This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall be successful. Joshua 1:8-9
It was my mother who taught and encouraged me to “learn by heart.” She had no degree in religious education or spiritual formation but knew the importance of memorizing Scripture. Except, she never called it memorizing; she called it learning by heart. I think she knew that by going over and over a passage of Scripture, repeating it again and again and again, that it would in time make its way into my heart.
So before I was learning the alphabet or reading Dick and Jane my mother had me learning Psalm 23 by heart. My brain cells and neurons were firing a lot better back then, and I learned that beloved Shepherd’s Psalm in a flash. Then from Psalm 23 I was on to Psalm 100, learning about entering God’s presence with joy and gladness. I watch my grandkids today, and they seem to think learning by heart every bit as much fun as I did.
Thankfully, my mom didn’t stop there. She took me on to other uplifting works like Edgar Guest’s poetry, along with “The Bridge Builder” by William Drumgoole, and, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra Brooks Welch. (Google these poems on the Internet; I think you will love them!) I don’t know where I would be today without all those words percolating in my heart.
Regrettably, learning by heart pretty much ended for me when I was young. Growing up as a Baby Boomer there were “experts” warning that rote memorization might stifle thought and creativity. I did memorize some verb forms and Periodic Table but got the ornery notion that Bible memorization was just for kids and for Sunday school.
I am fascinated that 2,500 years ago the Greek philosopher Plato was worried about what the spread of writing would do to the culture. He feared that having written knowledge at one’s fingertips would “produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it.” (“Phaedrus”, The Collected Dialogues of Plato) Plato feared that people would no longer memorize if they knew they could always look it up! What would Plato think today! For instance, I was in a Starbucks and overheard a man as he excitedly held up his new smart phone. He pointed to his phone and announced that with it he would never have to memorize anything again; it was all stored in his phone.
More importantly, the Bible itself does have a lot to say about the importance of Scripture memorization, or learning by heart. For starters:
- Psalm 119:11: I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
- Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
- Joshua 1:8-9: This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall be successful.
The late Dallas Willard, Chairman of the Philosophy Department at USC, was an icon in the field of spiritual formation. Willard was like a one-note-banjo about Bible memorization, or learning God’s Word by heart:
Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to – and of course I don’t have to – choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life and take only one, I would choose Bible memorization. I would not be a pastor of a church that did not have a program of Bible memorization in it, because Bible memorization is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what they need. ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth’ (Joshua 1:8). That’s where we need it! In our mouth. Now how did it get in your mouth? Memorization!” (Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person in Vocatio, Vol. 12., no. 2, Spring, 2001).
When Billy Graham was 96 years old he kept right on saying, “I am convinced that one of the greatest things we can do is memorize Scripture.”
It’s not as easy for me to learn by heart as it was when I was five. But it’s still important for me in making that million-mile journey from my head to my heart!
How about starting today to learn by heart a short Scripture passage or two! Where do you to start? Here are a few suggestions:
- Galatians 2:20
- Philippians 4:6-7
- Philippians 4:13
- Proverbs 3:5-6
- Hebrews 13:5-6
I am confident that you will be blessed!