Note: A version of this article appears as a chapter in the book Overcoming Lust.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Psalm 1—the most prominent of all the psalms instructs us how to be blessed. It shows that the defining quality of the “blessed man” is that he “meditates day and night” on God’s Word. The term “meditate” can have different meanings. Some might picture a weeklong retreat, spent concentrating on God’s Word without distractions, or taking time each day for careful reading and study. Others may believe that only a monk, holed up in a cloister, could possibly do what the psalmist describes. Instead of pointing to such exceptional activity, I believe Psalm 1 describes one who has hidden Scriptures in his heart by means of memorization and then uses all of his free time meditating on them.
Our Wandering Minds
When the Psalmist wrote, “in His law he meditates day and night,” he necessarily had to include those times when our thoughts wander, which they always do. In fact, it appears that our minds were expressly designed to wander with studies showing that 30% of our time is spent doing just that. It is the powerful function called daydreaming. In addition to daydreaming, there are numerous side trips our thoughts take when we are trying to focus. We also have those huge blocks of time when we are processing thoughts and concerns while we are asleep. Our perpetually active imaginations insist on claiming and enjoying a freedom to flourish outside of the confines of our duties, routines, and even our will. A wandering mind—by its very nature— cannot be controlled directly. It is controlled by our hearts. Surprisingly, scientists have demonstrated that our “down” time of apparently random, non-analytical thinking is when the brain is most busy and productive.[i] Part of that research has shown convincingly that it is during these times when we are not specifically mentally engaged that we are able to harness all of our various supposedly untapped capacities and latent abilities. Our inner being becomes fully focused in its own mysterious ways on problems in order to achieve elusive, highly prized insights, sometimes called creative leaps or “Aha Moments.” The Hebrew word translated as meditate in Psalm 1 is deeply nuanced and involves much more energy and activity than what the English word implies. For example, it is used to describe how a lion lingers over his prey (Isaiah 31:4) and is translated in a variety of ways including to roar and to moan. In regards to God’s Word, its use here suggests gnawing, probing, consuming and continuous attention. The blessed man of Psalm 1 uses all of his available energy and time in this way. Even during unfocused times his mind is not going astray into sin.
Meditating, Hiding and Keeping
The danger of turning one’s imaginations and thoughts over to lust is not a new problem. We may believe that the temptations we face to do so are unique and irresistible, but this is not so. All temptations are common to man and we are not doomed to succumb to them. Leaving those thoughts, there is nothing better to turn to than to memorized Scripture. I believe the Psalmist is referring to memorized Scripture when he wrote of it being hidden in our hearts- Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11) The one who meditates in this way is kept from falling. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. (Psalm 37:31)
A closely related activity to hiding and meditating is described by the familiar Scriptural phrase- keeping God’s Word. Keeping means to guard, preserve, watch over and nurture. This phrase shows up ten different times in the book of Revelation alone including at the very start. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keeps the things, which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3) Hiding God’s word in our heart by means of memorization allows us to meditate (consume, gnaw on and give continuous attention to) and keep (preserve, watch over and nurture) on it at all times. It is meant to be a life changing practice.
Meditating Is Not the Same as Studying
Meditation is not to be confused with merely studying God’s Word. Clearly, such study is a useful and necessary exercise. Done with the proper spiritual motivations, it teaches us “sound doctrine,” makes us “wise for salvation” and provides “instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). However, studying by itself can be an incomplete and somewhat dangerous activity. After all, the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus dealt with were the ones least likely to follow him. This is because studying is primarily an intellectual activity. Our learning can easily become counterproductive. Disconnected from obedience, studying Scripture actually produces negative outcomes, such as religiosity and pride. As Paul wrote, “the letter kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6). The generous promises of Psalm 1 are directed specifically to those who meditate upon God’s Word, rather than to those who merely study it.
