The end of the movie Fahrenheit 451 closes with a curious scene. Due to a governmental decision to eliminate all books, the only way any of history’s great literature will be kept is if some people remember it—that is, if they memorize it. And so it is that the closing image of the film pictures individuals walking around with whole books inside of them, which they can speak at the drop of a hat. After watching that movie, my wife Carrie and I asked each other: “If you could memorize only one book, which one would you choose?”
Recently I attended a seminar that encouraged me to answer that question with “The Bible.” It was titled “Keeping and Talking the Word” and our seminar leader, Tim Brown of Western Seminary in Michigan, set out to convince us that memorizing Scripture is very, very profitable. I came away convinced. Convinced enough that, for the next year at least, I’m altering my personal devotional pattern as well as my preaching preparation.
To be sure, we were presented with some compelling arguments. I would like to suggest, though, that what’ll convince you best is if you try it. Spend two weeks memorizing what for you is a significant chunk of Scripture (ten verses? a Psalm? a chapter?), and I believe it’s more than likely that the author of those words will work in you and the work begun will be the best evidence you will ever have of the profitableness of memorizing Scripture.
That said, here are a few “arguments” my seminar leader suggested:
1. Scripture commands it: “Keep these words in your heart” (Deut 6:5). Not in a book on the shelf, not on a cassette tape in a drawer. In your heart.
2. It guards us from sin: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). It is much harder to think covetous thoughts while I’m memorizing the opening words of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” or to think lustful thoughts while I’m memorizing “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139). The Word of God in me is forming me.
3. It fructifies your soul. Yes, “fructify” is a real word; it means “make fruitful.” Scripture memorization is one superb way to meditate on the law of the Lord “day and night” (Ps. 1:2) and such meditation produces fruit in such a person (verse 3). See Galatians 5:22-23 for a list of the fruit you can expect to harvest.
4. Scripture quiets and slows us down. In a culture of noise and speed, when and where do we pay attention to God? How about taking those empty times we don’t know what do with—which can be aggravating—and turning them into Scripture memory opportunities? My seminar leader recently faced a 13-hour flight to Taiwan. Most people groaned when they heard about its length. His reaction? “Yikes, that’s not enough time!” He had a load of Scripture he could go through in that half-day.
5. Personal reason: Here’s where you come up with a reason. Was there a time you wish you had a godly reply to someone (Lk. 21:15)? Was there a time you needed words of comfort which this world simply couldn’t provide? Would the right passage keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2)? Answering a question of this nature will give you the reason you need to begin memorizing Scripture.
Frankly, there isn’t a lot of mystery to memorization. Here are some predictable tips:
1. Be a broken record. Say a line, say it 10 more times. Say the second line, say it 10 more times. Say both lines 10 times. You getting this? The key is to do this out loud.
2. Draw pictures. You don’t have to show them to anybody, but stick-animals and poofy clouds are going to be the way to get through Genesis 1.
3. Make acronyms. My seminar leader memorized the Sermon on the Mount with this cryptic phrase: “JW DAO’s Golden Rule on the EBN Network starring Roxanne House.” It only makes sense to him but, hey, that’s the point.
4. Write it out. For some people this is the way to associate the words on the page with something more tactile.
5. Make a move. Appropriate gestures and motions will bring the words back to mind later. As I speak my way through Psalm 146, for example, my hand starts moving up after saying “the Lord gives sight to the blind,” triggering me to say, “the Lord lifts up those bowed down."
Memorizing Scripture has already made a difference for me. Here are two differences I’m making:
1. Personal Devotions: Rather than read several passages in one day, I will memorize one. As one who grew up Christian, I find this a realistic way to pay attention to passages which, by now, are too easy to gloss over due to familiarity. The new or young Christian may find memorization a way to love the strangeness of these new and very countercultural words.
2. Preaching Preparation: I will first memorize the passage I’m preaching before I crack open the 15 commentaries I have on it. I will put the word close to my heart before I save everyone else’s thoughts about it on my hard drive.
The last point may seem irrelevant if you’re not a minister. However, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has gifted you for some ministry.
Therefore, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16)—consider memorizing bits of the Bible. If you could only memorize one of its books, which one would you memorize?
Real-life Romania, circa 1990
Bibles are so rare there that when one arrives, it is literally cut up into pieces and members of a local congregation will each go to work on memorizing one book of the Bible. And so one believer has the Psalms memorized, another Mark's gospel, and so on. On Sunday, the pastor can call on the appropriate person to recite the day's text. These Romanian Christians are meditating day and night on the book that is the Word of God.