Growing up, one of the staples of any youth-oriented church activity was “memory verses”. We would set our little minds to engraving Bible verses on our brains, either as a part of the regular activities or in order to obtain some kind of reward. However, there were always the looming questions of “why?” and “what do I do now?” Of course, there were the immediate reasons of following directions and trying to earn prizes. One might also include the justification of it simply being what you do at church. At one time, I thought of it as memorizing a set of rules so that I would have an appropriate response ready for a given situation. The problem is that there is a lot of Scripture that doesn’t neatly fit into this schema, so I again found myself with a fist full of words that I didn’t know what to do with. Confusion and frustration aside, we may also question what benefit there is to memorizing Scripture anymore since we can have access to entire libraries at the push of a button on our phones.
Before proceeding into the benefits of memorizing Scripture, we must first recognize and acknowledge that the act of memorizing Scripture, in and of itself, does us no good and has no merit. In the tradition of the ancient monks, we read the story of one monk who boasted to his elder that he had memorized the entire Old and New Testaments, to which the elder replied with the observation that the monk had only filled the air with words. If we want something more definitive, we need only look as far as Jesus’ lamenting the state of the religious leaders who, despite their many religious-appearing acts, were no closer to God for them. (Matthew 23:1-36)
The benefits of memorizing Scripture come not from having memorized it, but from what we do with what we’ve memorized. One might think of it as laying up the written word of God in an extremely easily accessible place. Once stowed in our memory, we can easily recall it in order to ponder it and meditate upon it anytime, anywhere. Being able to regularly submerse ourselves in a passage rather than skipping along the surface is more conducive to letting it read us and soak into our hearts. Another thing that memorized Scripture can be used for is prayer. Sometimes we find ourselves spiritually or mentally out of gas and out of words to speak to God. At such times, being able to recall Scripture from memory can be helpful because it gives us words and material to pray to God. The last use for having Scripture memorized that I wish to point out is what is sometimes referred to as “talking back”. Essentially, this amounts to using the words of Scripture to rebuke the sinful thoughts and temptations that come to us. The ancient monks took this practice from the story of Christ’s temptation (Luke 4:1-13) in which He rebuked the devil each time by quoting Scripture. When we talk back to our temptations, it also helps us to move back to the straight and narrow path by refocusing on God when evil would lead us this way or that.
I suppose, ultimately, the core benefit of memorizing Scripture is ease of access. There are few things as mobile and easy to get to for us as our own minds and if we wish to better subsist on every word of God, we cannot ask for a better lunchbox.