David wrote, “Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalms 119:11). God’s word is a powerful seed that, when laid up in the good and honest heart, will produce abundant fruit (Luke 8:5-15). How many times have you found yourself saying something to the effect, “I wish I could remember”? If we had a dollar for every time we made that statement, no doubt all of us would be rich. But true riches are not measured by dollars and cents, and if each of us would take the time and the effort to put the word of God deep into our heart we would be richer by far. I must confess that over the past couple of decades I have become somewhat lazy so far as taking the time to memorize certain precious passages from God’s word. I will also admit that I am the worse for it. Hence, the reason for my thoughts in this week’s article.
Memory is a priceless treasure given to us by God. I filed the following quote away more than three decades ago, but it is thought provoking: “Without memory the soul of man would be a poor, destitute, naked being, with an everlasting blank spread over it, except the fleeting ideas of the present moment.” How many stories have we read or heard of over the years that tell of men and women in difficult situations who relied on their memory to see them through. In the 1950’s J. Russell Morse was imprisoned by the Chinese Communists for 18 months, 15 of them in solitary confinement, for no other reason than the fact that he professed to be a Christian. He endured severe torture for his faith. He later would write that it was the promises and precepts of God’s word that helped him to endure. When the war in Vietnam came to a close, and the prisoners returned to America, we learned that many of them endured their captivity because of their memories of loved ones, and in many cases, their recall of passages in God’s word that gave them strength. The words of an unknown author come to mind, words that have been repeated through the years but that are as relevant today as when first penned:
This book contains the mind of God, the state of men, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decision are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's charter. Here Paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the ways of hell disclosed. Christ is the grand object, our good its design, and the redemption of man its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, a river of pleasure. It is given you life, will be opened in the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He immediately turned to the word of God to deflect the fiery darts of the evil one. The inability of men to overcome the temptations of sin is in direct proportion to their lack of knowledge of God’s word. Sin is not the consequence of weakness, up-brining, social maladjustment, parental heritage, or social pressure. It is not a disease, though it can lead to numerous diseases. Sin is not some personality quirk that is inborn or a product of some gene pool. Sin is the consequence of man’s lack of faith in God and the absence of God’s word in the heart. If all men would do as David did, and take the time to lay up God’s word in their heart, they, like David, would find that those occasions when they sin against God would be much less. The word of God is “able to build you up, and give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It is the seed by which men are born anew (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). It is the preventative for sin (Psa. 119:11), and the only means by which men can come to be saved (Rom. 1:16). The greatest difference in men is not physical size, strength, age, ancestry, possession or the circumstances that surround them. The great divide between all of humanity is the extent to which they know or do not know the words of their Creator. It is the only difference that will last through eternity and the only benchmark that will ultimately matter once this life is over. This is precisely why the apostle Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16a).
Can you not see, therefore, the benefit of memorizing God’s word? You can say you won’t, you can say you don’t, but don’t say you can’t. H.H. Halley, the author of the Bible Handbook was 39 years old when he began using his time on long train trips to memorize prominent verses from the Bible. In a few years he could recite more than one third of the entire Bible. Age is no barrier. I read of a man past 74 years of age who learned a large portion of the New Testament. Nor is our education level a hindrance to the memorization of God’s word. The late Jack Bryant, member of the Lord’s church in Briar, Texas, was a talented artist. He knew rather large portions of the Bible and could quote them readily. His conversation was peppered with references to the Scriptures. But Jack could not read or write. He memorized passages by listening to them on tape and committing them to memory. Here, then, are some practical suggestions to help all of us put the word of God deep in our heart and our mind.
First, you need to give it your full attention. When you set your mind to memorizing a passage, examine it carefully, get a full picture of the passage; both the thought and the wording. If you can get the thought of the passage, the words can be filled in as you work toward memorizing the passage itself.
Second, try to visualize the passage. Make it your aim to “see it” on the page. Do you ever find yourself saying, “Well, I know that a certain passage is on the left side of the page in the upper right hand corner”? You visualized the passage long before you memorized its content.
Third, when you finally get down to memorizing the passage, read it aloud. Analyze it, take it apart and break it down into certain segments and learn key words in each of the segments. You can fill in the “the’s” and the “and’s” later.
Fourth, use the passage. Use it in your conversation, in your prayers, and in your daily life. Nothing succeeds like practical application and hands-on experience.
Fifth, take the time—better yet, make the time—to memorize passages. Turn the television off, open the Bible, and focus on the passage you are trying to memorize for the day or week or month.
Finally, believe that you can memorize new passages. The old adage that you “cannot teach an old dog new tricks” is simply not true. If you convince yourself that you can’t memorize new passage it is certain you won’t.
I will close with the following quote from Alexander Campbell in The Christian System, page 244:
"I never knew but a very few families that made it their daily business to train up their children in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, to cause them every day to commit to memory a portion of the living oracles...and to say, that such a course, persisted in and sustained by the good example of parents, will very generally, if not universally, issue in the salvation of their children.”