Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… Colossians 3:16
Memorizing Scripture is an ancient practice that has fallen out of favor in modern times. I’ve talked with a number of people who say they do not find the process of memorizing something – no matter what’s being memorized – pleasant. To them, it feels tedious and they’re frustrated when the words do not readily stick in their memory. Yet, this process of repeating, over and over, words and phrases of Scripture, until we can recall them effortlessly, is an important component in restoring and maintaining spiritual health.
The apostle, Paul, writes in his letter to the Colossians: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. When we seek to memorize Scripture we are giving it an opportunity to dwell in (or inhabit) our thoughts more fully and abundantly. As we work at learning and retaining the words and phrases of Scripture they enter ever more deeply into our consciousness. They begin to take up residence in our psyche.
Another name for the process of memorizing Scripture is rumination. This word comes from the term for the digestive process which occurs in animals that chew and re-chew their food, such as cows, sheep, goats and camels. When used metaphorically the word ruminate means to ponder, to meditate, to run through your mind, again and again.
This process of mentally “chewing” over Scripture is not a wasted effort. Each time we reach for a word our mind seeks to incorporate it until finally it is “digested” and absorbed into our understanding, both conscious and unconscious. The words of Scripture we memorize go to work informing and shaping our thoughts and attitudes for the better, as I pointed out in my third post in this series, Scripture (third in a series) https://carefulfornothing.com/2010/10/12/scripture-third-in-a-series/.
Nothing is wasted in this process because even what we find hard to remember can provide us with helpful information. When memorizing Scripture sometimes we stumble over phrases because the language or rhythm of the words feels awkward and we just can’t seem to get them to stick in our mind. However, there may be occasions when the word or phrase we keep forgetting holds the key to an area of unbelief or resistance to God in our heart and mind. If so, this problem in memorization is actually a gift. Just ask the Holy Spirit to show you if something about these words indicates a spiritual stronghold or area of unbelief that needs to be uncovered and addressed by God’s light and truth.
The verses I memorize are those which speak to me about God’s saving grace, his unconditional love and forgiveness, and his ability to protect and regenerate me. The truth found in Scripture that I chew on is not of a propositional nature. I don’t find it necessary to memorize doctrinal statements. Instead, I commit to memory statements that speak to my identity as a child of God and the hope I have through Jesus Christ. I’m looking to find balm for my heart, soul and mind; not answers to a test. (I list some of those verses at the end of my post, Prayer (seventh in a series) https://carefulfornothing.com/2010/07/13/prayer-seventh-in-a-series/.
When I’m reading or studying Scripture I make a point of writing down verses that address areas where I might be vulnerable to the temptation of doubt, fear or insecurity – as well as those that speak to the many blessings and provisions God bestows upon us. I recall these verses when I feel beleaguered by negative or unhelpful thoughts or images running through my mind.
Currently I’m memorizing the first twenty-five verses of the forty-third chapter of Isaiah. I printed them out on a sheet of paper which I carry with me when I take my daily walk around my neighborhood. I work on a new verse each day and recall the ones I’ve already memorized. I’ve always found this section of Isaiah so reassuring and uplifting. Yet, I realized not too long ago that I had never allowed the words to sink deeply into my consciousness – and my heart and mind were in need of the comfort and clarity these words offer.
I continue throughout the day to “chew” on these verses I’m memorizing. At times I’ll pause in my work and recall some of the thoughts and images in this passage. When negative or self-defeating thoughts arise I ‘ll reach for verse four, which assures me I am precious and honored in God’s sight. If I should feel anxious, I remember verse two, which declares God’s faithfulness and presence with me through any trial or concern. If pride begins to overtake my thoughts I call to mind verses ten and twenty-one which give me an accurate assessment of my purpose in life – to be God’s witness and to proclaim his praise (and not mine).
Other verses of Scripture I’ve memorized over the years come to mind during the day too, such as when I’m taking a break from writing or counseling, when I’m cleaning or gardening, or as I’m falling asleep at night. These images and thoughts envelop me in God’s peace, give me refreshment, and keep me focused on the path God has for me. I don’t turn memorizing and retaining Scripture into an onerous task. I simply weave the words and images I’m working on into my ongoing conversation with God.
The purpose of memorizing Scripture is to commit to memory those words that will keep you centered in God’s truth. Whatever your particular struggle in faith may be, there are verses in the Bible which can give you reassurance and strength to meet any challenge. Some of my favorites are listed, below.
