Maximizing Your Memory
My son recently asked me how grownups deal with terrible and unexpected situations. I told him we pray. A discussion ensued about the difference between bedside prayers and those uttered in the heat of the moment, when the car is careening from the roadway or we’re late for a flight. Are both kinds of prayers equally effective?
I believe the answer to that question has to do, in part, with our memory. Yes, God hears the prayers of His people—even believers who don’t know Him very well. But if we have a reservoir of faith built? up through the discipline of memorizing Scripture, we benefit more from the act of praying. Having biblical truth stored in our minds and hearts may not change God’s response to our supplications, but the Holy Spirit works through the message powerfully to change us.
“One thing has become clear to scientists: memory is absolutely crucial to our consciousness,” says Janellen Huttenlocher, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. “There’s almost nothing you do, from perception to thinking, that doesn’t draw continuously on your memory.” Assuming this is true, it stands to reason that if a person’s memory is infused with Scripture, his or her consciousness will be informed by God’s Word. The Bible tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). And how much more, then, is such transformation possible when we commit Scripture to memory?
Think about it: how do you know what you know? The knowledge you have is available to you now only because of your previous experiences. Even before you finish reading this sentence, its first few words are already part of the past. And by the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll have to draw on your memory to decide what you think of it. This is the case with everything in your life. Your memory provides a framework for you to interpret and interact with the world. It allows you to file information and events as past, present, or future.
Now, consider your prayers. When we petition God for the future, we draw on memories of what we know about His character and our past experiences with Him. This enables us to commune with Him in the present. The more time we’ve spent with Him, the more memories we have— and the more knowledge we have about Him, the richer our prayers.
The Case for Memorization
Asked if memorizing Scripture enables her to live according to the Bible’s dictates, Sophie LaFleur—17-year-old winner of the Chairman’s Oratory Award at the 2009 Bible Bee—said, “[Scripture is] so ingrained in my heart that I can just say it. I know it without looking it up. It becomes so much more a part of every moment of your life. As you lie down and go to sleep, whenever it’s quiet, verses will come to mind.”
Theologian John Piper, an ardent proponent of memorizing Scripture, tells a story about his initial motivation for doing so. Early in his career, he was called to a hospital when a good friend’s wife suffered a heart attack. About 20 family members huddled together waiting to hear if the woman was alive or dead. Piper’s friend embraced him and asked for a word from the Lord. “My mind went blank. It was horrible,” he recalls. “If I had my Bible, I would have opened it to a psalm.” That night, Piper dropped to his knees and promised God he would never again find himself in such a situation. He opened the Bible to Psalm 46 and began memorizing: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble . . . ” (v. 1). To this day, he can quote the entire psalm verbatim.
Moses instructed Israel: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).
Margaret Taylor, wife of Living Bible translator Ken Taylor, has spent most of her life attempting to carry out this command by helping children internalize God’s Word. In fact, the Living Bible came about as a result of her husband’s vision to reword Scripture so children could more easily understand it.
In Touch magazine spoke with Margaret in 2005 about the importance of learning Scripture by heart and the ability of young children to do so. “Our grandson and his wife have five children,” she said. “They memorized Isaiah 53 and recited it for us at Christmastime.” According to Taylor, the youngest weren’t expected to memorize, but the four-year-old learned the passage simply from hearing his siblings repeat it so often. “The children [don’t] necessarily [understand],” Taylor said. “But that doesn’t matter as long as the verse gets inside them. Later they will [understand], and they will be grateful.”
The difference between getting to know God through simple Bible reading and investing time in Scripture memorization and recitation is subtle at first glance, but it has a profound effect. Instead of reading the text through the lens of your circumstances, the process of memorizing allows you to meditate on the passage itself, which God uses to bring applications into your mind. Pretty soon, you’ll discover that related and supporting verses you’ve previously committed to memory will surface in your mind—ones that apply specifically to your situation— yielding connections and insight you wouldn’t ordinarily have considered.
There are other benefits, as well. Memorizing Bible passages helps us in a very real way to overcome daily struggles. When anxiety, discouragement, low self- esteem, or destructive thoughts make their way into our minds, a healthy storehouse of soul-strengthening words can quell them. Christ himself overcame Satan’s temptations in the desert by recalling words of Scripture. We can draw on that same strength when it resides within us. And, if we’re inclined, we can use it to minister to others.
It’s easy to think of memorization as an activity reserved for children and Bible clubs. But the discipline itself is excellent for anyone who desires to grow closer to God. In fact, the older you get, the more you should exercise memorization skills. And it’s all that much better when the subject of your focus ministers to your soul as well. Committing Scripture to memory creates a matrix in us that can generate a deeper understanding of God and more intimate fellowship with Him. After all, the Lord’s primary means of communicating with us is through the Bible. The more we embrace His Word, the more we learn His ways and draw closer to Him.
The article was selected from In Touch magazine.