I had the privilege of growing up in a family that encouraged me to read the Bible and memorize Scripture. I remember memorizing passages of the Bible in Sunday School or Children’s Church even before I had the ability to read. I even diagrammed sentences in my school curriculum… from the King James Version!
But one of my clearest memories of Bible memorization comes from my freshman year of high school. I was attending a Christian school at the time and in our Bible class through the course of the year, we memorized Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5, 6, and 7. At one point I got in to a spirited discussion with the teacher his decision to change the grading standards for our Bible memory quizzes. For each word we missed, we lost 25% — meaning you could miss a few conjunctions in 5 verses and get a 25%. I argued passionately (albeit respectfully) that when the Bible talks about hiding the word in our hearts I don’t think it was meaning that degree of legalism – and quoted a few other verses along the way! While he didn’t change the rule that day (I don’t think he wanted to admit failure) a few weeks later it went back to the previous grading strategy where as long as we had the basic idea of the verse, we had minimal points deducted.
While I didn’t agree with the teacher’s brief grading strategy, in retrospect I realized his meaning behind it. He wanted us to take memorizing the Bible seriously. As we look throughout Scritpture, I think it’s clear that knowing God’s Word is something we should take seriously “lest we forget” as we see happen over and over again to God’s people – and our hearts turn away from him toward the many idols of the world.
About 10 years after the mini-debate with my Bible teacher, I stood at the top of the hill on my seminary campus. (Coincendentally, around that same time, my parents ran into that Bible teacher who was not surprised I was in seminary.) I was walking around on a sunny, but cold spring day, gripped by anxiety about my future. I’d come to seminary with such certainty of God’s plan and calling – and yet in this moment I had no idea what the future held in store. As I stood there looking out – seeing a small glimpse of the ocean in the distance – I heard a slight chirping of a bird – and I began to hear the words in head so loudly that it was almost like they were audibly being spoken from Matthew 6:25-34:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Those words continued to repeat themselves over and over again, I couldn’t stop the refrain. They quieted my anxious heart and reminded me of God’s provision. If someone had asked me to quote them Matthew 5, 6 and 7 to them a few minutes before, I don’t think I would have been able to. But in that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me – using those words I’d hidden in my heart so many years before.
Today, I can often forget how important it is to commit to memorizing Scripture, but it’s just as important today, as it was for that much younger version of me who argued with her Bible teacher, citing Scripture along the way. We don’t just memorize Scripture to gain knowledge or impress people. We memorize Scripture because we believe that God’s words are living and active – and he uses them to speak to us and conform us to his image.
When we memorize Scripture, we recognize that the Word is living and active among us – that the same Word that became flesh can come alive in our hearts and lives and transform us – so we can reflect his glory, grace and truth.
If you are interested in digging more into Scripture memorization, please consider joining our community of women at Do Learn Scripture Memory.