In the best of the Indiana Jones films, The Last Crusade, Sean Connery, playing Dr. Henry Jones Sr. exasperatedly tells his son, when asked why he can't remember the three tests they will have to pass to reach the Holy Grail that "I wrote them down in my diary so I wouldn't have to remember!" The diary is in the hands of the Nazis (I hate these guys!) and thus poses a problem for these latter-day knights of the Round Table in their quest.
It also serves as a statement of how many of us approach our disciplines related to Scripture. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the written Word here in Western society. We have some 900 printed English translations available to us. Many of us have upwards of a dozen printed Bibles in our homes representing at least a half dozen of these translations. We have Bible apps on our phone and I have a software platform that gives me access to both those translations as well as to the original Hebrew and Greek versions. And this is without considering the legion of commentaries, bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases and linguistic and background resources available to us.
With all of this supply, you would expect that we would be the most biblically literate people in history. In a previous post, though, I drew attention to the fact that for many of us, we haven't even read all of the book we have so many copies and versions of and so many resources to help us understand it. In a future post, I will address the discipline of studying Scripture and using these tremendous resources. Here, though, I want to address how these resources have put us in the position of Dr. Jones where we have so much written down, we feel we don't have to remember.
The plethora of written resources we have for Scripture can discourage the discipline of committing it to memory because we feel it's always there when we need it. This assumes the discipline of memory is intended primarily to allow us not to depend on the written word to have Scripture available to us. This is certainly a benefit of Scripture memorization but in my experience it is not the primary or most significant benefit.
My experience of voluntarily committing Scripture to memory began towards the end of college when I had come across 2 Peter 1 in my study and devotional reading. The immense promise of verse 3 "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" coupled with the astounding statement that we have "become partakers of the divine nature" deeply resonated with my should at that time of my life. I had struggled with my thought life and this passage offered a promise and expectation of victory in those struggles. I was then prompted to memorize the chapter and proceeded to do so. I found that as I worked to commit the passage to memory, its truths reverberated in my mind throughout the day. When I lay awake at night, reciting the passage calmed my spirit and kept at bay thoughts that otherwise would have tormented me. More than simply being available to me in the same way the written text was, the act of memorizing the passage had brought about the word being "written on my heart", informing how I thought, felt and viewed my world.
I have found that whenever I set to memorize a verse or (as I am more fond of doing) a longer portion of Scripture, this dynamic is set in motion. Memorizing involves numerous recitations that more than simply being committed to memory (the way a phone number or address is) it becomes part of our thought patterns. In ideal moments it is that passage that comes to mind. When I read other Scriptures or hear preaching, I see connections to the text I am memorizing. In memorizing, my study of the text is enriched as I am forced to look in detail at every word. I begin to see aspects of the passage that even studying would not necessarily have uncovered.
As with the other disciplines, it is easy to approach memorization as a box to check and an accomplishment to either take pride in or to feel guilt over. I would encourage you to link your memorization to your reading or studying. Don't just pick verses at random, memorize something that God has used to speak to you recently. As daunting as memorizing a longer passage might seem, it can be easier to memorize a 10 verse passage than 10 individual verses because you all have context and other triggers that will call to mind what comes next. The bottom line though is that we remember what we are passionate about and what we are passionate about, we remember. Memorization is its own positive feedback loop. Start with what you love and you will find a deeper love of the text that motivates further memorization. May His word be written on our hearts and minds to conform us to the image of Christ!
Marcus Little is the Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church. This blog is a place where he can share his thoughts and reflections on how Scripture intersects with life, work, community, culture and the events of our times.