As a relatively young pastor and counselor (approaching 2 years as a pastor and 3 ½ years as a counselor) I have been growing more and more convinced that memorizing scripture is an essential spiritual discipline.
Here are 6 reasons why memorizing scripture should be given a high priority in your counseling, and in your own spiritual walk with Christ.
1. Memorizing is commanded by God.
I remember actually believing the exact opposite of this when I was in high school. I loved reading God’s Word and studying it. Actually, I could remember God’s Word quite well, but I didn’t think that Scripture memory was that important. My excuse was, “it wasn’t commanded.” And I suppose on the one hand, that may technically be correct. But take a verse like Psalm 119:11 for example which says, “I store up your word in my heart, that I might not sin.” That verse doesn’t say “memorize” explicitly. But let me ask you this question, what does it mean to store up God’s word in your heart? Can it honestly be said to be stored up, if you can’t recall it without opening up your Bible?
Consider also Psalm 1 which says that the blessed man “delights in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” To really mediate on God’s law day AND night, I’d argue that you have to know it well enough to recall it to mind on command. In other words, I’d argue that you have to memorize it!
There are so many other places we could turn to in Scripture, but consider Jesus’ example. In Matthew 4 when he is tempted, Jesus quotes Scripture in the face of each temptation. If Jesus, the 2nd person of the Trinity, memorized Scripture and quoted it to avoid giving into temptation, what does that indicate about our need to have scripture memorized for when we face temptation?
2. Memorizing helps you understand God’s Word.
A second reason that memorization is important is because it helps you understand Scripture. Think back to your days in math class. When there were equations that you had to memorize, but you didn’t understand each component of the equation, was it hard or easy to memorize (quadratic equation anyone)?? For me, it was impossible to memorize! Trying to memorize those equations revealed whether I understood them or not. If I didn’t understand them, I had more work to do in order to get to a place of understanding. Memorizing after I understood each part of the equation was easy, because I could logically think my way through the equation to produce it from memory.
I have found that memorizing God’s Word is very similar. I may be able to read something in God’s Word, and think I’ve understood it. But until I take the time to try and memorize it, and think through the logic of the passage, I won’t know for certain whether I really get it or not. If I’ve memorized Scripture, it’s because I have understood the logic of the passage and how each verse and phrase fits together. This has also made memorizing easier. I find that when I am studying a passage to preach or teach, I often memorize the passage without even trying. It’s because I have spent so much time trying to understand how each phrase fits together that I can think my way through it to reproduce it (just like the quadratic equation).
3. Memorizing helps you cultivate delight in God’s Word.
One of the battles that every counselee has to fight—and every believer for that matter—has to do with what they delight in. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way.” Counselees are not typically coming for counseling because they have delighted in the Lord’s way. As a result, their steps are not established. Therefore, they need to cultivate a delight for God’s way, which is revealed in Scripture.
Scripture memory is often times very challenging for counselees. And I’ve heard all kinds of excuses from counselees for why they cannot memorize scripture. But at the end of the day, the issue for 99.99% of them (and me too!), was their desire. They didn’t delight in God’s Word and they were struggling to put in the effort that is necessary to delight in God’s Word. But once they decided to put in the effort, and cultivate a delight for God’s Word, memorization became much easier and more enjoyable!
I use memorization as a thermometer of my own delight for God’s Word, as well as for my counselees.
4. Memorizing helps you apply God’s Word.
Everyone who has the goal of becoming more like Christ should be concerned with applying God’s Word more, and more quickly. Memorization is a fantastic way to help with application. Memorizing scripture helps you, as Philippians 4:8 says, “…to think on these things.” And it helps you to think on them to the point of meditating on them.
When I’ve taken the time to really memorize and meditate on a passage of scripture, what I find is that I see all of life through that passage! For example, I was speaking with a friend who memorized 1 Peter last year, and all her words, and thoughts and actions were being processed and connected to 1 Peter. In this way, she was able to see and apply 1 Peter all over the place, in ways that wouldn’t have happened had she only read through it.
5. Memorizing helps you counsel, encourage and correct others.
I have an incredible memory when it comes to movie and TV show quotes. I remember things like they were yesterday even though I may have watched that particular show or movie years ago. Those quotes that have been stashed away in the recesses of my mind pop up into my daily conversation whenever something arises that reminds me of a particular quote.
I think that the way movie quotes and TV quotes pop into my head throughout the day, is the way that Scripture is supposed to pop into my head. If I delight in God’s Word and have stored it up in my heart, when I see something that is praiseworthy it should bring to mind verses of God’s worthiness for praise (Psalm 119:13). When I am tempted to lash out in anger, I should be reminded of verses about being slow to anger (James 1:19), etc.
If you’re able to recall Scripture as it fits the occasion, you can speak and give grace to the people you’re speaking with as it fits the occasion (cf. Eph. 4:28, Prov. 25:11). I don’t think this will happen apart from memorization and storing God’s Word up in your heart. It takes effort. It takes time. It probably means, for me and maybe you too, giving less time to movies/TV, and more time to studying and memorizing God’s Word.
6. Memorizing helps you avoid just checking a box.
Admittedly, this last reason needs some explanation. And you might be thinking, I’ve memorized in such a way that it was just checking a box! Let me explain. If I’ve memorized a passage—meaning I can at least regurgitate the words accurately when asked without looking—and those verses are not popping into my head throughout my day as I see opportunities for application, then I probably know I haven’t really arrived at TRUE memorization. Yes, I’ve committed the words to memory, but I don’t think I’ve gotten to the place where those words are “my very life” (Deut. 32:47).
I can tell when I’ve truly memorized a passage in a way that changes me versus when I’ve just memorized a passage just to check the box. This also becomes a small test for those you’re counseling, to hopefully see whether they are really getting it or not.
If you or your counselees are struggling to memorize Scripture in a way that helps you understand Scripture, that cultivates a greater desire for God’s Word, that helps you apply God’s Word, and helps you counsel others, then I’d encourage you to consider the following steps below.
- Pray – Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
- Go over what you’re memorizing daily—multiple times!
- Journal at the end of your day or beginning through the lens of the passage you are memorizing.
- Look for at least one way each day to bring up what your memorizing in conversation.
Join the Conversation:
Would love to hear why you think scripture memory is important, or ways that have helped you memorize scripture.