Known by Heart: On the value of memorizing Scripture

Sarah                                                          bird

by Sarah Groen-Colyn

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul. Deuteronomy 11:18

Many of you keep a prayer journal as taught by Leanne in Listening Prayer.  As she writes, “The Bible – the revealed word of God – is a vital part of prayer.”  Committing a verse, passage, or chapter to memory is a wonderful way to pray the words of scripture.  Allow me to highlight some of the wonderful fruit of memorizing scripture, and suggest some practical strategies for learning scripture by heart.

Integration of head and heart.  Becoming whole in Christ includes healing of the split between head and heart that, left untouched, would diminish our ability to listen to God and obey His word.  Many of us come from traditions in Christendom that study scripture intellectually, filling us with head knowledge about the Bible.  By contrast, memorizing scripture passages that have gripped us in a special way helps God’s living Word move from our head into our heart, deepening the healing of that schism that has afflicted us all.  Memorization is a potent way to “eat the scroll” so that it feeds every fiber of our being.

Deeper immersion in His word.  Memorizing scripture takes time and repetition.  As we repeatedly recite a passage, the Holy Spirit breathes life into us.  The time we spend memorizing soaks our soul in the goodness and truth of our Lord.  Spending the time it takes to memorize allows us to become more deeply acquainted with the passage, its symbols and images, and its resonance with the whole of scripture.  As I commit the words to memory, Christ addresses me personally, and my heart responds to Him.  Lately I’ve been learning Psalm 71.  One short phrase, “My song shall always be of you,” brings a smile to my lips every time I speak it out.  This smile originates from the depths of my being as this phrase proclaims a profound truth of who I am in Christ.

Membership in the Church.  When we learn a piece of scripture by heart, we take the divinely inspired, humanly expressed words and we make them our own.  We take our place in the fellowship of believers, saying, “Yes, these are my words too.”   These words come to life when we recite them as our own and we are united in the communion of saints in a special way.  When I speak out David’s words from Psalm 71 and tell my own story through them, I am lifted up into the great cloud of witnesses.  I receive a vital antidote to the lie that I am alone.  And I take my rightful place in both receiving the words of life, and adding my own voice to the eternal proclamation.

Strategies to help us in this practice.  I believe that the process of memorizing scripture is prayer itself, and that the Holy Spirit is at work within our minds and hearts, engraving the words deep within us.  But it is also a good example of the role of moral effort in the ongoing process of becoming in Him.  I can’t just go to sleep with my Bible under my pillow and let God decide which passage to record in my memory.  I’d encourage you to watch for a verse, passage, or chapter that shimmers in a special way for you, and commit yourself to learning it by heart.  Explicitly ask God to empower you to memorize the words, and to minister to you through the process.  You may find it helpful to write out the passage on index cards, one sentence or phrase at a time.  You might like to record your own voice reciting the passage.  Engaging your whole body by standing, gesturing, and letting your face show what the words mean to you will deepen your grasp of the scripture.