Spiritual Formation by Scripture Memorization
by Pete Nicholas

One of my godsons is on an elite sports pathway back in the United Kingdom. Talking with him recently, I was amazed at the way every part of his physical development and preparation is accounted for, particularly his nutrition and calorie intake. This is one of the key areas where sports science has advanced in recent years. A few years back there was a step change for athletes in how they train their bodies, more recently there’s been a step change in nutrition and what they feed their bodies. The results are remarkable. 

What is equally striking though, in a comparative way, is how little attention we give to what we feed our minds. This comparison is even more surprising when you consider the impact of what we are feeding our minds today (note the general use of the word social media ‘feed’!):

  • We know that we are in an age when there has been a rapid increase in the volume of information bombarding our minds. On average today, we consume about 90 hours of media a week, which is nearly double the amount consumed in 1980 (when I was growing up).
  • Also, media is more penetrating. There has been huge growth in the minutes of media consumed on mobile devices where algorithms and carefully designed media pathways are tailored to engage us and hold our attention. 
  • Correspondingly, the effect on us from the volume and nature of this media is overwhelmingly negative on almost every metric: mental health (particularly with adolescents), education, and social outcomes, are all showing significant negative trends as a result, with most showing a negative inflection point when social media really came of age in 2012. 

The analysis is easy to understand: we should be at least as careful with what we are feeding our minds as we are with what we feed our bodies! 

Surely this is what the Apostle Paul is urging us to reflect on when he says, ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’ (1 Timothy 4:8) Similarly, Romans 12:2 reminds us that worshiping God is a matter of not being conformed to what Paul refers to as the ‘pattern of this world’ (the ways of thinking, and the default assumptions of the human heart and culture in general) but instead being ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’. A live question for us in our age as we face an overwhelming deluge of information is what are we doing to resist unhealthy formation and to be transformed? How are we resisting the unhelpful patterns that crowd our social media feeds and instead renew our minds in a way that promotes godly flourishing?

With that in mind, I can think of no more important spiritual discipline to pair with daily Scripture reading and prayer than Scripture memorization. And yet, I can’t help but notice that with admirable growth in talk amongst churches of spiritual rhythms and formation, memorizing the Bible is hardly ever mentioned and even more infrequently done! 

Martin Luther wrote in a letter to Peter (his barber!) about prayer, “The one who is trained well will be able to use a chapter of Scripture as a ‘lighter’ to kindle a fire in his heart.” 

Scripture kindles a flame in our hearts of love for God when our love too easily grows cold. Scripture gives us the spiritual fuel to not grow weary of doing good to others and to resist turning in on ourselves and giving into our natural selfishness. Scripture keeps our light burning bright so that we can be distinctive in our city and shine our light before people. 

Here’s a practical example. I used to be prone to anxiety before an exam or an important meeting. Early on in my Christian life, I told this to a Christian friend and she shared with me the phrase, “When you are in a fix, Philippians 4:6” and encouraged me to memorize the verse. When anxiety came, I would recall ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ It not only calmed me, as I remembered that I wasn’t alone, God was with me, but it encouraged me to pray. Over time, God used this verse to greatly diminish my pangs of anxiety. To this day, the verse comes to my mind and helps me, when I feel that pit of the stomach feeling about something. This is just one example but it speaks to the practical benefit of Scripture memorization. Imagine how beneficial it is to be equipped with multiple verses and passages! 

So, can I urge you, that if you have not got into the rhythm of memorizing Scripture or if it is a rhythm you have let slip, then please (re)commit to it. I am confident you will find it enormously psychologically and spiritually beneficial. 

Here are some tips on how to do it. 

  • Focus on a smaller, more modest goal that can be repeated over a long period of time - why not try to memorize just one verse a week? It may seem like not very much but in my experience, the person who sticks to the rhythm over a length of time does better than the person who overestimates their capacity and fades after a few weeks of intense effort! 
  • Get prepared. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Take a bit of time to plan which verses you will memorize. Why not track with our Discipleship Wheel memory verses for the next few months?
  • Be practical and concrete. When / how are you going to do this? Why not write a verse on your bathroom mirror on Sunday evening every week to learn? Why not use a bible memory app like BibleMemory? Why not set aside 2-3 mins on the morning commute to work to do this? 
  • Mix up single verses and longer passages ( over a few weeks) like Psalm 23, Psalm 1, or Psalm 67. There’s something wonderful about knowing a whole Psalm - and it aids prayer and reflection. 
  • Set up ‘reviews’. Memorization works best when we not only learn something over a week but then set up reviews to go back over what we have learned afterwards. This embeds the memory and stops us from forgetting it longer-term. 
  • Gamify it! Why not set a memory challenge with a friend or your Community Group and have a fun reward for whoever completes the challenge of memorizing (for example) all 14 verses of the Discipleship Wheel?
memorize scripture

Join the Redeemer Downtown family in memorizing weekly Scripture verses this spring.