This is Part 1 of a series about my effort to memorize the entire book of Romans. Read the rest of the series here.
You know those sermons that really stick with you? The ones that, years later, you can still remember because they had such an impact on your life? One of those sermons hit me in college, a message by David Nasser that I listened to on my iPod, about the importance of God’s Word. At some point in the message, he threw down a challenge to his audience:
“Can you give me one Bible verse for every year you’ve been a Christian?”
So, if you’d been a Christian for four years, that would be four Bible verses. If you’d been a Christian for forty years, that’s forty verses. In the room in which he was speaking, filled with about a thousand people, it turned out that only a couple dozen were confident in their ability to meet his challenge.
David Nasser’s challenge gripped my heart. Now, I was pretty sure that I could rattle off six Bible verses– the number of years I had been a believer at that point– but that wasn’t what captured me. Instead, it was the shockingly low bar he had set, and the inability of most of his evangelical audience to meet it, that moved me. “If we– if I— claim to be ‘Bible people,'” I thought, “what in the world are we doing? How can this be acceptable in our churches? And how can this be tolerated in my life?”
Nasser’s message was one of the tools that God used to redirect my life and birth a passion for God’s Word in my heart and my ministry. I want to be a Bible person, a man of the Book, and I want to shepherd people into being Bible people. I want to help people love the Word of God and the God of the Word. And that low bar that Nasser set, I knew, wouldn’t cut it. I wanted more for my own soul. And I wanted more for Jesus’ church.
Fast forward about ten years, and I’m now serving as a pastor in a church full of people who love the Bible. Our preaching and worship and community is decidedly Word-centered, for which I am thankful. A decade of relatively consistent devotional time has slowly reshaped my worldview and– hopefully– made me a more faithful disciple of Jesus.
But ever since that Nasser sermon implanted itself in my heart, I’ve always known there was more. More than *just* reading the Bible, more than *merely* dipping my toes into God’s Word for fifteen minutes in the morning. What about the kind of extended, diligent meditation that locks up God’s Word in your heart and mind? What about Bible memorization? For most of my Christian life, however I dismissed the notion of serious Bible memory as something that maybe people did in ancient times, but wasn’t feasible or realistic today.
But along the way, I’ve been challenged in that assumption by the example of saints who have aimed far higher than I had even thought possible. A message by John Piper on Scripture memory, in which he recited Psalm 1, Psalm 16, Psalm 103, Romans 5, and Romans 8. A young woman in my church reciting the entire book of Colossians on a Sunday morning. Another young woman reciting whole chapters for our youth group. “This is possible,” I thought. “This can actually be done.”
So, a few years ago, I decided to put my hand to the plow and try it myself. I picked the book of Philippians– a relatively short four chapters, with which I was already very familiar– and decided to go for it. I typed up the whole book, broke up the sentences, and printed each chapter on a piece of paper which I carried in my pocket. I decided to use just my “wasted” free time: in the shower, on the way to work, etc.
And lo and behold, to my great surprise, it worked. In the space of about two months, I memorized the entire book of Philippians. Using only empty time that was already built into my day, I was able to store up an entire book of Scripture in my heart. I was elated.
Because you need to understand: my memory is terrible. Like, seriously awful. I’m absent-minded and forgetful. I can’t remember names to save my life. If an appointment or calendar event is not written down, I guarantee I will forget it. Heck, I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning. And yet I– spacey, forgetful me– was able to memorize an entire book of the Bible. My success in memorizing Philippians changed everything. This is not a feat only reserved for the superior intellects and superior Christians. Because if I can do this, anybody can do this. If I can do this, you can do this.
With zeal and expectation, I threw myself into memorizing other books. I had grand visions of memorizing other books– maybe even the whole New Testament! I had memorized all of Philippians; nothing could stop me now!
Alas, my lofty plans were derailed soon afterwards by a major cultural development: the smartphone. The attention-diverting, time-consuming nature of the smartphone meant my days of “empty” time were over. No more was “wasted” time spent on Bible memorization; now it could be spent on Facebook! That trade, of course, left me poorer. For a couple years, I’ve been wanting to get back into Bible memorization, but haven’t been able to muster up the mental strength or willpower.
That’s why I was so thankful and excited when, about a month ago, my friend Dave challenged me from out of the blue to join him in taking up Bible memorization again. But not just individual verses. Not even a smaller book like Philippians. No, this was a moonshot: attempting to memorize the entire book of Romans. Romans! The Mount Everest of the New Testament! 16 chapters of “fors” and “therefores” and Jews and Gentiles and justification and gospel glory. Could it even be done? Were there enough neurons in my brain to hold it all?
Yet I jumped at the opportunity. This was an answer to a prayer I had given up praying, the kick in the pants I needed to get moving again. And this time, it wouldn’t be a solo project; there would be encouragement and fellowship to actually make it happen.
For the past month now, Dave and I have been working on Romans, mostly independently (although constantly texting about it and trash talking/encouraging each other) and we’re now several chapters in. We began in November, and we’re on track to finish sometime in the spring. I’m now confident enough in our progress to begin chronicling it.
I’ve learned some new skills for memorization, but more importantly, the book of Romans has opened up to me in a way it never had before. I’m dazzled by the majestic, sovereign, saving grace of God in a way I wasn’t before. The logic of Romans is slowly and surely working its way into my heart and mind. And since, as Romans 12:2 says, we’re “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” I’m encouraged and hopeful about the impact this will have on my Christian life. God’s Word is powerful, living, and active. The gospel laid out in Romans is the “power of God for salvation.” What better storage place could there be for the dynamite of the gospel than my mind, shaping how I think and feel from the bottom up?
I’m excited about this new journey I’m on. I’m thankful to have a friend like Dave alongside me, challenging and encouraging and and sharpening and heckling me. I plan to continue this series over the next weeks and months. In the next post, I’ll share my strategies for memorization and how I’ve adapted them to the smartphone era. Dave will probably author a guest post (or more) with his insights. But mostly, I just want to share what I’ve seen in Romans, as I’ve slowed down and meditated on passages while committing them to memory. Romans is blowing up in life, and I want to share that with you. And hopefully, along the way, encourage you to take up your Bible and “hide God’s Word in your heart” too.
This is Part 1 of a series about my effort to memorize the entire book of Romans. Read Part 2 here, in which I start sharing some of the memorization strategies that are working for me.