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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Psalm 1 - Why and How to Memorize Scripture

By J Koos Vanderspek

Psalm 1 reveals that the secret to success is to fill
our thoughts with Scripture and to make them continually the focus of
our imagination and meditations. Here is what it says:

Blessed is the man who
walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of
sinners, nor sits 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.

Meditating follows repentance

it is easy to misunderstand this teaching and to hope for the benefits
and promises of Psalm 1 by meditating on God's word without first
turning away from sin. However, eliminating sin comes first according
to the psalmist. For those in fellowship with Christ, this may mean a
simple confession of sins and a request for forgiveness, even as Jesus
taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins." For others who have
become enslaved to sin, whether or not they are Christians, a more
intensive solution must be implemented. Merely patching Bible
meditation into such a life will not be sufficient. Effective
meditation and fellowship with God can only come about after we have
decisively turned away from sinful behavior and begun walking in the
Spirit. Doing this is a precondition to delighting in the Word of the Lord.

life dominating, indwelling sin need not enslave Christians and part of
a game plan that sets one free involves a deep immersion in God's word.
However, such immersion does not exercise power in the life of one who
is unwilling to crucify his flesh and dedicate his members (faculties)
to righteousness, as Paul clearly teaches in Romans 6-8. Such a one
will be drinking clean water from one cup and deadly poison from
another. If you are unclear on this issue or expect study and
meditation on God's Word to automatically overcome indwelling sin, I
suggest that you consider another article that I have written on this
specific subject.

Meditating is not the same as studying.

the study of God's Word is a useful and necessary exercise. Done with
the proper spiritual motivations, it teaches us sound doctrine and
makes us wise to salvation. However, the Scriptures themselves tell us
that studying is an incomplete and somewhat dangerous activity. The
Scribes and Pharisees in Jesus' day were the ones least likely to
follow him. This is because studying is essentially an intellectual
activity. By engaging the mind we learn, but learning can easily become
a deadening exercise. Disconnected from an obedient heart, studying
Scripture produces negative outcomes, such as religiosity, pride and
rebellion. As Paul wrote, the letter kills. Clearly, the
generous promises of Psalm 1 are directed specifically to those who
meditate upon the Word, rather than to those who merely study.

Meditating is not the same as reading or hearing.

is a similar problem with simply reading Scripture. For most of us,
reading God's word is an integral part of our devotional activity. For
those without literacy or who do not have the availability of
Scripture, which is the norm in human experience, hearing is equivalent
to reading. Both hearing and reading may involve dedication and energy
but need not 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.

those who continue in sin while maintaining or increasing their
knowledge of truth develop hypocrisy, spiritual stagnation and hardened
hearts. We must avoid absorbing truth without letting it affect how we
actually live. The apostle James described this as being double minded. In contrast, meditating is by its very nature designed to permeate every part of our lives.

Memorization is the key

then, Psalm 1 is not referring to simple studying, reading or hearing
the Word of the Lord. In fact, many have taken those roads without
success. Something much more powerful is going on in the life of one
who is meditating on God's word. Yet, how exactly should this be done?
To me, first and foremost, meditation as described by the Psalmist
results from memorizing Scripture. This somewhat neglected activity was
presented very early on through Moses when he said, "You shall
therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on 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 condensed this with the related teachings of Moses in a way that undoubtedly laid the foundation for 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)

studying, reading and hearing the Word of the Lord can profit, such
activities do not fully engage the heart. It is only as we meditate on
the Word of the Lord to the degree described by Moses that it exercises
full impact on our innermost being. Until we have memorized a passage
of Scripture, it remains fleeting and subject to distortion. We are apt
to be as those who look in a mirror and then quickly forget the image
we have seen. On the other hand, once Scripture is firmly committed to
our memory, we can draw upon it or the Holy Spirit can bring it to our
remembrance as He desires.

When we meditate, we are mixing a
knowledge of that which has great spiritual power with all the other
parts of our mental arsenal while being led by the creator of the
Universe and the author of the life giving text. Application takes
place as the mighty and powerful Word of God does its cleansing and
strengthening work guided by the Holy Spirit.