Meditating Is Not the Same as Reading or Hearing There is a similar problem with simply reading Scripture. For many of us, reading God’s Word is an integral part of our devotional activity. For those without literacy or who do not have Scripture available, which is the norm in the global human experience, hearing is equivalent to reading. Both hearing and reading require concentration, dedication and energy but do not necessarily produce a righteous response. In fact, Jesus specifically condemned those who hear, yet refuse to obey. For that reason, merely reading through the Bible on a regular basis or exposing oneself to even the finest Bible teaching does not guarantee a beneficial result. Inevitably, those who continue in sin while maintaining or increasing their knowledge of truth develop hypocrisy, spiritual stagnation and hardened hearts. We must avoid merely reading God’s Word without letting it affect how we live. On the other hand, meditation on God’s Word necessarily permeates the inner recesses of our hearts and accomplishes its intended purpose—it changes us.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Meditating follows repentance
Unfortunately, there are some who hope for the benefits and promises of Psalm 1 by deciding to meditate on God’s word without first turning away from their sin. Yet the Psalmist makes clear that the one who is blessed is one who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. Turning from sin is essential if we hope to benefit from meditating. Along with this turning, we need to ask for forgiveness. For those in fellowship with Christ and not dominated by sin, turning from their sin happens quickly and the plea for forgiveness is promptly on their lips, even as Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins.” For others who are dominated by a sin such as lust, the process of turning away and seeking forgiveness is more focused and intense along the lines we have been describing.
Habitual, life dominating, indwelling sin need not enslave Christians and choosing to deeply immerse oneself in God’s Word is a vital part of becoming free. However, such immersion does not exercise power in the life of one who is unwilling or unsuccessfully crucifying his flesh nor dedicating his members (faculties) to righteousness, as Paul clearly teaches in Romans 6-8. Merely patching purposeful meditation into a life overwhelmed by indwelling sin will not be sufficient. It is like drinking clean water from one cup while taking in deadly poison from another. This is what my own past stunted Christian walk looked like.
Blessed is the man who does not. The blessed man automatically resists sin in his members and all who are presently struggling but actively working to overcome lust should expectantly look to that time when he has been set free and observes in himself such an immediate negative response towards this sin.
I once read the testimony of a man who claimed that he had gained victory of sorts over his use of pornography and related sin. However, once there, boredom set in. He was unhappy. Rather than using his energy to fully connect with God and to seek His ways, he drifted back into sin. A while back I attended a workshop which sought to help men struggling with lust. Another attendee was there because he viewed himself as a sex addict. He had already been dealing with alcohol addiction by means of a 12 Step program. Believing that his alcohol problem was under control, he had been pulled into a new sin and was at the workshop in order to obtain similar help.
Victory over indwelling sin involves not just the putting off of bad behavior. The old robes fall off, but the new robes must go on. We immerse ourselves in God’s pure word so that our meditations please God. Our attention and effort must be overwhelmed by an increasing desire for God. Instead of drifting from one sin to another, true victory comes when we are employing our freed members to become slaves of righteousness. We demonstrate this with a love and continuous meditation on that which is more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Psalm 19)
Moses and Joshua
Memorization was first described by and commanded through Moses. You shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19) Joshua combined this idea with related teachings from Moses in a way that undoubtedly later influenced the writing of Psalm 1. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night that you may observe 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) Evidence of comprehensive and intense Scripture memorization is seen in the extemporaneous sermons that Stephen and Peter gave in Acts. They are filled with quotes from Scripture that the Holy Spirit was able to inject into their messages. When we memorize Scripture we exert a concentration and effort that fully engages the heart. It allows us to meditate on the Word in a way described by Moses. It is able to exercise full impact on our innermost being fixed in our thoughts and not subject to distortion. As we memorize God’s Word and meditate on it, we are implanting great spiritual power deeply into our lives. Once there it is at the disposal of the Creator of the universe, the Author of the life-giving text. In our hearts, the living Word—guided by the Holy Spirit—can do its cleansing and strengthening work.
Meditating as a form of prayer
As I meditate in this way, it takes on the characteristics of prayer. These are not ordinary words that I am digesting. They are also not magical words. They are, rather, supernatural words from the one who identified himself as the Word. Over a thousand years ago using Scripture as prayer was practiced as a structured discipline, called Lectio Divina, by Benedictine monks. I have not tried to master this technique, but the underlying principles are valuable and proven. Reciting God’s Word informs our prayers and conforms our vocabulary and hearts to His thoughts. It is His way of communicating with us even as our feeble prayers reach out to Him. We do not know what we ought to pray for.
