There are some things you just pick up, some things you memorize deliberately, and some things which just aren't worth the effort. In our increasingly online, linked up, downloadable, and technologized world, it has become less and less important to memorize facts, quotes, and dates, and more and more important to know how things are organized, how things work, and how to find what you need. Logic, critical thinking, and cultural intuition are what we need in order to navigate what's out there. Nowadays, Google knows the facts; we put them to use.
So it's no surprise to me that a lot of people in my generation don't see the importance of memorizing Scripture. For some, it's seen as something good but not vital--just like knowing the presidents' terms in office can be useful if you're a history teacher, but you can still be a good one without knowing them. Others see it as completely unimportant, like a software engineer knowing the periodic table.
And I get it. What's the point of spending time memorizing a certain set of words in order? It's not the original language, and there are so many translations that memorizing a certain version seems silly and even restrictive. What's the point of memorizing a verse as long as you know where it is? The important thing is to know that it's there, what the Bible says about it, and where it is in the Bible so you can look it up. Maybe memorizing the books of the Bible can be helpful for getting familiar with where stuff is; but what you really need to do is study the Bible. If you are constantly studying the truth and meaning of the Bible, you'll understand what it says and you'll know what God thinks about certain topics. That's what's important.
But I want to offer you four compelling reasons that study isn't enough--we need to memorize it too.
1. The words still have power. Sure, there are many translations. It's not the original language. But God speaks to us in the language we know. Before we read the Bible or went to church, God was calling out to us through people or through the beauty of science. Romans 1:20 says that "ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature." He speaks to us through what we see, study, and experience; and he will speak to us in English or whatever language we know. Translators, however good or bad at their job, cannot keep God from communicating what he wants to say to us. The words are holy because he makes them holy.
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."~Hebrews 4:12
So pick a translation and start memorizing. Sure, knowing the concept is important, but knowing the specific words can help clear up confusion and keep us on the right track with the minutiae. Plus...
2. God speaks through the Bible. That means that every time we're in contact with the words of Scripture, we are hearing God's voice. A good reason we should definitely be opening up our Bibles! If you read your Bible every morning, that's a great start. But you can't read the Bible every waking moment, and Scripture tells us to "fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds" (Deuteronomy 11:18). If God's words are memorized and tucked away in your heart, then you are residing in the Bible all day long. The words are there for the Spirit to use at any time, and you don't even have to pick up the book or flip through its pages.
3. Satan can separate you from your Bible, but he can't separate you from your heart. I don't know about you, but when I'm discouraged my first instinct isn't to run and go read my Bible and pray. I wish it was, but it isn't. My first instinct is to go lay in bed and feel bad for myself. I often fall prey to this temptation to leave my Bible on the desk when I need it most. Sometimes when I need it most, I'm at a place or event where I just don't have my Bible with me. But I am never separated from Scripture, because my mom made me memorize countless verses as a kid that are still there when I need them. Even when I don't want to read, the Spirit reads to me from the Bible in my memory.
By far the best passage in times of trouble is Psalm 23. I can't tell you how many times I've heard Psalm 23 replaying in my head when I need it. It's like a hug from a friend--a friend who has counseled a thousand people down through the ages who were just like you. It reminds me that I'm not alone and that everyone since David has been reading this psalm in times of trouble and been given strength. And it gives me strength, because they are God's words spoken at that moment to me, living and active and potent.
4. The Bible isn't just for the mind; it's for the heart. Study is awesome. Sometimes we don't do enough of this--looking up a verse in its context, reading a passage in multiple versions, working through various commentaries, or doing word-studies of how God uses that word in the rest of the Bible. We need to be constantly delving into the truth of the Bible and peeling back our preconceptions and misinterpretations. But we also need to let it penetrate our hearts. God transforms the whole man. Our thoughts should be captive to Christ, but this cannot fully happen until our affections are first captured up in him. When our heart follows the Lord, when our desire is for him, it's easy to obey. You can't force yourself to follow and obey just by reading the Bible over and over again; the Spirit needs to work on your heart. And that means sometimes you need to stop studying, step back, and listen to what the words are saying about your own life. I'm all about reading things in context, but at some point you need to translate that context to your own life and draw parallels.
Meditation and memorization are an important way I get away from my studying and listen to Jesus in the Scriptures. I am a student by nature. I muddle through the Greek and look up my favorite commentators (and some of my not-favorite commentators too--gotta get some variety). It is easy for me to get lost in the study of the Bible...so lost that I stop listening and am all captivated by the science. I loose touch with my heart, and the throne of my affections falls back into earthly things, like how well I know what I'm talking about. Forcing myself to stop on one verse and read it over and over again while praying through various areas of my life is very challenging for me.
The latest verse God stopped me at is:
Unless the LORD builds a house,the work of the builders is wasted.Unless the LORD protects a city,guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It's from Psalm 127, just the 1st verse. I feel like an underachiever just focusing on one verse, but it's what I really need. I read this verse over and over and think through everything in my life that is a "house" I'm building or protecting. Does God want me to protect this? Is he providing me the building materials, or am I doing this on my own? I've been memorizing it as I go, and as a result God keeps bringing it to mind, both as a challenge and as an encouragement--"I'm building this house with you. Your work isn't wasted."
God works with what we have. If you don't have Scripture memorized, he will find a way to make his voice known. But there's just something special about hearing his words to you. There's something special about being comforted and tempered by words that have rung true for generations but are still personal and new today.
Memorizing God's word shouldn't be a chore, it should be a joy. "All good things are hard," my husband says, and it's true that this good thing requires some hard work. Rest in God as you do it. Don't just memorize it as a set of useless words--like another periodic table or list of presidents and their terms. Memorize it as an act of worship and as a meditation. Let God's words sink into your heart like the words of a loved one. You may find more relief than trouble.
It is useless for you to work so hardfrom early morning until late at night,anxiously working for food to eat;for God gives rest to his loved ones.~Psalm 127:2