Ebony and I have a bad habit. We eat too fast. He has a dubious excuse in the indeterminate amount of time he fended for himself between his previous home and rescue by animal control. My mother blames my tendency to speed-eat on a decade of 20-minute school lunches. (No, that's not hyperbole.) My sisters seem to eat like normal people, however, so I'm not sure that's it. I can slow down if I try, but I don't always think to do so.
Ebony's desperate love of food and anything resembling it causes him to eat so very quickly that last night he literally inhaled some of it and nearly choked himself. Thankfully, we didn't have to use the doggy Heimlich, since he could still cough. Because this was not the first such incident, he eats most meals out of his treat ball or squirrel dude or in some other moderated fashion. Otherwise, he forgets to chew before he swallows.
If I'm not careful, I can do the same thing with Scripture, scanning the pages and chapters to get it done and cross it off my list. Eating too fast is unattractive and not very healthy; taking the same attitude to the Bible is downright wrong. And yet I may slip into it unless I actively choose not to.
That's one way memorizing portions of Scripture helps me: it slows me down to savor the nuances of the words. This slow, focused immersion in a text brings to light patterns I had not noticed before. In last week's verses, Lamentations 3:22-27, one session brought out attributes of God. Another highlighted the word "good." Another showed me the contrast between the book title and the ideas presented. These precious, beautiful, empowering promises fall smack-dab in the middle of Lamentations!
The effort to learn Bible verses by memory, whether successful or not, also helps saturate my thoughts with God's truth. So many false ideas accost me during a given day, whether from the media or my own background and sin patterns, that I need to invest time in replacing them with something better.
The memory method that seems to work best for me is one I've heard from multiple sources. First the learner reads the verse aloud 10 times; then she says it (with peeks or prompts as needed) 10 times; then she continues to review until it sticks. It's surprising how well this works, even when I think I'm too tired to learn a new verse. For me personally, the extra step of copying the text out by hand helps, but that's part of my learning style. Others can learn straight off the page of their Bibles. An existing melody for two verses of last week's portion also helped tremendously; otherwise six verses would probably have required longer than a week.
Sometimes I truly am too tired or hurting to retain the verse, but while I am working on it I can't be thinking rubbish, and that in itself is a victory. With or without long-term retention, the process is its own reward. My hope is that someday the practice of Scripture memory will reset my mind's idle state or screensaver to truth and away from falsehood.
Daily learning and review shapes my prayers, as well. Slow meditation on a few verses shows me how to praise, what to confess, what obedience looks like, and how God's Word connects with my loved ones' needs so I can make truer requests for them. Usually my own felt need drives my choice of verses to learn, but the review process often links them up to other peoples' concerns. This is one way I learn to pray "according to God's will," by praying His breathed-out Word.
The Bible verses committed to memory are also my most portable ones, even when I still need the cards. This is my Scripture for stoplights, grocery lines, and walking the dog; for waiting rooms, pre-op, and dentist's chairs; for tooth-brushing, dishwashing, and laundry folding; for the middle of the night and mealtimes. There are so many moments and places I can turn my heart towards the Lord but might not recognize without a habit like Scripture memory.
While I am by no means a stellar or even consistent practitioner, when I work at learning Bible verses by heart it enriches me. When I neglect it, I am impoverished. Scripture memory slows me down to see better, saturates my thoughts with truth, shapes my prayers, and sets my thoughts towards the Lord when my hands and feet are busy.
Here ends the original post, plus or minus several words.
In retrospect, it humbles me to realize how many carrots of practical benefit this mulish heart needs when the central motivation should be that this is the very Word of God. People in other nations pray for their own copy of it. A pastor friend in a land hostile to the gospel had to memorize his sermon text every week because it was too risky to carry the Gospel of John, the only Scripture the house church owned, between his home and the meeting place. Men have died to give these words to us in our own language. Does a lover need any incentive to read, reread, and meditate on a letter from her beloved? Taking it into my heart is the good, meet, and right response to such a gift, whether I perceive any personal gain or not.
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:1-2, NIV1984
Q: How about you? Have you tried this discipline? How has it transformed you? Please feel free to share your own experience or current memory goals in the comments or by e-mail so we can learn from each other and I can learn from you.