The way our minds work

minds are certainly the most complex and wondrous parts of our being.
With one part of our mind we direct functions like breathing and heart
rates. We have barely any control over this subconscious activity and
it works in ways we can only imagine. On the other hand, we do attempt
to control other parts of our mind, directing it to work, study or
concentrate on what we are doing. Between these two extremes is where
most of our inner lives take place. Our minds have an incredible
ability to take us into all kinds of areas, some of which we control
and some of which seem to have a life of their own. This is the area of
our imagination, our dream lives, recurring thoughts and obsessions.
This is where we really live.

It is this part of our minds that
we need to bring under the control of our God and Creator. We fool
ourselves if we think we can control it ourselves. Inevitably, left to
our own devices, our thoughts will wander into sins such as worrying,
pride, bitterness, lust or greed. Eventually, as we turn this "member,"
as the Bible calls this and all of functions, over to one of these
sins, we become a slave to that sin. The only true freedom from such
inner slavery is through the freeing action of becoming a slave to God
and to righteousness. As Bob Dylan sang, "you gotta serve somebody."
Being free in an abstract sense is not an option.

We have a responsibility to make our inner default meditation 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 important items like our health, business,
sports, family, or politics. Others see no escape from constantly
dwelling on sinful thoughts 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. Or as Jesus taught, He who loses his life will find it. Keeping
our inner focus on godly thoughts 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 the
flawless Word of God. It is sad that even among those who claim to know
God there are so many who choose not to do this.

The Bible describes this process as bringing our thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
This inner life we all live is the music that the rest of our lives
dances 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. Jesus uses a similar word picture as that found in Psalm 1, when He says that abiding in this way makes us like living branches drawing our sustenance from Him.

The importance of transforming our minds

explains why 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. Further, 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 God's Word
helps us in reflexively guarding our hearts against thoughts, ideas and
images that are harmful and oppose truth. We have long passed the point
where we can expect our cultural gatekeepers to filter out 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 water so that we have no fear of failure, wilting, or becoming

Meditation on God's word is the best use of our thought life.

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. 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 surpass anything we accomplish through
our physical bodies. It is only our inner life and the faculties of the
heart that will survive our body. Should we find ourselves old or
disabled, we can hope 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, so that we are always ready to shed these fragile mortal frames.

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. 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 not 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 to sinful ends.

It is only in Christ that
this can be achieved. Unless He has set us free, we will remain in the
grasp of sin with no hope of deliverance. However, having been set
free, we must put to death our 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 our members, especially
our thought lives, as slaves to righteousness that we accomplish this.
There may be a variety of ways to go about this. However, it is clearly
God's will that meditating on Scripture is a primary means to this end.

Enhancing memory is now a growth Industry

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 strengthened. Along that line some take up mindless exercises
including the game of Sodoku solely for this purpose. There are also
competitions held to determine the champion with the best memory, which
involves memorizing random, useless things like the card sequences in a
shuffled deck of cards.

Christians should take up the challenge
of memorizing Scripture, not primarily because it will enhance our mind
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.

How it worked for me.

me tell you about my experiences with this. Most of my life, I have had
poor memory skills. I have trouble remembering names and phone numbers.
In a connected world this is usually not a problem. I am in the tax
business and when I first started, I knew those who could easily recite
relevant tax codes and regulations, walk over to a wall of books and
pull down the right volume to refer to. Fortunately, the volumes have
vanished and nimble computer searches have replaced them. The same can
be done with Scripture. Merely Googling a key phrase will quickly lead
you to any scriptural passage you seek.

Recently, I acquired a
"GoBible," which is a small audio Bible that can be dialed into any
verse. At about the same time, I committed to working out on a
treadmill for about half an hour every other day. I determined to
combine the time spent on the treadmill with systematically listening
my way through the Bible. This worked out great and is a practice that
I still continue to great profit. At one point it struck me that I
could use my GoBible as a way to memorize Scripture. Some, such as my
wife, can readily memorize things that are written. She can somehow
"photograph" it and then visualize it later. My mind does not work that
way. Phrases and words get all mixed up when I try. As a result, the
cumulative number of Scriptures committed to my memory was pathetically

