I hope you will be encouraged as much as I am by this guest post from my older and wiser friend, Rita Hopper. Memorizing Scripture is something I have long made excuses for not doing, and Rita’s tenacity and example in this area challenge me! I asked if she would put into words how she has personally been changed by this discipline, and her testimony builds my faith in how God uses this discipline to form His image in us!
Memorizing scripture…. Is it worth it?
I had given a head-nodding acknowledgement to that question for years but since I was not taught to read the bible, let alone memorize verses as a child, memorization was not a part of my spiritual disciplines.
However, as my faith grew and changed and I would run into my own sin and life difficulties, memorizing one or two verses to help me through a difficult “moment” was not unusual for me.
For example when I realized that critical or stinging words easily came out of my mouth, I memorized Ephesians 4:29
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”NKJV
That verse was a wonderful resource for me as I learned to take captive my thoughts and curb my tongue.
Then there was the time I was living paycheck to paycheck. I went to the home health agency office to pick up my paycheck one Friday and was told there were none because the agency was bankrupt. You can’t abandon patients so I had to keep on working not knowing for how long or if I would get paid. That is when I memorized Philippians 4:6-7
“Be anxious for nothing but in all things by prayer and supplication present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
That verse was my hour by hour prayer and encouragement to get me through.
That’s how it went for me, a verse here, a verse there depending on the need. Beyond that
I made excuses telling myself, I can’t memorize…I didn’t learn as a child, I am too old now. What did it matter as long as I could find the scripture I wanted when I wanted, a concordance always at the ready?
The short story of what motivated me begin memorizing seriously was a Sunday message in which an anecdote was told of someone who had memorized Psalm 119 and we were challenged to do the same. About that time my heart was captivated by Psalm 119:32
“I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.”NIV, 1983
That set me on a course…long and slow, including one failed attempt.
I recently was able to check off memorizing that final verse about 1 ½ years after I began my second attempt. It has been an amazing journey!
Starting with Psalm 119 edges on craziness for me! Undertaking 176 verses when the most I ever put together was 2 or 3!!!
God has graciously shown me that I CAN memorize his word and the time it takes is immaterial to him… He is outside time anyway!
That was a novel thought for me and full of encouragement. It was like seeing myself in eternity where time does not matter.
Psalm 119 describes and magnifies who God is; his statutes, precepts, commands, decrees with all the nuances of a magnificent symphony encompassing the breadth of human emotion in the process.
As I repeated these verses endlessly and regularly (after all, I am old, sort of, depending on your perspective and it does not come easily!) the words were embedded in my heart. They took root and I began to know God in deeper ways and I began to know myself in relationship with God in ways I could not have predicted.
His beauty is deeper and my clarity sharper.
God’s understanding of who we are… his created ones in all our sin, emotion, needs, deception… lit up in lights for me throughout the memorizing process.
There are two great benefits resulting from this undertaking beyond all the above blessings. It seemed a gradual dawning of realization that
The words of Scripture gave me words for prayer.
As I worked my way through psalm 119, I frequently found myself being able to pray more articulately in various situations because the words popped right out of what I had memorized.
For example, in praying for someone dealing with some trouble or grief I would find myself praying verse 28: “I am weary with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word” or verse 143 “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight”.
Another example which was an unlikely but welcome surprise for me when dealing with some looming temptation of the enemy (whether worldly or in the spiritual realm) is verse 115, “Away from me you evildoers that I may obey the commands of my God!” It gives me such strength and immediately points me to the God who is jealous for my holiness.
The second surprising result is that
Memorizing nudges me to prayer… continually.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians in his first letter to them that they should “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (5:16-18). I don’t know about you but rejoicing always and giving thanks in all situations doesn’t seem nearly as daunting to me as praying continually. Continually?
Does Paul really mean continually? How does that happen in the midst of busy days, fighting traffic, working and family schedules, serving sometimes heroically, sleepy devotional time, low energy. Seems like a lot to ask but here’s what happened:
The verses I was memorizing became prayers in themselves.
A prayer of praise, “Your word is eternal, oh Lord. It stands firm in the heavens.” (verse 89).
At times, as I was rehearsing verses, I would clearly see application to myself, another person or situation and there it was, a quick prayer and God working holiness in me. “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (verse 36-37).
Verses or a whole stanza would pop into my head randomly (more probably God nudging me) turning my heart to prayer.
The list goes on and with it a whole new and expanded world of prayer, praise and ministry to others.
Of all Paul’s letters, Colossians has long been a favorite of mine. What are the possibilities that I can actually get through memorizing that and maintain Psalm 119? Is it worth it now? Will it be worth it to start on another?