Scripture Memory: We believe it’s important but we rarely practice it

Chuck Swindoll refers to Scripture memory as the most under-used spiritual resource of today’s Christian. In my estimation from my years as a pastor, I would have to agree. I rarely meet Christians who are regularly memorizing God’s Word. That’s why I was so excited about what happened this morning.

For the last five weeks every Tuesday morning at 6:00 AM the Lord has graciously provided the opportunity for me to meet with 50-60 men doing what we call 12th Man Training.  For 20 minutes I teach, and then for 35 minutes the men gather around a table with 4-5 other men providing an opportunity for further discovery, accountability, application. The teaching time is then put to a YouTube channel for easy access for those whose work obligations cause them to miss occasionally. Each week the men receive one Life Application Question associated with the teaching that they are responsible for working on over the next 7 days. Last week’s lesson was on the importance of Scripture memory as a means of overcoming temptation. The Life Application Question was: Which of temptation’s lies do you most often fall to? Which passage will you memorize this week to combat the lie with truth? You can view that lesson here:

So today my heart was so encouraged when I asked the question, “Which of you are now regularly working at memorizing Scripture?” Nearly every hand went up. Then I asked a follow-up question: “Which of you would acknowledge that has not been the pattern of your past?” Again, nearly every hand went up. For a moment, it took my breath away – fifty men equipping themselves for daily spiritual battles through the memorization of the Word – something they had not been doing previously. Imagine the impact of that effort if it’s continued over the next year or two.

I believe that we remember Scripture best, when we learn the verses that will help us at our point of need. This provides instant application for the text to our temptation or struggle. That doesn’t mean we simply learn verses about our sins. Rather, we ought to memorize from both a defensive and offensive posture. To play good defense, we memorize verses in the lie/truth formula as this exposes temptation’s deception. To play good offense, we memorize verses about the character of God and the nature of the gospel as this weakens temptation’s appeal.

You can read more about how to do 12th Man Training with your men’s  group here: http://biblicalstrategies.com/5-steps-to-start-12th-man-training-with-your-mens-group.

Why both offense and defense matter…

For several years now I have been memorizing the verses in the Bible with the lie/truth formula. I discover one of temptation’s lies: If it feels right it must be right, and I find the corrosponding biblical truth to memorize: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt thought deceitful desires, and …be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and …put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-23).

This has been effective in helping me gain short-term victory over my sins; because the Word of God (which is true) helps you see the deception in the temptation. Memorizing Scripture in this way is like playing good defense. It is essential, but only half of the game.

We must learn to say more than “no” to our temptations; we must learn to say “yes” to the love of God. While denying the sin that delights us temporarily, we must be growing in the love of God that delights us enduringly.  

Both the Old and New Testaments encourage us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6: 5; Mark 12:30). What if this was not only a command, but a strategy? What if the Holy Spirit had articulated a plan for overcoming sin, by increasing in one’s love for God? What if increasing in the love of God is how we overcome sin by playing offense?

There are two practical ways this could be done: (1) study the character of God, and (2) dwell upon the nature of the Gospel. Both cause us to increase in our love for God.

 Besides simply memorizing the Scripture in a lie/truth formula (good defense), perhaps we should also memorize it in a promise/passage formula (good offense).

Something like this:

The promise: God is good, loving and faithful.
The passage: For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:5).

The promise: God loves me and acts on my behalf
The passage: The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV).

The promise: God sacrificed his Son to show his love for me.
The passage:  …but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:8,10).

As any athlete knows, playing defense and offense is important. Developing both, so that you become proficient on both sides of the court, is as well.

Why is it so hard to memorize Scripture?

The ability of your brain to remember truths is absolutely amazing. Paul Reber, professor of psychology at Northwestern University describes its capacity this way,

The human brain consists of about one billion neurons…the brain’s memory storage capacity… is around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage…1

The truth of the matter is that you have sufficient brain capacity to memorize a lot of Scripture. So why have we not placed more Bible verses into our seemingly limitless memory?”

One word will suffice: pride. We don’t memorize because we don’t think we need to memorize. Yet God warned us that pride would lead to our sure and certain fall (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

Joseph, of Egyptian fame, teaches us that humility is a great deterrent to sin. He saw temptation and set the land speed record for leaving the bedroom (Gen. 39:12). In his humility, he knew he couldn’t stand against temptation.

On the other hand, King David teaches us that if we think we can linger at temptation’s door without sinning we are gravely mistaken (2 Sam. 11:2-3). His pride led to his lingering, his lingering left him vulnerable to sin, and his sin brought tremendous destruction to his family.

The humility principle is hidden in Jesus’ temptation account: Only the humble of heart will see the need to memorize the Scripture.

Jesus supremely modeled humility. The Bible says, 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

When tempted, his immediate response was to use the Scripture, further revealing his humility. Here’s a question: If the Son of God deemed it necessary to memorize the Scripture to defend himself against temptation, why would we think we’re exempt?

Satan’s clearest line of attack in temptation is directed at the pride of man. It was with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:5), and it was with Jesus (Matt. 4:5).

To attempt a rational conversation with the tempter in the midst of temptation is a dangerous proposal. Even an archangel wouldn’t attempt it (Jude 9). Much better to simply respond with the appropriate Scripture, and the best way to gain access to the passage is through memorizing…just like Jesus.

For an excellent source of verses to memorize when facing temptation go to http://aboutfbc.org/downloads/scripture-memory-verse-cards.pdf

1http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-is-the-memory-capacity