Keep in mind that the harmful and negative messages you carry around were worked into your mind and heart repeatedly, over a span of many years. We’ve all been exposed to numerous things that are hurtful to our self-image – and we continue to be barraged daily with words and images contrary to God’s point of view and purposes. So don’t expect that occasionally trying to memorize a verse or two will bring about a renovation of your mind (Romans 12:2). It is essential to our spiritual and emotional health that Scripture memorization be a regular and life-long habit.
Here are but a few of the many verses which help to continually renew my mind:
- Jeremiah 29:11-13: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
- Isaiah 40:28-31: Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
- Psalm 18:2: The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
- Joshua 1:5b: As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
- Exodus 14:14: The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
- Luke 1:37: For nothing is impossible with God.
May the word of God dwell within you richly.
Next week: The discipline of Scripture contemplation.
Absolutely true! Your point about us being exposed many times a day to thoughts and ideas that are harmful to us, therefore repeating those harmful ideas so that we memorize them puts the objection you stated earlier that many people have to scripture memorization – it’s unpleasant – into perspective, I think. We memorize so many things everyday anyway. Of course it’s unpleasant to memorize scripture when we have to make an effort! Of course it’s unpleasant to memorize scripture when it is our spirit that is built up, not the flesh. That other memorization is “effortless”, if unwanted, and speaks loudly to our flesh.
And your point about rumination is well taken. Any grappling with, or remembering, or memorizing – any relationship with the Word of God written – helps us, builds us up, breaks down those lies we have believed about ourselves, others and God, and is part of the process of being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Invaluable!
As I have been working on my Christmas CD, I have been reading John 1 from the Wuest’s Expanded Translation of the New Testament. Reading that over and over has helped me grasp what my CD is all about. The title is Light in the Darkness, and John 1 basically tells us that the Word is the Light of mankind, and that Light is God’s Life. As we interact with the Word written, the Holy Spirit works that Word into us, that Word written being the written expression of God just as Jesus is the Word Incarnate and the living expression of God to mankind.
I have memorized scripture more regularly in the past, and it was always helpful at some point. I have even memorized such things as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, and recalled it every morning for years. I need to get back to memorization again.
Thanks for this posting, Claudia!
Rick — I, too, find St. Patrick’s Breastplate very inspiring. I chose it as the opening hymn for my ordination to the priesthood, almost twenty-two years ago. What a great idea to memorize it. I’ve memorized several hymns based on Scripture, such as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “How Firm a Foundation” and “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”. I love to sing them out loud when driving alone in the car or (to myself) when working out. Thanks so much for your comment! Claudia
Thank You Claudia.
Some verses seem to come easier for me than others maybe because they touch the spot that “hurts” and gives soothing relief. I tend to remember those.
Jeremiah 29: 11-13 tops my list. I also am partical to Psalm 37:4.
Sam, thank you for sharing your thoughts about memorizing Scripture. I went and looked up Psalm 37:4 after reading your comment. It’s a good one! Thanks, again. Claudia
As I was asking what to read in the Word today, I was led to Psalm 1, and remembered that that was the last scripture I memorized. Its message is basically blessed is the man (or woman) whose delight is in the instruction of the Lord, who meditates on His law day and night. This completely goes with your posting, Claudia. We are promised that we are blessed when we meditate on God’s law day and night, so memorizing His Word, I believe is part of that, and causes us, by God’s promise, to be blessed. Just thought I’d share that.
Great thought, Rick. Thank you! Claudia
Thank you, Claudia, for your image of rumination and chewing over Scripture. Having just attended the NC State Fair, seeing cows and goats up close and personal, it made me realize just how messy ruminating is—wet, sloppy, gooey and tactile. And isn’t that how it should be, assimilating Bible verses into our very fabric and being? A little messy? Should Scripture not be chewed, re-chewed, salivated on, torn and digested? If Scripture were to be eaten “whole’ and un-chewed, we would choke on it and spit it out, never to realize its nutritive gain. How sad would that be!
Mary, I just love your comment about rumination being messy — and therefore good for us. Learning a foreign language is messy, too. You have to fumble around, and make a lot of dumb mistakes, and keep repeating words over and over until they begin to stick in your mind. There is no effortless or neat way to learn a new language. but what a gift when it begins to take hold.
Thank you so much for your comment. I know it will be read by someone who needs to see it! Claudia
Thanks for your comment, Mary. Messy. Yep that’s it. For those who want growing closer to God to be neat and clean, they’ll be disappointed. It is messy to let God work in you, and transform you. 🙂 Thanks for reminding me of that.