Three Reasons to Memorize Scripture

Over the last year or so, I have given much effort to Bible memorization. In this post, I want to give you three reasons that you should also memorize scripture.

“I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Psalm 119:11

A major benefit of memorizing scripture is to create resources and safeguards in the battle against sin. The psalmist writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Memorizing scripture is helpful to this end because it both informs and reminds. While many of us have a fairly clear understanding of what is sin and what is not sin (at least we think we do), that is likely the result of being raised in a culture that has been based on a Christian or biblical ethic. The reality is that those days are quickly fading as secularism strengthens culturally.

Having God’s word stored up in our hearts provides guidance in real time. How helpful would it be to have instant access to the list that Paul calls the “works of the flesh”? In other words, an immediate and fresh list of actions/activities in which the Christian should not engage. For example, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatian 5:19-21, ESV). Likewise, how valuable do you think it would be to have a list of the fruit of the Spirit as a reminder in any situation how godly people respond? Here’s that list: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Another reason to memorize scripture is to know God better. God has revealed himself through the Bible, thus it makes sense that if we want to know God better we should know his word better. Memorization is a great way to get to know God’s character and heart better. Following are some good options for memorization:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

 and forget not all his benefits,

who forgives all your iniquity,

 who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit,

 who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies you with good

 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Psalm 103:2-5 ESV

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1:7 ESV

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 ESV

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27 ESV

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Finally, Paul mentions renewing the mind as one of the critical steps of sanctification for the Christian (Ephesians 4:23). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul provides some details of the things upon which we should give our thoughts: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).

Memorizing scripture is a wonderful way to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds,” to know God better, and to guard our hearts against sin.

In a separate post, I will recommend a helpful tool for memorization.

To My Students: A Gentle Reminder

The typical hubris of a college student may not be more evident than when completing course evaluations. An example of this is a criticism that says something like, “I don’t like [a specific assignment] and it is a waste of time that could be better spent doing [a type of assignment I prefer].” Because course evaluations are anonymous, professors have no way of interacting with the student to better understand their issue(s), or to help the student better understand the teacher’s process in the classroom.

A few questions, might help my students understand my process.

A. Do you have any idea of the purpose of that assignment you think is a waste of time? Likely, you don’t because you never asked for an appointment to discuss the pros/cons of such an assignment. Understanding the purpose of an unpleasant task may give it a measure of meaning, and thus make it more tolerable. For my part, perhaps I can help by explaining better the purpose of each of the assignments in future classes.

B. Have you considered that a variety of assignment types are offered to connect with a variety of learning styles/preferences? I often note things that I don’t particularly enjoy without giving consideration of how that thing affects others. Are you like me?

C. Have you considered that the professor may know just a bit more about the process, and that practicing patience may reveal a positive value from the assignment? I’ve noticed in both my kids and my students an immediate negative reaction to assignments/tasks they don’t like for whatever reason. I’ve also noticed that very often the immediate negative reaction prevents them 1) from recognizing that I know more about the process, and 2) from realizing the value of the process.

All of this reminds me of Peter’s interaction with Jesus at the last supper and the subsequent walk to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 13-17). I can see Peter evaluating this event as follows: “It was a waste of time for Jesus to wash our feet. Quite frankly, that time could have been better spent in fellowship.”

Jesus had an outcome in mind. To whit: that the disciples would learn demonstrate love for one another through humble service. To move them toward this outcome, Jesus chose to demonstrate humility and be an example that they should follow, which he explained in John 13:15. Peter didn’t know Jesus’ intention, but thought he knew better. In fact, even after Jesus explained to Peter that he would understand later (vs 7), Peter categorically told Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet” (vs 8). Peter had already made up his mind on this one.

Here’s a closing question to my students: Are you too much like Peter when you walk into the classroom? In other words, do you quickly evaluate the value of an assignment (whether that be related to the content or the type of assignment) without understanding the big picture? If the answer is yes, then you are not getting the most value you can get from your investment in an education.

Based on seeing this type of scenario many times, my suggestion is to slow down. Before becoming critical about this or that type of assignment, go through the process. The outcome or results will likely be better than you anticipated.

The Little Things Matter

In certain of my courses I assign Bible memorization. The goal and requirement of these assignments is “word perfect.” In this context, “word perfect” means the words appear exactly as they do when you read them in a published Bible. Each mistake (e.g., missing word, additional word, wrong order) reduces the score by ten points, and five mistakes is the maximum allowed. If a student makes more than five mistakes, their score is a ZERO. Thus, the possible grades for this type of assignment are 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, or 0.

The above explanation seems fairly simple and straightforward, but students often offer push back. Sometimes they wonder why five mistakes is acceptable and six is not. My answer: Even five mistakes is not acceptable; word perfect is the goal. And, although six mistakes is only one more than five, there is a certain point at which the student simply didn’t get enough correct to warrant credit or demonstrate any level of mastery. And, five mistakes is where I draw the line. While feeling “unfair” to those who make more than five mistakes, the above system seems to offer a measure of grace while still expecting perfection; i.e., it allows some points for mediocre, even poor performance. Yet it still requires the student to produce something.

