Next to prayer, memorizing and meditating on the Bible rank highly among the hardest spiritual disciplines. Or seemingly hard. There are many reasons for this, but one reason is we do not understand why these are necessary for the Christian life. Is there any benefit to them? How will they strengthen your faith?
In this article, we will look at why we should memorize and meditate on Scripture, with some suggestions for how to practice them. We will conclude by looking at how both can help with the pervasive problem of biblical illiteracy in our world.
Memorizing the Bible
The primary reason we need to memorize the Bible is for personal holiness. The Psalmist wrote, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) Scripture memorization is essential to fight against sin and for holiness. The Psalmist stored up God’s word in his heart so he would not sin against God. The goal of every tool God gives to us is to grow in holiness. Don Whitney writes, “When Scripture is stored in the mind, it is available for the Holy Spirit to take and bring to your attention when you need it most” (Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, 42).
God’s Word reveals Him to us. As we grow in our knowledge of Him so does our love and obedience. The big reason we need to memorize the Bible is to fight against sin, for obedience. I think all of us would agree one way we fight against sin is through prayer. After all, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray that God would deliver them from evil (Matthew 6:13). But we are not as quick to run to memorization in our pursuit of Christlikeness.
Matthew and Luke both record Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at the outset of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). What stands out from both accounts is Jesus’ use of Scripture. Each time Satan brings a new temptation to Christ, He responds by saying, “it is written” and then proceeded to quote Scripture.
How was Jesus able to do this? At the risk of sounding silly, I don’t think Jesus had scrolls from the Old Testament with Him nor did He have His iPhone to pull up His favorite Bible app. How did He do this then? He memorized the Scriptures. Jesus memorized the Word and used it as He battled temptation. Jesus stored up God’s Word in His heart so that He would not sin against God.
If Jesus battled temptation with Scripture that He memorized, just how important should memorization be to us? We need to memorize the Bible to fight temptation and pursue Christlikeness.
The primary reason we need to memorize Scripture is that it supplies spiritual power to fight temptation and sin. Don Whitney gives four additional reasons and benefits for memorizing Scripture.
- Memorization Strengthens Your Faith
- Memorization Helps in Evangelism and Counseling
- Memorization is a Means of God’s Guidance
- Memorization Stimulates Meditation
Memorize the Bible for your pursuit of holiness. This is the “why”, now we turn our attention to how we can memorize the Bible.
How do I Memorize the Bible?
Bible Memorization is just what you think it is, memorizing verses, sections, or whole books from the Bible. Many people believe memorizing Scripture is hard or they cannot memorize it. But with a little work, discipline, and, above all, the help of the Holy Spirit, you can memorize Scripture.
Many people fail to memorize Scripture because they do not have a plan. We need a plan to help our motivation to memorize Scripture. We need to pick a plan. There are different apps you can get for your phone that will help you with this. For others, the best way to memorize is to write out the verses over and over. If you are a visual learner, it may be helpful to draw pictures next to words or verses that are a clue to us what is in them.
Personally, the best way for me to memorize Scripture is to write the verse(s) on both sides of an index card. I use these cards while I walk, and I read both sides silently then I read them out loud. I do this over and over until I’ve memorized the passage.
The best piece of advice I can give here is you need to do this in a way that works for you. The way I memorize Scripture might not be the best way for you to do it. My mind works differently than yours and absorbs information differently.
One missing piece in memorizing the Bible is trying to do it alone. You might try to memorize without asking the Holy Spirit for help. But you also may try to do it without accountability. We need to have someone we trust ask us about our memorization. We should tell them the verses we memorize word-for-word. They need to be willing to encourage us to keep going and to correct us in love when we are straying. You can memorize Scripture. Develop a plan, but above all, pray for the help of the Holy Spirit.
Meditating on the Bible
Memorization is fuel for meditation. When we have memorized God’s Word we can meditate anywhere, which makes it easier. Today we hear a lot about the benefits of meditation. The common cultural idea about meditation is emptying your mind. As Christians, we need to know what the Bible says about meditation.
First, “Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and truth” (Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, 47). Meditation is active, not passive. We must fill our minds with God and truth. Filling. We don’t have it in our mind, we need to put it in there. The problem we have is our minds are empty. We need to put something into them.
