I admit it. I’m pretty stupid … spiritually speaking, that is. I’ve been a Christian for over 17 years now, and I daily amaze myself by the amount of spiritual stupidity my own soul is able to harness. I mean, how could I have been on this journey for more than half my life and still be so far from being conformed to Christ? As I stroke my chin and recollect on the past seven years, I know that my spiritual “dumbness” has been curbed by the Holy Spirit’s work through the discipline of Scripture memorization. However, the goal here is not to motivate you to memorize via a life-changing testimony but to craft an argument that leads you to recognize that diligent efforts at Scripture memory can bring huge spiritual payoffs.
Perhaps you do not see yourself as spiritually stupid. Interestingly, God does. Seriously. Take a look at Isaiah 55:8-9. Seriously. Go read it now. We often don’t do things God’s way because we’re not internally aligned to the desires, passions, purposes, and motivations of God, hence, the logic behind our spiritual stupidity. There are a variety of tools to help align yourself and the people in your ministry to God’s “thoughts” and “ways,” but I think the single greatest one is His Word. Internalizing God’s Word is a sure-fire way to bring your life in sync with the heart and character of God.
I am a firm believer that Scripture memorization has a place in your ministry, and I do not mean just with kids. It is not what a curriculum should be built around; however, it is a deeply valuable tool that regular believers and ministry leaders are often quick to jettison. It has a host of benefits, but I want to outline nine of them here. From preschooler to senior citizen, these benefits transcend age or level of spiritual maturity.
Part of the Christian life is obeying. Knowing the specific commands of God’s Word eases the task of obedience, because it cancels out any excuse for disobedience. This is especially applicable when memorizing the imperative aspects of Scripture like the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.
Conformity to Christ
God’s desired outcome when He saves someone is that he begins conforming his life to the life modeled by Christ (Romans 12:1-2). It is by memorizing Scripture that one’s worldview changes, and the way one speaks, thinks, and acts moves closer in line with who Jesus is.
Victory over sin
Conformity to Christ happens when one chooses to replace the sinfulness in his life with thoughts and acts of righteousness (Titus 2:11-14). I call this the “Replacement Principle.” Sin is not simply conquered by ceasing that particular sin but by replacing it with something that is righteous. Then, righteousness is not a human effort, but the Holy Spirit’s efforts in humans. A pertinent recited Scripture at a time of temptation can be a powerful tool of deliverance. Jesus perfectly exemplified this in Luke 4 when he spoke God’s Word accurately to ward off Satan’s attacks.
If we are expected to “go” and make disciples, then witnessing in everyday opportunities may not be conducive to opening up an actual Bible. By knowing pertinent “gospel” Scriptures, we are able to speak the Word into someone’s life when trying to persuade him to believe. Similarly, non-believing children can have the gospel planted in their lives by memorizing verses through a program like Awana or Pioneer Clubs.
Encouraging other believers
Memorization allows a believer to encourage other believers from God’s Word in normal conversation. Structured programs of Scripture memory promote opportunities for believers to “test” each other on their memorization, thereby revolving fellowship around the Word. This would become terribly ineffective, however, if these conversations focused on achievement rather than encouragement.
Since the Word is a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105), it contains the precepts for wise living and is capable of directing one’s decisions. People make decisions every day, often with little time to contemplate various choices. The Word in one’s heart can be used by God to more easily direct those decisions so he does not lean on his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Parents who hide God’s Word in their hearts will have no trouble following the Deuteronomy 6 model of training their children in the Lord. When parents understand God’s ways, they are better able to impress those ways on their children. Parents who have memorized Scripture are also better prepared to guide their children during teachable moments.
Scripture memory is one of the most rigorous of the spiritual disciplines. It requires a commitment to a repetitive task and patience to see fruit from one’s efforts. This is a good thing, however, since many of our spiritual problems are a direct result of a general lack of spiritual discipline (I Timothy 4:7-8).
Deeper knowledge of Scripture
One thing I have noticed about all the people I have been around who are committed to hiding God’s Word in their hearts is that they have an immense knowledge of the Bible. Simply “knowing” Scripture is not the key to spiritual growth, but “knowing” with the right heart and intentions is (II Timothy 3:7). In memorizing, you are, by default, forming biblical anchors in your mind that provide a deep familiarity with the portion of Scripture being memorized.
If you view “curriculum” as the overarching plan for spiritual development within your ministry as I do, then Scripture memory can be integrated in a variety of ways. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you seek to integrate it in the most effective manner:
1. In how many programs are you asking children to memorize? Are they being overwhelmed?
2. Can some of these programs transition the memory verse into a “Key Verse” for the lesson that is not expected to be memorized?
3. Can you focus on one or two memory verses per week to be a part of your parent and educational ministry? Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis and Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC are doing a great job with this.
4. Are you asking your volunteers to memorize since they are asking kids to do this? How are you keeping them accountable for this?
5. Are you using a reward system? Consider using rewards that tie into an internal motivational factor like Christian books, CDs, DVDs, or financial credit toward your next trip. Offering toys for points they earn can get very frivolous very fast.
6. Are kids being challenged to deeply understand the verse they are memorizing? Are your volunteers trained to know how to help the verse become real to the child? If #4 is happening, then they can speak from personal experience.
7. How are you encouraging parents to engage in Scripture memory with their children? Perhaps they should have to sign off that they have memorized it in order for the kids to be able to advance.
8. How are you promoting Scripture memory as something that is not “just for kids”?
Step into a hypothetical situation with me if you will. Suppose that a BMW dealership is giving away one car to every person who steps on their property during one week of the year. They have no limits and everyone who wants one gets one, no strings attached. That’s a sweet deal, right? The catch is that the dealership is four hours away and it’s during VBS week. Short of you having a myocardial infarction, you will make a way to get your BMW because the benefits of having a brand new car far outweigh the difficulties of making your way to receive it. Similarly, memorizing Scripture can be tough. It’s time-consuming and often tedious! However, the benefits of hiding God’s Word in one’s heart clobbers the initial difficulties. If you knew that something would help you, your kids, your volunteers, and the parents in your ministry grow in conformity to Christ in exponential ways even though it involved a little sacrifice, wouldn’t you get them on board? I know I would. I hope you agree and will hold off on sliding Scripture memory into the “old school” category.