Published on February 2nd, 2006 | by Alex and Brett Harris
Do Hard Things: Scripture Memorization
We were talking about When I Don’t Desire God with our family a few days ago and Brett mentioned that he thought it may be Piper’s best book. It turns out that we aren’t the only people to think that (and we’re in good company). As Josh shared:
Yesterday CJ told me it’s his all-time favorite Piper book and that he was reading it again. Now there’s an endorsement!
It also turns out that Piper’s book convicted older brother and younger brothers in the same area: Scripture memorization. We echo Josh’s words:
This is an area I have desired to grow in and been frustrated about. Thankfully, Piper gave more than a reminder, he provided practical help.
Here are some of the quotes Piper shared that cut to our hearts:
Charles Spurgeon: “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”
Dallas Willard: “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our mind with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How did it get in your mouth? Memorization.”
And this passage, with an excerpt from The Pilgrim’s Progress:
One of the greatest scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is when Christian recalls in the dungeon of Doubting-Castle that he has a key to the door. Very significant is not only what the key is, but where it is:
“What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and Hopeful immediately cam out.”
Three times Bunyan says that the key out of Doubting-Castle was in Christian’s “chest pocket” or simply his “chest.” I take this to mean that Christian had hidden God’s promise in his heart by memorization and that it was now accessible in prison for precisely this reason.
This is how the promises sustained and strengthened Bunyan. He was filled with Scripture. Everything he wrote was saturated with Bible. He pored over his English Bible, which he had most of the time. This is why he could say of his writings, “I have not for these things fished in other men’s waters; my Bible and concordance are my only library in my writings.”
Brett and I are pretty good at memorizing. We’ll memorize our favorite scenes from a movie in a single viewing. We’ll memorize songs. We’ll memorize jokes. We’ll memorize tongue twisters. We’ll even memorize how to say “super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious” backwards. For us, and indeed, for most young people, memorization is not all that strenuous and will never be easier.
Nonetheless, I’m ashamed to say that of all the things we have stored in our minds, readily available, very little is Scripture. The verses and passages we’ve memorized in the past have been slowly crowded out of our minds by trivial “stuff.” Consistency, meditation, and dedication (the hard, little things) have been sorely lacking. Thus, instead of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” we are often left with an empty scabbard. Movie lines are a poor defense against temptation.
John Piper puts forth the following challenge:
Let me be very practical and challenge you to do something you perhaps have never done. If you are not a memorizer at all, shift up to memorizing a Bible verse a week. If you only memorize memorize single verses, shift up to memorizing some paragraphs or chapters (like Psalm 1 or Psalm 23 or Romans 8). And if you have ventured to memorize chapters, shift up to memorize a whole book or part of a book. Few things have a greater effect on the way we see God and the world than to memorize extended portions of Scripture.
Brett and I are taking the challenge. We call on you, our readers and friends, to join us. Nothing will better ground and equip The Rebelution than for “the word of God dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). We have stressed that strong, godly character is becoming more and more critical in our world today. How then can we ignore Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”?
Don’t be deceived, this will be very hard. The enemy and our sinful flesh will fight and discourage and distract with all their might. But we can do this through Christ who strengthens us. Let us each set a goal and a deadline. It is not a contest, but we do want to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Memorizing a whole chapter in a week is good. Developing a daily habit of Bible memorization, meditation, and review is even better.
Brett and I have started working on Romans 8. Once that is completed I would like to start working on Isaiah 53. We are using the methodology that Piper and Josh recommend for memorizing extended passages, which can be found online here. By God’s grace, I would like to have both passages memorized before we leave to drive down to Sacramento for the Rebelution Tour next month.
The comments section is open for questions, discussion, and encouragement. What do you plan doing in light of this challenge? How has God used the discipline of Scripture memorization in your life? What tricks do you use to help you memorize?