Scripture Memory: Avoiding the Things that Trip us Up

For most of my life the practice of memorizing Scripture has been emphasized and encouraged. I grew up in the AWANA program as a child, I bought my first Fighter Verses pack when I was a freshman in college, and for the last seventeen years I have been serving in churches where Scripture memory is deemed an important habit for growth in Christ. With this ongoing influence prodding me to commit God’s Word to memory, I understand more and more why Jerry Bridges called this the most spiritually beneficial discipline in his life.¹ Whether it is for the purpose of being transformed in sanctification (Romans 12:2), resisting the temptation to sin (Psalm 119:11), or “speaking the truth in love” to the members of our church (Ephesians 4:15), memorizing God’s Word holds out enormous value for the believer. However, to ensure that we experience such blessing, there are some pitfalls to avoid in this practice…for ourselves and those we are seeking to disciple. Consider the following list of tips when it comes to memorizing verses of the Bible:

Memorization is not the goal. My pastoral mentor has been known to say, “Memorization for the purpose of meditation for the purpose exaltation.” Simply being able to regurgitate texts of Scripture lends itself to pride as you gain approval from others or feel some sense of accomplishment. But memorization is important because it stores Scripture in our minds so that we have it ready for meditation (that is, unhurried thinking on Scripture at a deeper level). Meditation, then, should lead us to worship God in some way. He is the ultimate reason for memorizing the Word. In Psalm 119:62, the psalmist says, “At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.” Here, it is God’s Word which incites this brother’s praise, and the same should be true of us.

Seek to memorize more than your favorite kind of verse. We all have parts of the Bible that seem to resonate with us more than others. Perhaps you prefer commands or verses highlighting the love of God. Maybe you like to stick to the Psalms or Paul’s letters. Consider that leaning too far in one direction may lead you to become imbalanced in your understanding of God, and then, as a result, imbalanced in your worship. Take the character of God, for example. Emphasizing one of His attributes over the others can lead you to miss out on the wonder of how different characteristics work together perfectly in the person of God. The Lord gave us a beautiful variety of truths in Scripture and they are all “profitable” for us (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Let that reality inform your Scripture memory plan.

Tie the habit to a habit that is already formed. If you’re like me, then forming new habits is not an easy task. With all of the responsibilities we have already, it may be discouraging to think about trying to fit in another one. That’s why I think that it can be helpful to practice Scripture memory alongside a habit that already has some history in your routine. You already brush your teeth, so tape some 3”x5” cards to your mirror with some verses you want to memorize. You already have a commute, so use something like the Fighter Verses app, in which you can listen to a verse on repeat.

Use the verse to memorize the verse. It may be that you have started strong with the habit of Scripture memory only to find yourself petering out before too long. If this describes you, perhaps you need to change your perspective a bit. Don’t think of memorizing a specific verse just as storing up weapons for a future battle. That is true, but there is fighting to be done now. Daily we are tempted to “lean on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), and “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). Take up the verse you are trying to memorize as you are tempted and wield it against the devil’s schemes and the desires of your flesh. Similarly, use the verse to minister to others in conversation or through text as they need encouragement. Then, turn the verse into a prayer for yourself and others. In doing these things, you may very well find that you are memorizing Scripture as a byproduct of putting it to work in moments of need.

Look at your verse more than you look at social media. Here’s a challenge for all of us. We’ve trained ourselves to reach for our phones whenever we have a spare minute (or less). Most of the time when we do this, we are looking to entertain ourselves with something new—new posts, tweets, photos, videos, or texts. But what if we trained ourselves to take out our phones and look at the something we’ve already looked at three times that day…and what if that something was a verse from the holy, inerrant, life-giving Word of God? How might our hearts be calmed? How might our sorrows be lifted? How might our love for Christ and others be fueled? Surely, our hearts will resonate with the psalmist who declares, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165).

[1] Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012), 138-139.

Note: This article originally appeared on thecbcd.org. We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical Discipleship and Counseling where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg