By John Wright
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11, ESV)
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2, ESV)
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8, ESV)
One of the most important disciplines we can practice in our Christian walk is daily Bible reading, and two very important practices that should grow out of daily Bible reading are memorization and meditation. First, let me explain what is commonly meant by Biblical meditation. In contrast with the meditation of the New Age movement or Eastern religions, Biblical meditation is centered on filling one’s mind rather than emptying it. When we meditate on Scripture, our minds are constantly turning over a verse or passage to try to understand it deeper. In fact, the word picture of meditation in the Bible is that of a cow chewing its cud. We endeavor to continue to extract more truth and goodness from the Scriptures than can be found in one read through.
In addition to meditation, memorization has many added benefits. It facilitates meditation by allowing us to access the Scriptures at any time and any place. By memorizing the Scriptures, we are enabled to resist temptation as mentioned in Psalm 119:11. Also, memorization serves as comfort in times of internal conflict or external concern. Collectively, memorization and meditation allow us to walk according to the path that God has set for us and bring us to a position of spiritual prosperity in His good pleasure. In this post, I will describe some tips for memorizing and meditating on God’s Word.
1. Start small (but not too small)
In your reading of the Bible, some passages may stand out to you more than others. Try to memorize verses that teach deep truths. John 3:16 is a favorite for many and is probably one of the most memorized verses in the Bible. Other noteworthy verses are Isaiah 41:10, John 1:1, John 14:6, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, 2 Timothy 3:16, and Hebrews 4:12. These are all verses that teach something profound about what we believe. However, be cautious about memorizing verses without understanding context. This brings me to the second tip.
2. Understand the context of a verse before memorizing it
There are many people who can tell you what Jeremiah 29:11 says without being able to tell you what it means. Memorizing a verse without knowing its context robs the verse of its meaning and can have disastrous effects. Remember, the Devil knows Scripture and is skilled at using it for his own purposes. When he tempted Christ, he made use of a passage from the Psalms taken out of context. In fact, many false doctrines originate from verses taken out of context. Even familiar passages like John 3:16 have been misunderstood if they are not understood in context.
3. Don’t box yourself in with chapters and verses
I recently started memorizing larger sections of Scripture, and in doing so, I recognized a problem – chapter and verse divisions sometimes split thoughts in the wrong place. Many verses are not even complete sentences. If you want to memorize a larger section, try to do so without focusing on chapter and verse. I try to go by sentences and paragraphs rather than chapter and verse. Chapter and verse divisions are a relatively recent addition to the Bible. When Augustine, Luther, and Calvin quoted Scripture, they did so without using chapter and verse.
4. Say the passage aloud several times
Most of the Bible was intended to be read aloud. When I am memorizing a New Testament epistle, I try to imagine myself delivering the message to the church to which it would have been read. This really helps to solidify not only the words themselves but the meaning of the text. Psalms are easier if you pray them aloud as a prayer to God. As you recite a passage, your mind, vocal chords, lips, tongue, and ears become accustomed to the natural progression of the words. Try to make your inflection uniform and pause at the natural break in clauses and sentences.
5. Look for patterns as you memorize
Using word pictures or paying attention to progression of the passage can help. For example, In Romans 2, Paul contrasts those who will stand justified on the Day of Judgment with those under God’s wrath. He does so in two sentences in which he contrasts the one with other. In the first, he speaks to the righteous and then the wicked. In the second, he speaks to the wicked and then righteous. This structure is a very effective device for committing Scripture to memory. Also, I recommend looking for words that recur or ideas that are revisited. For example, in the book of Titus, there are certain words or phrases that are repeated, like “savior,” “good works,” “sound,” and “self-controlled.” These words point to significant patterns in the book.
6. Strive to memorize the words without error
It is very easy to omit, transpose, or insert words when memorizing. Be vigilant against this error. The best ways that I have discovered to do this is to regularly refresh your memory by revisiting the passage, looking it over, and reciting it again. While memorizing Romans 2, I neglected an entire sentence. The only way that I knew that I was in error was by revisiting the passage. I make a point to repeat passages that I’m memorizing on a regular basis. Put the words in front of you and recite aloud. There is no better substitute.
7. Meditate on what a passage teaches
Our doctrine and theology should always be directed by Scripture not the other way around. As you meditate on Scripture, think about what it is teaching. Understand what the words mean in context. Think about what each sentence is saying. I take time to think about different areas of doctrine that are influenced by the passage. For example, does the passage teach us anything about who God is? Does the passage teach us anything about what God has done? Is some truth of redemption revealed? Does it teach us about how our lives should be lived or how the church should be led? This should open your mind to a deeper understanding of doctrine.
8. Keep track of your thoughts
Keeping a journal of your thoughts is particularly fruitful when paired with meditation. As insights arise from thinking about the teaching of a given passage, it is good to write them down. I have known many people who write their thoughts in a notebook or other physical journal. Others prefer an electronic journal. I personally have a Microsoft Word document that I update with thoughts from meditation. I like to summarize what each paragraph of Scripture has to say and make an outline of a given book. Cross references with other books or passages are also really helpful. Then, whenever I want to return to my thoughts, I can take a look at what I had previously written. Sometimes I recognize that my previous understanding of Scripture was flawed. At other times my views are solidified.
I hope that this post has illustrated the next step in Bible intake from simply reading a passage or passages. As we get into the Word, it is important for us to get the Word into us.
John Wright is a professor of Math and Biology at Mineral Area College and is an elder candidate at First Baptist Church in Park Hills, MO. He is also a guest blogger for the Founders Midwest website. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.