Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Bible Memorization
Reformed Free Publishing Association
We have been looking, one by one, at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. As we established some time ago, spiritual discipline is the commitment or resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. We have been limiting ourselves so far to the home: personal devotions, marriage devotions, and family devotions.
As long as we are focusing on the home and family, I call to your attention the discipline of Bible memorization. Bible memorization is meditation on scripture (Josh. 1:8), retaining scripture (Prov. 4:4), and hiding that scripture in our heart (Ps. 119:11). Children must memorize for school and catechism, and parents help them. Adults, too, busy themselves in this discipline.
There can be no doubt that the memorizing of scripture is a discipline. It is difficult. It takes time. Ask children who learn their memory verses for school and catechism—they will testify to the labor of such work. We find among our children, and for ourselves, varying ability to memorize. For some, it is a breeze. But for most, it involves much study and repetition—hard work!
Why, then, do we discipline ourselves in the memorization of scripture? First, we commit the Bible to memory because the Bible tells us to do this. Josh. 1:7, 8, Ps. 1:1, 2, and Col. 3:16 all express the importance of soaking in the Word of God and retaining it. Look up those passages. Second, we memorize the Word of God because it is just that: God’s Word. The scriptures are inspired—God-breathed (II Tim. 3:16); knowing that scripture is the Word of God, will we not want to fix it in our mind and heart? This Word of God is his revelation to us, his covenant friends. As his covenant friends, we desire to hear and remember what he says. Think of it this way: the Bible is Christ’s love letter to his church; we read and soak in this love letter.
Allow me to propose a five-step approach toward memorization of the Bible. This list might prove helpful for children in school and catechism, but also might be useful for any of us who seek to hide God’s Word in our heart.
Step #1: Pray. We begin our memorizing with prayer, because we must always know that it is only in God’s strength that we grasp and remember his Word. We are consciously dependent on the Spirit of Christ, who illuminates our heart so that we can understand what we read.
Step #2: Read. If we are to grasp the text on any level, and certainly if we are to memorize it, we must first read it. This reading should be careful, slow, and deliberate. The best method is to read, not silently, but aloud.
Step #3: Teach. If we or our children do not know what a passage means, we will not be able (at least easily) to retain that passage. In Prov. 4:1-5, closely related to the retaining of doctrine by children is that a father instructs or teaches his children that doctrine. When our children must sit down and work on their memory verse for catechism or school, we parents should instruct them: teaching them what the words in the verse mean, the connections between the words, and the context of the verse. When they (and we) grasp the sense of the passage, not only will memorization be possible, but there will be great profit in it.
Step #4: Repeat. Memorization is all about repetition. The verse must be read, and meditated upon, over and over. The means used for repetition vary, but can include flashcards, verbal quizzing, or writing down a verse over and over. Because repetition takes time, retaining a verse or verses is generally not accomplished in a day—it takes days. Even when the memorization load is daunting, we do well to chip away at it slowly: “Today I will learn Psalm 23:1; tomorrow I will focus on Psalm 23:2, and review verse 1; the next day I will memorize Psalm 23:3, and review verses 1 and 2.” It is possible to cover much ground even in one week’s time! The Word is anchored in the heart over time.
Step #5: Hide. Lest we have the wrong impression, this spiritual discipline is not a mechanical process. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” We study the Bible because we treasure it. We meditate on that Word in such a way that we hide it in our hearts, as a woman “hides” her valuable, precious jewelry in a little chest. Do we promote this discipline in our homes, especially among our children? Do we show them, in our words, deeds, and commitments, that we treasure the Word?
In love for God, in thankfulness for his Son, and in zeal for his Word, press on in this difficult, but rewarding, task of memorizing the holy scriptures!
This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.