Memory Verses are Not Just for Kids

July 20, 2008

By Derick Parfan

Psalm 119:9-11

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

Like Dory’s character in Finding Nemo, I think most Christians suffer from a different kind of short-term memory loss.  Sunday after Sunday we go to church and listen to sermons.  The next Sunday, we already forgot the Word of God (not the preacher’s words or stories) preached the previous Sunday.  Everyday we read the Bible (I hope so).  After some days we forgot the message of the passage we have read.  But in reality, we do not forget everything.  There are many things we have committed to our memory.  We know those famous quotes from movies or from TV commercials.  We memorized names and phone numbers.  You know your ATM pin number.  You committed to memory a short note from a very special someone.  We are suffering not really from a short-term memory loss but from a selective memory loss.

The reason we do not remember many things from the Word of God – which is far more important than the things we do remember – is because we do not choose to memorize.  We either think it is unimportant or it involves hard work.  Well, you can blame this on the preachers for not making the message clear and not emphasizing the Word of God enough.  Or we can excuse ourselves by pointing out our memory problem.  It is true that as you grow older, your skill in memorizing decreases.  But no one is old enough as not to be able to memorize at all.  The primary issue here is not your skill but your commitment and the motivation that goes with it.  There will be no true commitment without the right and powerful motivation to do it.

Donald Whitney said that perhaps one of the reasons most Christians shy away from Scripture memorization is “because many associate all memorization with the memory efforts required of them in school.  It was work, and most of it was uninteresting and of limited value” (Spiritual Disciplines in the Christian Life, 42).  You find those long formula in your algebra or geometry class and wonder how you are going to use it in your everyday life.  Your teacher asked you to memorize the dates and characters in Philippine story and you are quite unsure how that data fits into your life.  But you do it anyway because you know your grades (or mom’s approval or self-esteem) depends on it.  There has got to be some motivation involved.

The Word of God is not “uninteresting”; it has practical and eternal value.  It is hard work and involves discipline; but it is worth it and it can be done.  Today I will give you one important reason (out of the many reasons) why Christians must include in their regular spiritual disciplines the word-for-word memorization of Bible verses.  It concerns one goal or purpose of “memory verses” in particular and the Word of God in our life in general.  The psalmist sings to God, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (119:9-11).  One reason we need to commit selected Scriptures to memory is in order that we might not sin against God! Or to put it positively – that we might live a life well-pleasing to God and fully obedient to his will.  We fight sin in our life by God’s words, God’s truths.  If this is the case, we can rightly say that “memory verses” are not just for kids – it is for all Christians who daily need a dose of God’s Word to counter-attack the moves of the Enemy.

Let’s back up a little bit and take a closer look at the passage and see if that is what the psalmist was implying, at least partly.  The question of verse 9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” presupposes the need for us to live in purity.  It is better if you will start young, but the force is the urgency and the importance of living a life of purity.  We live in a world where sin can easily contaminate us.  In fact, this sin still lives in us.  We need to do battle against it everyday.  How do we fight?  How do we remain pure?  “By guarding it according to your word.”  There is only one standard where we should measure our life with.  It should be according to God’s words – his commands, his truths, his promises, his warnings.  When you go inside a Coca-cola plant, you will observe the conveyor machine guiding hundreds of softdrink bottles for filling up and packaging.  When a bottle strays from it, do you know what happens?  It breaks!  You do not want to lose that many bottles in the process, that is why you make sure that it stays on the belt.

When we start living a life “unguided” by God’s words, we break – we sin and damage our relationship with God and with other people.  You don’t want your life reduced to smithereens, do you?  It is a warning especially to young people.  But it still gives hope to you whose years are waning.  The psalmist, too, does not want his life wasted.  Verse 10, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!”  He wants to stay where God’s authority still governs him.  Life is wasted when we live independently of God’s will and authority in our lives.  Isn’t it true that when a child rebelled against his parents and moves out of the house to live independently that his life is soon turned into ruins?  That is what we will expect when we choose to wander from God’s authoritative words.  We need to listen; we need to obey.

Because the psalmist wants his life to remain pure before God, because he wants to stay as close as possible to God’s word and be guided by it, he chose to do one thing, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 10).  God’s words are precious things that must to be stored or kept safe in the best possible place – our hearts.  Storing God’s word is treasuring it.  True, “storing” or “hiding” or “treasuring” God’s word is much more than memorization of verses; but memorization is an indispensable part of it.  What is in our mind will feed our hearts.  Isn’t it true that when one has watched far too many pornographic materials, he is harboring not just lustful thoughts but also lustful attitudes in his heart that will eventually result in lustful behavior, sooner or later?  It will not stay in our hearts if it does not stay in our heads.  What we feed our minds guides our behavior.  If we feed our minds with God’s word, your actions will be according to God’s word as the Spirit works in our hearts.  But if you want your life to be like a heap of garbage, feed your mind with TV and other wasteful materials.

