a teenager. But it still plays an important role in my spiritual formation.
I still remember a sermon my student pastor delivered in which he encouraged us to memorize Scripture. “Turn in your Bible to Joshua chapter 1,” he began. He went on to remind us how the book of Joshua starts with the death of Moses, the great Hebrew deliverer, and how Joshua, his understudy for forty years, led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Having to follow a giant like Moses, Joshua’s nerve endings were on fire. Several times, the Lord tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous.” In verse 8, the Lord tells him how to achieve success in all that he does.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
“Prosperity and success is something we all want,” my pastor went on to say. “But notice how the Lord ties Joshua’s future success to the Word of God. He says don’t let it depart from your mouth, meditate on it day and night, and just do it. Put it into practice.”
As a way of putting the Word of God in our mouth — yes, right on the tip of our tongue — my pastor strongly encouraged us to memorize Scripture and then introduced to us a contest. The prospect of winning something is not a bad way to motivate teenagers.
Dallas Willard agrees, at least with the part about memorizing Scripture. In his book The Great Omission, Willard comments on Joshua 1:8, using it to highlight Scripture memory as a necessary spiritual discipline. His words are worth careful consideration.
How, then, shall we set the Lord always before us? Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to – and of course I don’t have to – choose between all of the disciplines of the spiritual life and take only one, I would choose Bible memorization. I would not be a pastor of a church that did not have a program of Bible memorization in it, because Bible memorization is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what they need. “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth” (Joshua 1:8). That’s where we need it! In our mouth. Now, how did it get in your mouth? Memorization.
Willard is right when saying, "Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation." Spiritual formation is the process by which believers grow in Christ-likeness as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years that will help you put this powerful spiritual discipline of Scripture memory into practice.
- Write the verse on a 3x5 card and carry it with you.
- Read it throughout the day and several times before you go to bed at night.
- Say it aloud to yourself. Record it on your smart phone and play it back to yourself.
- Write it out several times.
- Find a partner and recite the verse to each other.
Memorizing Scripture is an important part of an online discipleship coaching experience developed by Dr. Ron Jones called Starting Point: A Disciple's First Steps.