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This month I’m reading…
Memorizing Scripture: The basics, blessings, and benefits of meditating on God’s word
Glenna Marshall (Moody Publishing, 978-0802431097)
I can still bring to mind instantly the Bible verses that I learned as a young child and teenager – but scripture memorised as an adult? Not so much. I know and trust Glenna’s writing – indeed I interviewed her about her book The Promise is His Presence: Why God is always enough (P&R Publishing) for Woman Alive a few years ago. This new book from her is a real encouragement, exploring not only the how of scripture memorisation but the all-important why. If you have struggled to memorise Bible verses, or think you are too busy to do so, I would encourage you to pick up this book. Glenna not only provides ideas and examples from her own story, but also includes helpful resources, including apps, at the back of the book.
Why has memorisation been such a lifeline to you – could you tell us some of your own personal journey? Like many, I memorised scripture as a child. But, I didn’t return to the habit until I was in my late 30s. Indeed, I avoided any form of memorisation for years because not only was I intimidated by the prospect; I didn’t think there was much value in memorisation when I could open a Bible at any point. That changed when I began to feel very overwhelmed by the sin of anger in my life. The Lord had uncovered this ongoing sin, but I could not seem to find any victory over it. Though I was devoted to prayer and regular study of scripture, the constant simmering in my heart seemed too large to overcome. I repented and asked the Lord’s forgiveness daily, but found myself fighting discontent, pride and irritability. One day, while praying (again) about this, the Lord brought to mind a verse I’d memorised as a child. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11, ESV). It dawned on me that God had given me a way out of my temptation to be angry all the time, and it had been there all along. Instantly, I felt hope! I began “storing up” God’s word at that time, and I’ve not stopped in the years since then. When I gave my heart and mind to scripture, I began to see real victory over the sin of anger.
What would you say to anyone who thinks their memory is too bad to do this? And to the argument that we are too busy to do this? I was one of those people! I avoided memorisation because I was convinced it was too hard and that the returns were too minimal for the effort it would require. I could not have been more wrong. Not only is the practice spiritually rewarding, but it is also very doable, even for the person who thinks their memory is exceptionally poor. I did some research on how the brain works, and I learned that our minds were designed to memorise! God has given us an amazing ability to train our minds to hold on to new information, but it’s likely we simply haven’t taken advantage of the many tools available to us to aid in the process.
You recommend various techniques – why and could you give us a few examples here? Our brains like to have as many different paths to retrieve information as we can give them. The more details we include in the information we want to store, the easier it is to retrieve. Additionally, we all have different learning styles. What works for me might not work as well for you. My favourite time to memorise is in the shower. I print the text I’m memorising, slide it into a plastic zip-top bag and tape it to my shower wall. Every morning when I step into the shower I pick up where I left off the day before. I’ve memorised whole books of the Bible this way. I also like to use the first letter method for long reviews. When you write down the first letter of each word, your brain can move at a quicker pace than if you wrote out every letter of every word. All your brain needs is that first letter in order to fill in the rest of the word. Each method will require that you recite the words over and over again because your brain likes repetition. I encourage you to try several different methods, find the ones that work for you personally and implement them regularly.
You look at the why and how of scripture memorisation but say the why is more important – could you explain why? Memorisation is never about standing in front of people and reciting scripture aloud. While you might do that in an effort to encourage fellow believers, the gift of memorisation is inarguably the daily work of mumbling God’s words aloud to yourself over and over. As you repeat words and phrases, you think about them. You might wonder why the sentence was structured like this or why that word was chosen. You might see an attribute of God in a new way as you meditate upon it. When you think deeply about the words of scripture in a slow manner, you will find yourself growing in affection for the author. These are God’s living and active words! They change you, welling up love and praise for the One who loved us enough to reveal himself to us in his word.
How do we hide God’s word in our hearts when we’re suffering? Memorisation might be the most powerful weapon in your arsenal when you are walking through trials and sorrows. Often, suffering causes us to have tunnel vision that focuses on our pain, making Bible study and prayer feel more difficult than they might otherwise be. This is where the slow nature of memorisation is a gift. When life is hard and it is difficult to focus, slow down and rest your mind on scriptures that will settle your thoughts on God’s faithfulness. I like to meditate on and pray through the lament psalms—like Psalm 13 or Psalm 77—so that I can not only voice my lament to the Lord but then be reminded of his faithfulness as the undergirding of my perseverance. When your body or mind feel frail, lean hard on the strong word of God to carry you.
What have been the surprising benefits of scripture memorisation for you? I was not prepared for how much joy and hope would grow in my heart for the return of Christ and our future with him in heaven. So much of scripture is forward-pointing, turning our gaze to our eternal reward with God. I’ve learned to long for our coming resurrection, and as I’ve felt more inclined to think about heaven, the more I’ve felt out of step with the culture. Memorisation has served to dilute my love for worldly things, and that has been a beautiful and welcome benefit that I did not expect. Scripture has changed my tastes!
Glenna Marshall on: The books that have changed my life
The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for people who can’t get their act together by Jared C Wilson
I read this book after a long season of suffering when I was so broken, I didn’t know how to move forward. This book was a balm for my soul and rekindled my resolve to persevere in faithfulness to Christ when life was uncertain.
Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot
I first read this book in college and was deeply moved by the very personal reflections mined from Jim Elliot’s journals. I’ve reread it numerous times, and I’m always encouraged to live “nearer, my God, to Thee”.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S Whitney
Every Christian should have this book on their list as it walks us through the means of grace God has given us to persevere through the Christian life. I return to it again and again.
As a publicist, one of the great joys of my job is getting to know the books and authors that I am promoting. Over the last few years, Care for the Family’s Katharine Hill has been a trusted guide through the ups and downs of parenting – whether in terms of navigating the digital world or shining a light on the mental and emotional wellbeing of children and young people. As a mum, I have not only enjoyed promoting these books but learned a lot from them too.
So I was delighted to be asked to work on Katharine’s new book, Born Free: A call to be still, love God and flourish in a hectic world. It is a book for everyone struggling with neverending to-do lists, multi-tasking and priority-juggling in our modern, 24/7 culture – where ‘busyness’ is seen as a badge of honour and it’s implied that our worth and value comes from what we do rather than who we are. In such a world, writes Katharine, busyness jumps “from your diary into your soul”.
In contrast, Katharine invites us to make space in our lives and hearts to open ourselves up to God, developing an “attentive stillness” and “intentionally living life with margins” to allow us to make time for others where needed. Katharine knows this is not easy – she has tried to slow down many times, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 hit that she was forced to stop most of her regular activities. This gave her much-needed space not just in her calendar but in her life as a whole.
Sharing her own experiences with honesty and humour, Katharine draws on Bible passages and spiritual wisdom through the ages to encourage us to find “a place of attentive stillness that will take us deeper into the transforming presence of God”. This is a valuable, potentially life-changing read.
Born Free: A call to be still, love God and flourish in a hectic world by Katharine Hill is available now and was recommended by Rhoda Hardie, publicist for Muddy Pearl.
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