As I was first writing this, I had completed the project of memorizing Romans 8 for the first time. It took several weeks to do this. Even then, I knew from experience that it would not stick. Rather, I would need to revisit it and gnaw at it like that lion mentioned earlier. Only over time will it become fully imprinted on my mind as other passages already have. When I have set upon a new passage I keep a printed copy of it in my pocket at all times. I find myself working on it as often as I can whether on my treadmill, in the shower, falling asleep, driving, or waking in the middle of the night- constantly. The initial process and ongoing effort invested in this passage are incredibly worthwhile. Am I obsessed as I do this? You could say that but I don’t think that this obsession is abnormal. I think this is the kind of activity that Moses and Joshua demanded and that the Psalmist was referring to when he wrote, his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. By wrestling with Scripture in this way, I have found it to be sweeter than honey and powerfully addictive as it converts the soul. (Psalm 19)
All Your Heart, Soul and Mind
When Jesus identified the first of all the commandments, he made clear that—“you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29). There is no consensus as to how to distinguish what is meant by the heart, soul or mind in this and other passages. However, these do not all refer to the same thing. Consider the following explanation. The heart can be seen as the deep well of our being—the part over which we have the least control. In the unregenerate man, the heart is wicked and deceitful in ways no one can comprehend (Jeremiah 17:9). The mind, on the other hand, could be seen as the reasoning and most controllable part of our inner lives. Straddling these two is our soul, wherein our hearts and minds are integrated. At times, we tell our soul, apparently by the use of our minds, how to act—“Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:1). Similarly, but in a much more subtle and powerful way, the heart also has an effect on the soul—“my heart also instructs me in the night seasons” (Psalm 16:7). Jesus revealed that it is “out of the heart” that our sins come (Mathew 15:19). “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10).
Challenge: Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
When we memorize Scripture, it starts with the mind, of course. We take time and purposefully set about a task that takes discipline and can be arduous. However, this process is needed to permit meditation upon God’s Word and presses it deeply in our hearts. It is in the heart that Scripture does its most effective work. “I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search” (Psalm 77:6). Scripture is so powerful and true that it crowds out and eliminates the harmful and false arguments, information, images, and even our deepest motivations that could otherwise assume power in our lives. It is when our minds wander while daydreaming or sleeping, unfettered by the straight jacket of our rational thoughts, that we are most led by our hearts. It is then that our imaginations, dreams, recurring thoughts and obsessions reveal themselves. This is where we really live. A healthy heart that has been amply stocked and fed with the rich nourishment of God’s Word, fully indwelt by His Spirit, becomes the dominant director of our souls renewing our minds. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4) That which we delight in fills our hearts. If the object of our delight is lust, no good can come from it. However, if the object of our delight is the Lord and His Word, He in turn will give back and enrich us in and by that which we delight in.
The way our minds work
Surprisingly, scientists have demonstrated that our “down” time of apparently random, non-analytical thinking is the time when the brain is most busy and productive. Part of that research has shown convincingly that it is during these times when we are not specifically mentally engaged, that we are able to harness all of our various supposedly untapped capacities and latent abilities. Our hearts become fully focused in its own mysterious ways on problems to achieve elusive, highly prized insights, sometimes called creative leaps or “aha” moments. Instances of such insight generate intense, unique electrical activity throughout all parts of our brain tissue that mirror or precede our own cognitive awareness that it has occurred. In fact, the focus of this research is an attempt to find out how and when we produce such creative outputs and involves attaching sensors to those who are using various techniques to solve problems. It is the eagerness of businesses to increase creativity that drives such research.
David also recognized the value of fresh insight when he wrote, I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons. (Psalm 16:7) Like him, we should expect to receive counsel and instruction from God’s Spirit dwelling within. We should also anticipate that our hearts will instruct our conscious thoughts and the rest of our lives as we properly align and saturate ourselves in God’s word. So doing unleashes our capacities and opens us to exciting things that would otherwise be unavailable. This discovery process is intensely satisfying. It is what restores the soul. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
In our age, we have chosen to crowd out much of our down time by filling it with passively provided, fully digested pap. This includes television, radio and other forms of media. Even after we have unplugged from these, we are still at the mercy of their influence, since our minds have been filled with images and sounds that reverberate long after we have submitted ourselves to them. Even those who listen exclusively to Christian music and teaching may be missing out on what God wants them to discover.
We need to bring this part of our being, which the Bible calls our heart, under the influence of our God and Creator. We fool ourselves if we think that this will take care of itself somehow. Inevitably, left to our own devices, our meditations will wander into sins such as worrying, bitterness, lust or greed. When we turn this powerful capacity over to one such sin, we become a slave to that sin. The only true freedom from such inner slavery is through the liberating action of becoming a slave to God and to righteousness. Being free in an abstract sense is not an option. We will look at how the apostle Paul explains this later on.