If something is very important to you, you keep or store or hide it.  You keep your jewelry in your jewelry box, not on top of the dining table.  You keep your money in the bank, not in your friend’s wallet.  You do this because when the time comes that you need to use it, it is still there to be used.  So when do we need God’s word – the word we memorized in our heads and internalized in our hearts?  The psalmist states that the purpose of storing God’s word is “that I might not sin against you.”  Obeying God is the goal.  Memorization and meditation of God’s word are the means.  So when do we need it?  As long as sin is lurking at the door of our hearts, tempting us, waiting to trip us or make us stumble, we need God’s word.  “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law” (119:61).  We need it everyday, constantly.  We need God’s word – truths, promises, commands, warnings – committed to memory so that when temptation comes we can fight it not with our own strength but with the power of God’s word as the Holy Spirit himself does the fighting for us.  If we feel like a sheep which has gone astray, we need to remember God’s word to bring us back into his fold. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (119:176).

Nothing best illustrates the power of God’s word committed to memory – heart memory, not just mind memory – than Jesus’ encounter with Satan when he was tempted in the wilderness.  Every time Satan tempts Jesus to commit a sin, Jesus counterattacks by using God’s word: “It is written…”  Even when Satan uses his own wrongly-applied, twisted memory verse against Jesus, Jesus put a dagger into the temptation by citing an Old Testament passage committed to his memory.  It is a warning for us against Satan’s schemes.  He can twist God’s truth and use it against us.  You may even be found justifying your own sinful actions by misinterpreting God’s words.  That is why carefully studying the meaning and application of your memory verses is crucial.  Jesus’ encounter with Satan highlights this need – to study and memorize God’s word.

Let’s take a few examples where we can fight Satan’s lies with God’s truth.  When you are tempted to doubt that God has good things in mind for you and believe Satan’s lie that you can find happiness by pursuing a romantic relationship or career or material things just like the world, you fight with God’s word.  Memorize these verses: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (84:11).

When Satan is saying that sex is an expression of love even if you are not yet married or that relationship with a woman other than your wife is OK because of your wife’s lack of affection, fight the temptation with the word of God: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5); “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

When you are tempted to vent your anger against your husband because of his lack of care and love when you are sick, it would be better if you know in your heart Colossians 3:12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Husbands, make sure your wife knows this.  You should know it, too.  Jodi and I have proven how helpful it was for us last week.  Because we just memorized it, she easily forgave me for my insensitivity and lack of care for her.

There are many more examples.  I know you have your own proof of how God’s word especially ministered to you just when you needed it most.  For now, I hope I have convinced you enough to launch yourself in a life-time adventure of memorizing God’s word.  But I do not want to leave you in the blank and confused about how to start or what to do next.  Here is a list of suggestions I can give you so that memorization of Bible verses can be both meaningful and joyful.

1.   Make a S-M-A-R-T plan. Your plan must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  Ask yourself these questions: What verses I will memorize?  What verses do I need most at this point in my life? Maybe you are struggling with humility, start with verses on humility.  How many verses I will memorize in a week? Maybe you can do one or two a week.  As you progress you can even do a passage or chapter in the Bible.  I think that’s better that single verses.  What method will I use for memorization? You can keep a card, or write it on you wall or your grocery list, put it in your wallet or your cellphone.  It’s up to you as long as you can learn it better that way.

2.   Memorize word-for-word.  Because “all Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “the word of the Lord is flawless” (Psalm 18:30), I highly recommend that you memorize it word for word.  Do not miss a single word.

3.   Meditate throughout the day. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8).  Memorization aids meditation.  Once you memorized a Bible passage you can meditate on it throughout your busy day – when you are riding a jeepney, waiting in line in paying your electric bills, or when you are waiting for the doctor.  In return, meditation gives meaning to your memorization.  You contemplate what the Lord is saying to you through the verse.  You think about how your memory verse teaches you to walk according to God’s will.

4.   Meet with someone for accountability.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).  I think part of this exhortation is the way we speak Bible verses to each other.  We memorize in front of other Christians.  We let them check us.  At the same time, we can also encourage them to memorize with us.  Let’s pray that we can start a church-wide memorization program and see for ourselves how it will revolutionize our Christian living and our witness to the world.  The day will come, I pray, that it will not only the Sunday School teachers who will teach children memory verses, but parents themselves memorizing God’s word inside their homes together with their kids.  Parents will teach their kids God’s Word and not the other way around.

5.   Master it by reviewing periodically.  You might memorize verses weekly but there’s a great chance you will easily forget it in the next several months.  An antidote for that is periodic review.  You may write all the verses you memorized in one notebook.  Recall it sometime later.   It can be before you go to bed and try to recall verses that have been especially meaningful and helpful to you the past several days or weeks.

(Now, you try memorizing Psalm 119:9-11…)

I hope and pray that I have accomplished two things this morning – proving that you must (you need to) memorize Scriptures and that you can (it’s hard but you can) memorize Scriptures.  You must memorize Scriptures!  You can memorize Scriptures!  Remember, though, that memorization is not our goal.  God doesn’t care how many verses you stored up inside your head.  He wants us to grow in godliness and Christ-likeness.  But it does not come out of the blue.  He uses means.  One of these means is  the Holy Spirit working through Bible verses memorized in our heads and treasured in our hearts.

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