Recently I lamented to a friend that even though I want to memorize Bible verses, I can’t work up the willpower to do it. I don’t understand this disconnect in myself, because the times that I’ve intentionally worked on memorizing a passage of Scripture, I’ve experienced what Darlene Deibler Rose describes as: God speaking to me.
Darlene Deibler Rose was imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia for four years (1941-1945). During part of that time, she was taken from the camp by the Japanese secret police, the dreaded Kempeitai, and kept in solitary confinement, interrogated, and tortured. In her autobiography, Evidence Not Seen, Darlene describes this experience. While she longed to be free, she called her cell a “sanctuary” of God’s presence. She felt God’s nearness. Saw God’s provision (once, she skeptically asked God to provide her with one banana to supplement her rice gruel diet, and that day she received a gift of 92 bananas). She even heard God speak to her.
While I was impressed by Darlene’s physical resilience and emotional fortitude, I was most surprised by the way she sustained an ongoing conversation with God. How could she be so confident that God was with her amid intense suffering? How did she know that she wasn’t imagining God’s voice? But Darlene records that God’s words weren’t the illusions of a half-starved prisoner: they were clearly quoted Bible verses. Her captors took away her Bible, but she had vast stores of verses committed to memory. She was able to hear these familiar words spoken to her in a new way.
Memorizing God’s Word
Last year, I worked on memorizing a long passage of Scripture: Ephesians 1-2:10. I wrote out the passage in sections on index cards, progressively read each card, and repeated the words. I audibly emphasized the first word of each new verse until I could remember and say the verse without hesitation. With each different emphasis, I felt a new awareness of how God was directly, intimately active in my life.
Before memorizing this passage, I doubted that God could really redeem the broken places in myself or the people I love. Then I started saying over and over, “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19 ESV). It’s not a magical mantra, but the more I said these words out loud, the more I had to think about them. The more I thought about them, the more shocked I was: God was telling me that precisely the same power that resurrected Jesus—the thing I’d celebrated for years of Easters and confessed in the Apostles’ Creeds for decades of Sundays—was the same power at work in me! I could scarcely believe it, but the more I worked on memorizing it, the more I did believe it.
This newfound confidence changed my prayers. I started using that verse to pray for change that I had previously believed impossible. God was speaking to me, offering to empower me with Jesus’s resurrected life.
In addition to promising to love me and to work powerfully in and for me, God was simply teaching me about God’s character through these verses. And the more I understood God’s character, the more inclined I was to worship. Before, it was often hard for me to drum up a genuine feeling of praise to God, even in church. But while I worked on memorizing those verses, I became convinced that God loves me and chooses me. I recited them while sitting in traffic on Monday morning, and thrilled to know that in Jesus, I have “every spiritual blessing”—already. Sometimes I arrived at work with tears in my eyes, marveling at the lavishness of this love.
Hearing God’s Words
Late in Darlene’s imprisonment, she heard God say: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). Darlene recognized Paul’s words about God delivering him from prison and persecution, but she didn’t understand what God could be saying to her. She was about to be executed; there was no way she was going to be delivered from her prison.
“A wonderful verse, Lord,” she responded.
The verse insistently repeated itself until she “asked with great trepidation, ‘Lord, how could you get me out of here?’” (Deibler Rose 157). Darlene heard God’s voice speaking to her in the words of Scripture. God was preparing her, fortifying her for the fear and uncertainty she would face before her dramatic rescue from prison.
For Darlene, though her rescue from prison was miraculous, God speaking personally to her through Scripture was nothing out of the ordinary. Darlene’s experience draws on a longstanding tradition of people receiving guidance and consolation through internalizing Scripture. The psalmist wrote, “These words hold me up in bad times; yes, your promises rejuvenate me” (Psalm 119:50 MSG) and “I’ll never forget the advice you gave me; you saved my life with those wise words” (Psalm 119:93 MSG). Similarly, Jesus drew on his own internalized passages of Scripture from the time he fought temptation in the desert to his last words on the cross.
Conversing with God’s Words
As I commit passages to memory, the slow process doesn’t feel like drudgery—it feels like the God of the universe talking to me about my daily life and thoughts and problems. If the benefits are so great, why don’t I memorize Scripture more often?
Reading Darlene’s account of four years of close conversation with God inspired me to begin this practice again. I’m asking the Lord to spark in me a genuine longing for God’s voice. I want to internalize God’s words, deep in myself, so that I can hear God speak, redeeming even the direst situations.
By the way, you don’t need to do it the old-fashioned way with an index card. There are great apps out there like BibleMinded.
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