Because of this we have a responsibility to make our inner default meditations focused on things above, not on things of the earth. Some may argue that this advice is unreasonable and that we have no choice but to dwell on a variety of seemingly more important items like our health, business, sports, family, or politics. Others see no escape from constantly dwelling on sinful thoughts, escapism, or being “scatter brained.” However, only of the one who marinates his mind in God’s Word is it said that whatever he does will prosper. As Jesus taught, He who loses his life will find it. Keeping our inner focus on godly thoughts as provided to us in the form of Scripture is the way to succeed in every other part of life. Confusion on this issue comes from a refusal to accept that everything that is in us, our hearts, minds and souls, were designed specifically to be drawn in deeply and primarily by our great God. It is sad that even among those claiming to know God there are so many who choose not to use their limited precious time in this way.
The Bible describes this process as bringing our thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Our lives are directed by the inner music that we dance to. The very best music for this purpose is Scripture. If we impress Scripture into our thoughts and make it our constant default meditation, then we will be living in the Spirit and abiding in Christ. In John 15 Jesus uses a word picture similar to that of the tree found in Psalm 1. He taught that when we abide in Him and His word abides in us we become living branches drawing our sustenance from Him.
The importance of inner transformation
Jesus directed His teaching towards the inner movements of the mind and our thought lives. He taught us not to lust, not to worry, not to be greedy, to be humble, to love others, to forgive and to pursue righteousness. Obedience in all these areas is not achieved by outward action. It requires action of the heart. There is no other way to conform to His will than to be inwardly and actively considering and applying the truths that He has set before us. Scripture is exactly suited to provide nourishment for our inner lives so that we can achieve these results. Nothing else is comparable.
This is why David could write in Psalm 19: The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart, The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. Committing ourselves to memorizing God’s Word helps us to reflexively guard our hearts against thoughts, ideas and images that are harmful and oppose truth and righteousness. We have long passed the point where we can expect our cultural gatekeepers to protect us from the bad stuff. As a result, we have little choice but to give up popular entertainment and even popular news, which is mostly aimed at generating market share rather than informing us. By turning and keeping our focus on the truths in God’s Word, we are inviting full fellowship with God. We become trees that are firmly planted right next to the rivers of water so that we have no fear of wilting, or becoming fruitless.
Meditation on God’s word is the best use of our thought life
Understanding this, we must diligently direct our thought lives so that they become pleasing to God and function as they were designed to do. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (also from Psalm 19) It was for this purpose that God designed our incredibly complex and active thought lives. We are to use these abilities to create, collaborate, imagine and understand. Such functions are fully engaged when we meditate on His Word and filled by His presence. It is only our inner life and the faculties of the heart that will survive our present bodies. Should we find ourselves old or disabled, we can hope and pray that our minds will still be working and fully stored up with God’s Word. Our goal should be to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) and always ready for that moment when we will shed these fragile mortal frames.
We also know that our inner lives are intensely private so that no one other than God can know what we are thinking at any time. Only He searches our hearts. You examine him every morning and try him every moment. (Job 7:18) He has a keen interest in the inner lives of those who are his children. In a very mysterious sense, God designed the inner workings of our reason, emotions and imagination so that they can function in a way that He is eager to participate in. We should never be ashamed to have our inner lives transparently open for Him or anyone else to see. This is done by diligently bringing our hearts into intimate fellowship with Him and by meditating on the Word He has provided for this purpose. As a practical matter, then, we must be sure to not use our thoughts for sinful purposes.
Challenge: It is only in Christ that intimacy with God can be achieved. Unless He has set you free, you will remain in the grasp of sin with no hope of deliverance. However, having been set free, you must put to death your bad habits and not fall into bondage again. Runaway sinful thoughts are a sure way to slip into a bondage that can seem inescapable. It is by presenting your members, especially your thought life, as a slave to righteousness that this comes about. Memorizing and meditating on Scripture is a primary means to this end.
Enhancing memory is now a growth Industry
An entire industry has sprung up in recent years to assist those getting older, primarily baby boomers, promising to enhance memory skills. This is based on the observation and belief that one’s ability to memorize can be improved. Along that line some take up mindless exercises including the game of Sodoku solely for this purpose. Competitions are even held to determine who has the best memory. These involve memorizing random, useless things like the sequences in a shuffled deck of cards.
