Memorization has been on my mind and on my task list recently, including preparing a list of the top 10 Bible passages everyone should memorize. One candidate for that top-ten list of memory verses is Paul’s reminder in Philippians 4:8 to “fill your mind with those things that are good.” We know that’s the point of memorization. We’re giving our minds something to chew on, and we’re giving God opportunities for his Word to come alive in us.
God’s Word Deep Inside You
Recently, I read the modern classic Hearing God, by Dallas Willard. One line particularly struck me: “It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes… We read to open ourselves to the Spirit.”
Now I am certainly not encouraging you to give up your daily Bible reading, and if you’re reading through the Bible this year, please keep going. But there is importance in not only reading, but also getting the Bible deep into you. Memorizing and meditating on Scripture is a great way to do this. You can make strides at both memorization and meditation if you copy out passages of Scripture by hand. The time you take gives you space to meditate on the words and reflect on their meaning, and the physical activity of writing seems to help your brain capture and make that content part of who you are.
The 5 Stages
In the same book, Willard suggests five stages that we can go through when we are working alongside God to make a passage from the Bible a part of our lives. He suggests we try this first with passages that are familiar to us—like those we are memorizing. Here is his paragraph explaining the stages, using Psalm 23 as his example:
You may read, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1). First, you will find information, which you may not automatically transfer to yourself. You may say, “This was true just for David, the psalmist.” But as you dwell prayerfully on the plain information, a yearning that it might be so for you may arise. You may express this, saying, “I wish the Lord were my shepherd; that the great God would have for me the care and attention that the shepherd has for his sheep!” And as you meditate on the psalm, affirmation may arise, as it has for so many people (“It must be so! I will have it be so!”) followed then perhaps by invocation (“Lord, make it so for me”) and appropriation (the settled conviction that it is so, that it is a statement of fact about you.)
All of us are going to be at different stages with different passages, and we can’t rush through the stages. We're all going to start at the “information” stage, and if we’re honest, sometimes we only half-want to go deeper, because then we might have to change! But we can be grateful that God understands where we are and is waiting to meet us in Scripture. Look at Psalm 23 again. Here it is in The Message. As you read this famous passage again, see if any of the words or phrases grabs you in a different way this time:
God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
Reflect and Respond
Try copying this psalm into your journal as you are meditating. Pick your favorite translation. Try going verse-by-verse or thought-for-thought, dialoguing with God. Try a pattern of actively committing some of the words to memory, and then quietly letting them sink into you.
What stage are you at with this passage? Think about your response as you read it. Respond to God in prayer, or in your journal. Do you want some phrase here to be truer for you? Are you thanking God for his faithfulness in making this real for you? Tell him about it. Pick a verse or phrase to take with you into your day, to solidify your memorization practice.
There’s a reason I picked The Message for this passage. It’s in one nuance that translator Eugene Peterson captures in verse 6. I mentioned above that God is waiting patiently for us, but the passage points to something more. Many English translations tell us that God’s goodness and loving-kindness are “following” us, but this translation suggests that it’s not just “follow”—it’s “chase.” God’s love for us—for you—is an active love, a pursuing love. May you encounter this love for yourself as you practice memorizing and mentally chewing on Scripture.
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