Andy Naselli recently wrote two pieces that encourage and equip believers to memorize whole books of the Bible. At the same time that I noticed his articles, I celebrated 25 years of systematic long-term Scripture memorization (SLTSM). Together, those events encouraged me to reflect on how this practice has benefited me. (Details regarding the system I use is available here.)
My reflections on SLTSM can be summarized like this: its blessings grow exponentially over time. Certainly there’s value in memorizing a passage over a six-month window, yet I’ve found that the blessings of hiding God’s Word in my heart “snowball” across decades.
Here are seven blessings I’ve discovered from systematic long-term Scripture memorization:
1. It allows you to follow the example of the ant.
The demands of life swamp my days. I might as well drain the Everglades as carve out an entire morning for memorizing Scripture. But on most days I have time to put a crumb on the tip of my tongue and carry it from one room to the next, like an ant (Prov. 30:24–25).
Crumbs add up. Memorize Scripture for 15 minutes each day, five days a week, for two decades, and you will have devoted 1,300 hours to SLTSM.
Learning from the ant has motivated me to be methodical while practicing other disciplines; I’ve developed parallel strategies for writing, praying, and sermon prep. “Ant-like” methods for spiritual disciplines multiply over time.
2. Along with prayer, it offers the most immediate and intentional way to pursue sanctification.
The paradigm of progressive sanctification is straightforward. As we look deeply into the face of our Savior, the Spirit graciously transforms us to be increasingly like him (2 Cor. 3:17–18; 1 John 3:3). Sanctification takes place across years and we must choose to participate. SLTSM offers a primary sanctification strategy (Phil. 2:12–13).
SLTSM is my first line of defense in battling temptation. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve preached Philippians 4:8–9 to myself. After all, if I’m tempted to think of chocolate, it does no good to tell myself not think about Snickers. I need an alternative focus.
3. It enables you to identify insights in Scripture that take years to see.
When I think consistently about a passage for years, my insights grow geometrically. For example, I memorized Philemon over 20 years ago. This little letter offers a case study in motivating others to unpack forgiveness. Pondering it for 20 years has allowed me to notice wonderful subtleties in Paul’s approach. For instance, he encourages Philemon:
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. (v. 22)
The first 500 times I thought about Philemon, this verse didn’t get my attention. It seemed like an aside regarding travel arrangements. But somewhere across the years, it struck me that the Greek word translated “graciously given” is often translated “forgive.” “I hope to be graciously given to you,” then, was a subtle reminder—a jab even—to his friend that, if Philemon hoped to be on the receiving end of gracious gifts, he should also be gracious where Onesimus was concerned.
SLTSM allows me to more effectively read the Bible as a whole. The Bible interacts with itself. The student of the Word who’s memorized Psalm 110 or Isaiah’s Servant Song will more efficiently process direct quotations elsewhere and will hear allusions not otherwise evident.