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Hidden in the Heart
Method and meaning for memorizing Scripture.
I’ve done my part to keep the Bible at the top of the bestseller list year after year. At least twenty copies of God’s Word line my bookshelves, and I’ve read them all. I’ve also memorized lengthy passages, providing even deeper insight into the meaning of the Bible.
The Bible has so much to offer. The Old Testament contains history that tells of the Israelites, prophecy that foretold what would happen to them, and wisdom literature that gives guidance for discerning good and evil. The New Testament contains four Gospels — eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection — along with letters and accounts written by early Christians to elaborate on His teachings.
In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, the psalmist writes of how he delights in Scripture and why we should study it: to keep us from sinning (v. 11); obtain strength, hope, and peace (vv. 29, 49, 165); find wisdom and guidance (vv. 98, 105); and preserve life (v. 50) — to name only a few reasons.
The psalmist had it right. In the Bible, Christians find a pattern for righteous living — if they read it and apply it to their lives. They also find the call to learn and remember it (vv. 7, 52, 176).
The difference between reading and memorizing Scripture is as big as seeing television in color rather than black and white. And the benefits are many.
For example, in committing Scripture to memory, we notice every single word and become aware of the writer’s word choice. In Philippians 1:29 Paul writes, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (emphasis mine throughout). Paul’s choice of the word granted makes suffering sound like a privilege. I never thought of suffering that way before.
We also notice similarities of wording and phrasing when memorizing the Bible. For instance, Paul thanks God for the Philippians (1:3) and prays that their love will abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight (v. 9). In the same manner, he thanks God for the Ephesians and prays that God will give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so their hearts are enlightened (1:16-18). Paul’s main thrust in prayer seems to be that those he nurtured will mature in the faith. Perhaps I too should pray more for the spiritual well-being of people I teach and lead.
As we memorize Scripture, we find opportunities to give it away — another benefit. We can pull verses from our minds to encourage others when they need an uplifting word. When I teach at church, I offer dramatic presentations of the passages I’ve memorized. Presenting Scripture verbally pulls listeners into the story and touches their hearts in a fresh way.
When I discovered I could remember passages, I looked for one that would minister to my heart if I ever can’t handle God’s Word for myself. I chose Philippians because though Paul wrote this letter while under house arrest in Rome, he included sixteen references to joy or rejoicing in the book. He never let his circumstances get him down but looked for God behind them. That’s what I want to do.
One of the most important ways the memorized Word of God blesses my heart is the peace it brings when I go to bed troubled by a problem. God may use a little-noticed verse to speak to a situation as I run Scripture through my mind.
People may say, “I’m not good at memorization.” But we memorize song lyrics quite easily as we hear them over and over. So it is with memorizing Scripture. We simply need to find a time when our hands are busy but our minds are free.
I memorize while I walk. I write a verse on a 3 x 5 card and say it out loud, with the same rhythm and phrasing each time I repeat it. The next day, I review that verse and add a second one — and so on until I’ve mastered a chapter or a short book of Scripture.
As I memorize, I notice words with similar sounds. For instance, Philippians 1:17 reads, “The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” As I repeat the verse, I emphasize the s words, helping my recall.
I also sometimes notice the alphabetical position of a series of words: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice” (4:9). In my mind, I see a ball bouncing from the l position in the alphabet down to the r, then back to the h, and on to the s.
Don’t worry about being word perfect. Does it really matter if we remember Jesus or Christ or Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus? Now that I’m publicly presenting Scripture, I try to be accurate. But for personal edification, it doesn’t matter.
I began reading Scripture when I received a Bible at age fourteen, and my determination to live according to it saved me from making wrong choices in my young adult years. Many decades later, God’s Word is just as relevant to my life.
As was the psalmist’s practice of hiding the Word in his heart (119:11), memorizing Scripture is not a mechanical exercise but a heart habit that leads to a deeper relationship with its Author and brings God’s Word to life.
Shirley Brosius / March 23, 2017