A unique feature
When I joined the staff of the Bible College where I now serve as principal, I was delighted to find that the training course included — and still includes —what may well be a unique feature in UK Bible college training: memorising Scripture.
I have long felt that this is one of the most neglected of spiritual disciplines and yet one that is not only vital for individual spiritual growth and maturity, but also a key tool for Christian ministry.
It is a discipline which we hope will become an integral aspect of our students’ lives and future ministries, and one which will pay rich rewards in days and years to come, since there are few things that equip us better for gospel work than memorised Scripture.
Let me first of all suggest four reasons why all believers should apply themselves to committing to memory as much of God’s Word as possible, and then give four, hopefully helpful, guidelines for getting started.
Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and 11:18, to name just two, command God’s people to memorise Scripture. After all, unless we know some Scriptures off by heart we will not be able to ‘talk of them … when you walk by the way’.
Memorising Scripture is an expression to God of our esteem and affection for his Word and therefore is an act of worship. The psalmist says, ‘I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules’ (119:7). The commentator Leupold says of this verse, ‘In practice you praise God by esteeming his Word so precious that you make it your business to learn it. Such learning is an act of praise’.
David Livingstone, the Scottish pioneer in Africa, won a Bible for repeating Psalm 119 by heart when he was only nine years old. How far removed we are from such a love for God’s Word in our own day.
Not very long ago, a Christian father in the US videoed his little daughter happily reciting Psalm 23 and posted the video on the internet. He was bombarded with emails accusing him of child abuse!
Here’s another spiritual discipline much neglected today. Perhaps we have become suspicious of this word because it has been hijacked by eastern religions and New Age practices? But again, it is something commanded in Scripture and inextricably linked to memorising God’s Word.
Psalm 1 links spiritual growth and fruitfulness to 24/7 (conscious and subconscious) meditation on the words of Scripture. As we literally chew over these, they get deep into our system and nourish us spiritually.
For too many Christians, the words read in personal devotions or heard in a sermon are all too quickly squeezed out by the busyness and activity of life, and so their benefit is largely lost.
We need to make a conscious decision, like Mary, to treasure God’s Word in our hearts. As we drive down the road, wash dishes at the sink or go about our daily business, we can still meditate on and benefit from God’s Word.
There is no great benefit in memorising hundreds of sentences out of the Bible if you do not know what they mean. But it is almost impossible to memorise a passage of Scripture and repeatedly meditate on it without deepening your understanding of those verses.
Make no mistake about it, this is a discipline and requires a disciplined, determined approach. Apart from anything else the enemy of your soul will do everything he can to deter you. Ask with confidence for God’s help as you set about the task. After all, you are being obedient to a clear command of Scripture.
This work requires care and thoroughness. It is important to aim for word-for-word accuracy and perfection, using a good, reliable Bible translation. Writing out the verse(s) will help embed them in your memory and consciousness.
Study and repeat the verse out loud until you can say it without hesitation or error, over and over again. Fix every word in your mind.
The secret to effective Scripture memorisation, indeed any memorisation, is repeatedly reviewing the verses you have memorised day after day and week after week.
In fact the perceived wisdom is that you have not really memorised a verse until you have repeated it on 100 consecutive days. Each day, review verses already learned, before learning new ones.
After 100 days, review learned verses on a weekly rather than daily system. I find having the individual verses written out on 5×3 filing cards is a great, handy way of always having verses at hand.
Every now and then, check your memory and records with the actual Scripture to make sure you have not fallen into imprinting a mistake in your memory.
Knowing texts is never enough; they need to be put to good use. Acquire the habit of turning your memorised verses into prayer and quote them sensibly when you pray privately and in public.
To hear quoted Scripture, used in context of course, in public prayer often brings a sense of authority and assurance to those gathered for worship.
The more you memorise Scripture, the more you will find your own thinking transformed by it. This often comes out in witnessing, when the reasoning and logic you use in speaking to someone is far beyond your own innate intellectual ability.
John D. Brand
The author is principal of the Faith Mission Bible College, Edinburgh