Christians should take up the challenge of memorizing Scripture, not primarily because doing so will enhance our mental functions, but because it grafts new living power into their lives. The Word of the Lord is called the sword of the Spirit and is used by Him to strike corrupting sin from our lives. It can do this because it is living and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. The impact of implanting this living agent into our inner lives is incalculable and continually beneficial.
Choosing the New King James Version
It was really no contest in deciding which version to rely on when memorizing. The New King James Version is the most popular current update to the venerable King James Authorized Version. If you want to read about how the original KJV came into being, I recommend Adam Nicolson’s book God’s Secretaries. Here we learn that a primary task given to the 17th century translators was to make sure that the final translation sounded great when read publicly. This was an essential part of the task which King James, himself an accomplished linguist, had commissioned. Since every one of the dozens selected to do the work was an accomplished linguist, getting the meaning right was not the main issue.
Further, unlike modern translators, they were not distracted by textual criticism or chasing elusive original wording. Rather, they used the traditional original language texts that were widely accepted at the time. They were also specifically required to disregard any theological interpretation in their work and to let the translation fully emerge from the texts without regard to how it would impact various opinions about doctrines or traditions. How unlike modern translations which fail in this regard! In fact, many modern translators see it as their task to discover the “meaning” before expressing this into modern English.
When the KJV translation committee for a particular section of scripture would meet, each member had already completely digested the passage beforehand and committed his suggested translation to memory. Everyone involved was thoroughly skilled in multiple languages and had complete mastery of Elizabethan English, the most splendid and evocative English ever used before or since. Taking turns, they would recite their finished product before their subcommittee. Then, together, they would deliberate until they had hashed out the very best sounding translation of each section by settling on the most accurate and pleasing English possible. That is why no rough drafts survive. No one bothered writing anything down until an agreed upon version was adopted. It would be impossible to convene a workforce with a comparable skill set in our current era.
As T.S. Eliot, who was among the version’s many ardent admirers put it, the KJV has “auditory imagination…a feeling for syllable and rhythm, which penetrates far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word.” Modern versions which start from scratch cannot hold a candle to the vocabulary and phrasing of the majestic Authorized Version which is widely recognized as the greatest literary document every written. The NKJV, built upon this original masterpiece, is certainly the most beautiful and fluid modern English version available for use when memorizing.
Nevertheless, I have stepped away from the NKJV at times. Sometimes I prefer to revert to scripture song versions, when I am familiar with them, such as Psalm 23. These add another dimension to the text and help with recall. Also, the NKJV is sometimes not clear when the underlying original language is not easy to decipher. In those cases, I dig around until I come up with a reading that makes better sense. An example of this is Psalm 16:5
Getting Started with Scripture Memorization
Here is how I got started on this. When I first began to effectively battle against lust, I found that my internal imaginations and thoughts were noticeably unfruitful. I was removing the sinful content but not replacing it with enough of that which is spiritual. At about that time, I also invested in an audio Bible MP3 player—a GoBible® which can stop at each verse—and began listening to Scripture while I did my regular exercise routine on a treadmill. While listening my way through the entire Bible, I became disappointed that I was not getting all that much out of it. My experience was equivalent to the various reading through the Bible programs that I had followed off and on since I first found one in a Gideon New Testament—my first Bible—while in the fifth grade. The words seemed to pass right through me. My mind wandered. I continued to be disappointed in my prayer life as well. My prayers were repetitive and lacked proper focus, intensity and power. I turned to Scripture memorization in part by reading the works of Dallas Willard—he recommends this discipline strongly—even though I do not have a good memory. I have trouble remembering names and phone numbers. As a result, the amount of Scripture I had committed to memory in the past was pathetically small. Looking back, I can see that this was mostly an excuse. If I had made it a priority, it would have happened.