Philippians 4: 4-9 is the passage that I first chose to
memorize. Included here is the teaching that prompted me to this action
in the first place. 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.
I started out just 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
great even though it was very time-consuming. Listening to the rhythm
of the words and sentence patterns made it possible for me to commit a
passage to memory and to eventually keep it there indefinitely.

this new ability, I set a goal of committing to memory other passages
and eventually selecting one favorite part, large or small, out of
every book in the New Testament. Narrowing down which ones to memorize
was a great exercise by itself. I am more than half done with this and
am making steady progress. Along the way, I took a detour and started
adding certain passages from the Psalms as well. Granted, this is not
remarkable. Many are way beyond anywhere that I will ever be because
they have done it much longer. For example, when Billy Graham and Grady
Wilson were preparing for their ministry both memorized the entire
Gospel of John so that they could recite every other verse to each
other starting at any point.

Choosing the New King James Version.

was really no contest for me as to which version to use when
memorizing. The New King James Version is the most current update to
the venerable King James Authorized Version. If you want to read about
how the original translation came into being, I recommend Adam
Nicolson's book called 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. Since
those selected to do the work were all accomplished linguists, getting
the meaning right was not the main issue. Further, unlike modern
translators, they were not distracted by textual criticism, using the
traditional original language texts that were widely accepted at the

When the translation committee for a particular section of
scripture would meet, each member had already thoroughly digested the
passage beforehand. Everyone involved was thoroughly skilled in the use
of Elizabethan English, the most splendid and evocative English ever
used before or since. Taking turns, they would recite their finished
product before the committee. Then, together, they would deliberate
until they had hashed out the very best sounding translation by
incorporating the most accurate and pleasing English possible. That is
why no rough drafts survive. No one bothered writing it down until it
had been decided upon orally.

As T.S. Eliot, who was among the
version's many 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 the original masterpiece, is certainly the most
beautiful and fluid modern English version available for use when

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 version that makes better
sense. An example of this is Psalm 16:5.

What to memorize

There are a variety of ways that you can pick verses to memorize and, fortunately, there are no wrong choices! All scripture is profitable.
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 also have
determined to learn verses in context, so that they encompass a
complete thought found in a passage. Some of these passages have long
been very familiar to me but had never been fully impressed upon my
mind. Here is an example. Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of the Spirit.
Although I could always name some of these, I could never recall them
all from memory. Now, I am able to recite these along with verses 23
and 24, which complete Paul's thought on this subject.

The effect on my life

affect on my life of taking up the practice of memorizing Scripture has
been profound. Like many men deep in their fifties, my nights include
periods of wakefulness. In the past, this time was either wasted or
misused. A thought life that is not filled with Scripture is one that
is easily distracted and prone to sin. Anxiousness, lust and other sins
of the mind must be constantly guarded against. On the other hand, I
now draw from my small but growing library of memorized passages.
Reciting and meditating on these Scriptures is invigorating and
fundamentally transformational.

Beyond that, I find that I
continue the same practice during the day. Whether in the shower or
driving my car, my "alone time" is used either to brush up on or learn
new passages. For example, while planning a recent five-hour drive to
work with a particular client, I determined to use this time to
memorize I Corinthians 13. With the help of my trusty GoBible I
accomplished this by the time I had completed the round trip. After
quite a few rehearsals since, the great "love chapter" is now pressed
into my heart so that my recollection is becoming automatic and precise.

I can identify with David as he lay on his bed or woke up in the
morning meditating on God's Word. The instruction in Deuteronomy makes
perfect sense to me as does the love and devotion for the Word
expressed in passages like Psalms 119 and 19. Moreover, I find an
increasing dislike for popular entertainment and "news", whether radio
or TV. Like with other exercises, I have found that memorizing
Scripture is something that becomes easier with practice. Sometimes I
do not even need my GoBible! It may be that God has given to each of
His children a specialized capacity to obey Him in this regard. I urge
you to identify an approach that works best for you and to commit
yourself to a practice that guarantees success.

Note: To see a list of Scripture that I am memorizing go to: http://memorizedscriptures.blogspot.com/2009/04/scriptures-i-am-memorizing-now.html

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