This is Part 8 of a series about my effort to memorize the entire book of Romans. Read the rest of the series here.
Back in November, my friend Dave and I embarked on a quest to memorize the whole book of Romans. That life-changing journey took about five months. I’m now re-memorizing the book of Colossians (I memorized it a couple years ago but failed to keep up with it), and have plans to begin tackling the book of John in the near future. As I’ve written about memorizing Romans, I’ve found that my experience has been a help and encouragement to people to dig into memorizing God’s Word for themselves. For that, I’m deeply thankful to God. I’m the last person you’d expect to be memorizing large portions of the Bible; as I’ve written before, I’m an terribly forgetful person who would misplace my head if it wasn’t attached to me and has to write down just about anything I need to remember. And yet here I am memorizing books of the Bible. The lesson to draw from my story is that if I can do this, anyone can do this.
For this final post in my series on memorizing Romans, I want to back up to give a big answer to a big “why” question: why should you memorize the Bible? What additional benefit is there to memorizing that simply reading the Bible or listening to the Bible doesn’t give you? Is it worth the effort? My hope is that this post would encourage you to begin “storing up God’s Word in your heart,” whether it’s single verses or chapters or whole books.
So why memorize the Bible? Three reasons:
1) Life is war.
Every day I walk through a minefield of spiritual threats. Pastor and poet John Newton once wrote to a friend, “My soul is like a besieged city: a legion of enemies without the gates, and a nest of restless traitors within.” I am surrounded and overrun by temptations and doubts and fears and sins and discouragements that conspire to sabotage my walk with Jesus. The Christian life is a war in which the enemy is looking out at me from the mirror; the adversary is within the gates. The battle lines of this civil war are drawn, not primarily in external circumstances or temptations, but straight through every one of my own treacherous desires. Though Christ is enthroned in my heart, whole regions of my soul remain in open rebellion against his reign. Trying to follow Jesus without an acute awareness of this daily peril is like strolling onto a battlefield in my bathrobe. It will not end well.
There is a reason that the Word of God is called “the sword of the Spirit.” It is my primary weapon in this daily conflict. God’s promises defuse the lies of the enemy with superior hope. His commands corral my restless heart back onto the straight and narrow. His character and glory revealed in his Word are meant to draw my soul’s gaze away from sin’s enticements.
That is why reading and knowing the Bible is so important. There’s no hope for the fight outside of this book. This is why Jesus battled Satan’s temptations by quoting Deuteronomy, and why all the saints of old commend daily study of God’s Word. But while daily Bible reading is important, in my experience I’ve found it to be insufficient for this fight. The reason is simple: if the threats to my soul are coming from within, the weapon to meet those threats needs to come from within as well. Temptations rise up from my desires faster than I can rifle through the pages of my Bible or search for a fighter verse on my smartphone. Clouds of discouragement descend at all sort of inopportune times when I don’t have ready access to my Bible. If I don’t have the tools standing ready to counter the lies of the enemy, I will fall. It doesn’t matter how sharp my sword is if I’m on the front line and it’s back in the camp.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter if I had my quiet time this morning if God’s Word fades from my consciousness by lunch time. I need to carry my sword where the battle is. And with battle lines drawn through my heart, that’s where the Word needs to be. As Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Memorization stores up the ammunition where the fight is happening.
2) Live at the source.
Psalm 1 celebrates the blessing and fruitfulness of a life that drinks deeply of God’s Word. “Blessed is the man… whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”
The Hebrew word translated “meditate” is literally “to mutter,” that is, to repeat again and again to oneself, turning it over and over in one’s mouth and mind. In other words, to memorize.
This person whose delight in the Word drives him to memorization, the psalmist says, is like a tree by a stream of water. Rather than a flower pot that you have to water every day, this tree’s roots are constantly bathed in the life-giving water constantly flowing around it. Forget to water your houseplant tomorrow, and it starts to wilt. But transplant those same flowers by a stream, and you’ll never have to worry about watering again. Not because they don’t need water anymore, but because they live at the source.
Daily Bible reading is like watering a house plant. It’s necessary, important, life-giving. However (at least in my experience), I’ve found its daily benefit to be temporary. But memorization is like planting yourself by the river. Rather than importing the water your soul needs every morning, you live at the source. The Word is constantly flowing around your mind and heart. The hard work of memorization and review– and it is hard work, turning it over and over again in your mind– becomes a spring in your soul. Bible memorization is like transplanting yourself into the living water. As long as the words are turning over in your mind, the water is flowing, and the tree is flowering. The fruitful Christian life doesn’t just cart its water in every morning. It lives at the source.
3) Savor the sweetness.
Psalm 19 celebrates the great value of God’s words: “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” If you belong to Christ, you have tasted some measure of this reality– the sweetness and preciousness of his Word. You’ve experienced the gentle electricity of joy in seeing him more clearly, the aching sweetness of hope, the thirst-quenching satisfaction filling your heart, the soul-stirring confidence of faith as you grasp his promise. Whether in small doses or in mountaintop experiences, whether this is your present reality or only a fading memory of life before your current season of dryness, the sweetness and preciousness of the Word is your heritage and testimony as a Christian.
Memorization is one of the most effective ways to expand your enjoyment of that heritage. Reviewing a passage over and over again is like lingering over a piece of fine chocolate, letting it slowly dissolve in your mouth, savoring and extending the enjoyment. And unlike a piece of candy which melts away quickly, the more you turn the Bible over and over in your mouth and mind, the sweeter it gets. The more you memorize, the more attuned your palate becomes to the unique “flavors” of the Bible, and the more satisfying it becomes the more hungry you’ll become for more. If you want to expand your enjoyment of God’s Word– or rekindle your hunger for it anew– there is no better method than memorization.
If this enjoyment of the sweetness of God’s Word is far from your experience, don’t despair. If you belong to Christ, his Spirit within you will work to turn the taste buds of your heart towards heavenly things. Cultivating a hunger for God’s Word takes work. But he has promised to help us, and the effort is worth it. His steadfast love is better than life, his word sustains the weary, and his promises are a lifeline of hope. Give yourself to knowing and loving and savoring God’s Word– especially memorizing it– and you’ll find growing in your heart a hunger to know him more.