I used my MP3 player to help in this, choosing Philippians 4:4-9 as the first passage to memorize. Included in this passage is teaching that provided additional motivation. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8) This verse speaks loud and clear to anyone who is cleansing his mind of sexually saturated thoughts. I started out listening to these verses over and over. Then I painstakingly memorized each verse by backing up and replaying the audio until my recollection matched word for word what I was hearing. To my amazement this worked extremely well. Listening to the rhythm of the words and sentence patterns helped me to commit this passage to memory and keep it there. Having discovered this new ability, I set a goal of committing to memory other passages and eventually to select one favorite part, large or small, out of almost every book in the New Testament. Narrowing down which verses to memorize was a great exercise by itself. I have since completed this project and have shifted to the Psalms and other passages, carefully selecting those in which I want to spend time. Granted, this is not remarkable. Many have memorized way beyond what I can ever hope for because they have done it much longer and have better skills. For example, when Billy Graham and Grady Wilson were preparing for their ministry, both memorized the entire Gospel of John, allowing them to recite it back to each other, starting at any point. A friend of mine attends a church in Colorado where the pastor has memorized the entire Bible, extensively quoting it during his sermons. He too is able to start at any point. At this point, I don’t rely heavily on the MP3 player. I simply attack a new passage and work on it until it has been added to my memory vault. After a new passage or two has been added, I begin reviewing those that I have worked on previously. As I write this, the number of passages comes to about forty-five. I keep these in a computer document with a printout readily available.
My pace of adding passages to this list has slowed as I spend an increasing amount of time reviewing and meditating on those I have worked on previously. My routine now is to focus on a single passage or several short ones each morning and to make this my meditation for the day, drawing it to mind whenever possible over the following twenty-four hours. I can recite very few of these “cold,” but each passage comes back quickly each time I revisit it. By following this practice I can happily identify with the one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD,” meditating on it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
What to Memorize
There are a variety of ways to pick verses to memorize and, fortunately, there are no wrong choices! “All scripture is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16). I am drawn to verses and passages that speak directly to my heart. These will not be the same ones that will speak to you. I have also determined to learn verses in context, so that they encompass a complete thought found in a passage. Some of these passages have long been familiar to me without being fully impressed upon my mind. For example, Galatians 5:22 lists the attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. Although I could always name some of these, I could not recall them all from memory. Now, I regularly meditate on these along with the verses that follow in order to absorb Paul’s complete thought. When we learn a favorite verse in context, we encounter a situation somewhat like when we buy a music CD. At one time, believe it or not, the only way to obtain a particular song from an artist was to buy an entire long-play album. When I was younger, such purchases came in the form of “8 tracks” or vinyl LPs and involved a considerable investment. Eventually, I would become familiar with all the songs on an album and find that I liked some more than the ones that motivated my original purchase. By determining to learn longer passages, we invite God to impart truth that we may otherwise overlook.
The Effect on My Life
The effect on my life of memorizing and meditating on Scripture has been profound. Like many men my age, my nights include periods of wakefulness. In the past, this time was either wasted or misused. A mind that is not properly directed is one that is easily distracted and prone to sin. Anxiousness, lust and other sins must be constantly guarded against. During wakeful times in the night, I now draw from the passage on which I have been meditating the previous day. Reciting and meditating on these scriptures is invigorating and fundamentally transformational during those times as well as other times in the day. Committing large blocks of time to Scripture memorization can be especially valuable. For example, a few years ago, during a five-hour drive to visit a client, I determined to memorize 1 Corinthians 13. With the help of my trusty GoBible®, I accomplished this by the time I had completed the round trip. After rehearsing it since, the great “love chapter” is now pressed into my heart so that my recollection is becoming automatic and precise. If you want further encouragement regarding memorization, I recommend Scripture by Heart, written by Pastor Joshua Choonmin Kang. Among those in his prominent Los Angeles Korean church, Scripture memorization is a central discipline. He suggests that we devote 30 minutes each day to this practice. That sounds about right to me in terms of concentrated effort, but when I include all the times that my mind falls back on a passage during a twenty-four hour period, my total time spent in meditation is much higher. Scripture resonates within me and helps inform my thoughts throughout the day and into the evening. The inner meditations of the heart are complex, but fully designed and enabled by our Lord to fulfill His purposes. Having made this my practice, I can now fully identify with the instructions from Moses and Joshua. I understand the love and devotion for the Word expressed in passages like the last half of Psalm 19 and all of Psalm 119. Moreover, I find an increasing distaste for popular entertainment and “news” from most sources. As with other exercises, I have found that memorizing Scripture and meditating on it is something that becomes easier with practice and increasingly satisfying.
Challenge: It may be that God has given to you—and to all His children— specialized capacity to impress God’s words on your heart. I urge you to identify an approach of memorization and meditation that works best for you. As Psalm 1 teaches, if you commit to continually meditate on God’s Word, you will experience success in all you do, including your struggle against lust.
[i] A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight, by Robert Lee Holtz, Wall Street Journal, (Dow Jones & company) June 19, 2009, page A11.