Second, meditation is “deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer” (Spiritual Disciplines, 48). Meditation is being absorbed with God’s word, the Bible. Why should you meditate? Here are three reasons why:
- As we meditate on a passage of Scripture, thinking about it, again and again, we will understand the text. Meditation is related to studying the text. They are different, but related. God wants us to think about what He has said in His word. We are to love God with our minds (Mark 12:30). Our minds should never be checked at the door when we come to Scripture. God gave us our minds to use especially to understand His word.
- Because meditation helps us understand Scripture, we can put it into practice. It is impossible to obey what you don’t understand. It is hard to live out the truth of Scripture if you don’t understand it. As my pastor says, “meditation is the bridge to application.” Another way of looking at this is “the outcome of meditation should be application” (Spiritual Disciplines, 54). Once you understand what the text means, ask the Holy Spirit how you should apply it to your life. Examples of applications are changing your thinking to be more in line with Scripture or a change in desires and actions to pursue holiness. Rely on the Holy Spirit at every step of meditation. God is glorified when we obey His Word.
- When we understand the text, and what we should do because of it, we have content for prayer. When you meditate on a passage and apply the text to be more disciplined with your time you can turn that into your prayer. “Father, thank You for helping me understand that You care how I use my time. You want me to be self-controlled and disciplined and You’ve given me the Holy Spirit to do it. Thank-you for revealing that to me. Father, I need the help of Your Spirit to do this. Help me for Your glory.”
The primary reason to meditate on Scripture is the same as memorization: we come to know God through His Word, which means we will reflect that in the way we live our lives.
How do I Meditate on Scripture?
At this point, you are probably wondering how do I meditate on Scripture? This is an activity we should be doing continuously (Psalm 1:1-3). Therefore, memorization is important, so we can meditate anywhere. Meditation is the normal practice for the Christian. This is not an activity we can do once a week and leave it until the next week. The Psalmist said the blessed man is the one who meditates on God’s law day and night.
Like memorizing the Bible, you need to have a plan to meditate. First, pick a time. When is the best time to meditate? It depends. Schedule it and plan to make it happen. Develop consistency until meditation becomes the norm. This is not an activity for Christian elites but for every Christian. Second, pick a place to meditate. Pick a place where you can be free of distractions. Put away your phone and turn off the TV or computer. Find a place to be alone. Everyone has different life circumstances so you will have to choose where works best for you.
How long should I meditate? It will vary from day-to-day. Do your best to not rush yourself. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself. You are meditating to get to know your God. Meditate until the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to you from Scripture. You are meditating with the help of the Holy Spirit. My pastor suggests that you should meditate for as long as it takes you to understand the text, your emotions have been stirred by the text, and you’ve applied the text. Don’t rush. Take time to savor God’s truth.
Once you sit down to meditate, how do you do it? First, select a passage. This could be one verse or many. One way to select a passage is to focus on whatever stood out to you from your daily reading. Or you could select passages that deal with a temptation you are battling so you have weapons to enter that fight with.
After you’ve select a passage it is time to think. You can do this by repeating the verse in different ways or rewriting the passage in your own words. While you are thinking, remember to pray, pray early and often. As you repeat and rewrite and pray look for specific applications for your life.
The process of meditation is not hard. It becomes difficult when we try to do it exactly as someone else does. We must learn from others, but you need to find what works for you. Meditation is deep thinking on God’s word to apply what you understand. It will be helpful to make sure you always have a pen and a notebook to take notes to aid your thinking. The main thing is to make sure you are meditating. This is a practice you will grow in. It will be awkward at first but give yourself to it, you will not regret it. God gave us His Word so that we might know Him. Therefore, memorize it, meditate on it to know and love Him.
Addressing Biblical Illiteracy
How do these two disciplines help us to be biblically literate? Knowledge and application of Scripture are rare today. It was assumed there was a basic knowledge of the Bible but that does not exist today.
Memorization and meditation will help individual Christians and churches to overcome biblical illiteracy. As we memorize and meditate, we will know God’s Word better. We will be absorbed in it. The big picture of the Bible will be clearer. Obedience will follow since we can only practice what we know of. And at the end of the day, we will be more and nore biblically literate. We will know the Bible, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will apply it.
Why should you regularly practice memorization and meditation? To be more like Jesus and to know the Bible better. What Christian does not want more of that? What step will you take today to make these priorities in your life for God’s glory and your sanctification? Start memorizing and meditating today!