The most interesting push back, though, is from those scoring 90, which means they made only one mistake. Frequently, the complaint is, “It’s just one word.” I understand the point they are trying to make, but I’m not sure they understand the point they are actually making. To whit: “one word does not matter.” Granted, all mistakes are not equal. But since this is a training exercise and the goal is perfection, all mistakes are treated equally. One must also remember that this is God’s word the students are memorizing, so forgetting or adding one word can be critical.

On a trip to Israel in 1995, my flight boarded but was delayed. A fifteen minute delay turned into a three-hour delay, before the flight was finally rescheduled for the next day. As the captain made the announcement of the cancellation, I was standing in the doorway beside an Israeli man whose countenance dropped to the floor upon hearing the news. I tried to cheer him up by saying (in Hebrew), “Don’t worry, they will give us a nice halon.” His puzzled look, puzzled me. He didn’t say anything; he simply turned and walked away. We deplaned and were bused to the hotel the airline had provided for us. I didn’t think anything more of the oddness of my “conversation” with the Israeli man until I saw him at breakfast the next morning. Immediately upon seeing him, it occurred to me what I had said. What I intended to say was “They will give us a nice hotel” (malon). What I actually said was “They will give us a nice window.” No wonder he looked puzzled. Embarrassing, to say the least. Oh well, sometimes a mistake is simply a mistake and amounts to nothing … but a little awkwardness or humor. On the other hand …

I once read an evangelistic blog article that was making a good argument for trusting in Christ, until … “all you have to do is except Jesus.” What she meant was “accept,” which means to “consent” or “receive.” What she actually wrote, “except,” essentially means the opposite, “to exclude.” But, it’s just one word; in fact, it’s just two letters. However, those two letters can make all the difference … in eternity.

My New Friend

Last week while passing a lumber yard, I noticed a man sorting through what appeared to be clean discards. I hadn’t noticed that before, so I wasn’t sure what I had seen. With my curiosity piqued and my hoarder tendencies activated, I made my way safely into the turn lane, then backed up 50 yards or so to investigate more closely. I rolled my window down as I backed into the entrance, then asked the man, “Is that give-away lumber?” “Yes,” he responded about the time I saw the spray painted “FREE” sign in front of the rack of miscellaneous pieces of lumber. As he looked up, he said, “I’ve got lots of ideas for this wood.” That fueled my interests more, and the possibilities started to race through my brain as I clumsily tried to push pause on the Ted Talk on reducing clutter in my life that was emanating from my phone. Reducing clutter had suddenly become less important in the presence of a treasure trove of possibilities residing in that stack of free lumber pieces.

As I approached the stack, I found myself in the midst of a mental and emotional battle: On the one hand, even though I had no intended purpose for the lumber, it was there. And. It. Was. Free. On the other hand, I had listened to several Ted Talks that morning that focused on organizing my life by simplifying, which included reducing clutter and stuff that I don’t need. Should I or shouldn’t I? Yes! No! I don’t know!

In an effort to find reprieve from the “yes/no” battle going on in my head and heart, I offered to help the man get his lumber into his car. To his objection, I grabbed all his wood and said, “I’ll get this, you open the back.” As I looked back, I noticed that he was noticeably dragging his right foot. His hat said “US Army Disabled Veteran” so I thanked him for his service and used that as conversation starter, which is one of the tips for engaging with others that I teach my classes. However, while we continued with the small talk, my mind kept returning to the free wood. Should I take some or not?

During our conversation, the man struggled to remember common information. For example, when I asked where he is from, he immediately said, “California.” However, as he continued to tell me that his wife was from Missouri, he struggled to remember the city. “She’s from … just a second. She’s from … uh … uh … uh … it starts with a B. She’s from Bri___ no, that’s not it. Sorry, I can’t remember the name of the town.” As he tried to remember the name of his wife’s home town he even tried to spell it out with his finger in the air, but it never came to him. Then, he apologized again for not being able to remember the city before he confessed something really personal. “Listen, I had a stroke recently and I … uh … uh … uh …,” he said as he motioned around his head with his finger. I helped him finish his thought, “And things aren’t always connecting.” “Yes. Things aren’t always connecting.”

Then he asked me, “Are … you … uh … are you … uh … a … Christian?” In that moment, I noted something really important. My new friend who had just confessed that “things aren’t always connecting” in his brain because of the stroke, had not lost his heart concern that others know his savior. It would have been easier to let it slide and simply hope the best for me. Or, not to even think about me again. Who could blame him. He had suffered a stroke, after all. But, Christ matters.

I’ve thought much about this encounter in these intervening days. I’m thankful for a real example to share with my students. I’m also thankful for a real example to remind myself about the priorities in my own life.

I’m thankful someone cared about me. Note to self: Now, go and do likewise.

Am I a bad professor if . . .

Am I a bad professor if I let a student sleep through the last half of class? If you answered no, would your answer change if you knew that I also allowed the rest of the students (their idea, not mine) to quietly exit the class and leave the student to sleep through lunch?

My daughter thought I owed the student a lunch. I disagreed. My initial thought was if a person is paying $250 per credit hour and sleeps through the class, they must need some sleep . . . so, let them sleep. Is that wrong?

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