The Joy of Memorizing Scripture

(Copyright 1966 by Christianity Today.Used by permission)

 Webb Garrison is pastor of the Central Methodist church, Evansville. Indiana. He is a graduate of Emory University (B.Ph. and B.D.) and has an honorary Litt.D. (McKen­dree College). 

ONE evening a few years ago I returned home from summer vacation ahead of my wife and children. Unlocking the door,

I flipped on a light switch—and nothing happened. Strange, I thought. I must have forgotten to pay the bill.

I found matches, lighted a candle, and went to the telephone to call the light company. As I reached out to pick up the receiver I noticed that the upholstery of the chair in which I sat had been slashed. Startled, I looked toward the window and saw the draperies hanging in shreds.

Candle in hand, I moved from room to room. The farther I went, the worse it got. Great gashes in all the living room furni­ture. Curtains cut in half. Bedspreads, sheets, and mattresses slashed. My wife's costume jewelry was cut, broken, and dumped into the middle of the floor. An entire rack of ties were cut in half. Suits, dresses, coats, and shirts were still neatly on hangers and seemed all right—until I lifted them out of the closets.

After notifying the police, I called my wife. She choked for a moment, then said: "Nothing else makes any difference, if you're all right. I'm so glad you didn't walk in on them."

Detectives and photographers spent an hour going over evidence, and concluded that we had been visited by juvenile van­dals. "I hope you have the right kind of insurance," the detective lieutenant said as he left.

"You're well protected for fire and wind­storm damage," my insurance agent as­sured me. Then he cleared his throat a couple of times and said he guessed he had failed to give me one of the new all-risk policies. "Afraid you aren't covered for burglary or vandalism," he said. "I'm sorry."

Alone in that ripped-up, slashed-up house, I went upstairs to go to bed. With my nerves screaming, I turned back the bedspread and sheet in which a huge X had been cut. As soon as I lay down, I felt the rough edges where the mattress had been slit.

I closed my eyes and speaking each word aloud slowly, began repeating Scripture I had memorized: Psalms 1, 8, 23; 1 Corinthians 13; John 14; Psalms 46, 90, 91; Reve­lation 1; Psalm 121. I had to go through my repertoire twice, maybe three times. But then I fell asleep and slept soundly till dawn.

This bizarre experience points to one of several delights that stem from memoriz­ing and repeating Scripture passages. So exalted are these delights that they are "unspeakable"—incommunicable. But let me try to point out a few.

1. Memorizing Scripture 'makes sleeping pills superfluous. Medical magazines are crammed with advertisements for products that offer chemical solutions to life's stresses.

According to drug manfacturers, there are three forms of insomnia. Some peo­ple find it difficult or impossible to fall asleep. Others go to sleep easily but are awakened by the slightest noise and then lie tossing for hours. Still others sleep well for a few hours and then become fully alert, beginning to relax a bit only about the time they have to get up.

Whatever the variety, insomnia can be overcome by learning several sublime pas­sages of Scripture and repeating them be­fore tension and restlessness take over. Many persons who have tried this report that the period devoted to calling God's great promises to mind grows shorter and shorter, so that with practice sleep comes soon under almost any conditions.

2. Shorter selections—as brief as a single verse or even a phrase—can be used as powerful weapons in the ceaseless battle against temptations from the outside and urgings from within. There is a splendid precedent for this: Jesus himself quoted Scripture in order to vanquish Satan.

Powerful psychological as well as spirit­ual forces are involved here. To focus my mind upon a verse so that I can retrieve it from the marvelously complex storage sys­tem of the brain, I must at least momen­tarily push everything else aside. I cannot succumb to impatience at a stalled car ahead of me in traffic and at the same time dwell intently upon the injunction, "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).

Take time to make a careful and honest appraisal of your military position in the spiritual struggle. Note those points at which your defenses are weak. You may be sure that the Evil One has already dis­covered these vulnerable points and is try­ing to make good use of them. You can strengthen your position by searching for Scripture passages that deal directly with these matters. Even a few memorized verses that direct your mind away from tempta­tion and toward God can give you a strong defense.

3. One cannot spend time memorizing Scripture without gaining a whole set of fresh ideas. Any word or phrase is likely suddenly to "come to life" and give a new and thrilling insight. Although this is more vivid while one is in the process of learn­ing a passage, it also takes place as long-familiar verses are repeated. Sometimes there is a totally unsought "revelation" from a single line. At other times an in­sight comes from an unexpected cohesion of elements from two or more memorized passages. 

4. A "mind set" is slowly molded by Scripture that is memorized and often re­peated. Anyone who devotes as much as fifteen minutes a day to this process for several years undergoes subtle changes. Most of them occur so gradually that he is hardly aware of them. Occasionally there is an exception, a forceful impact upon values, goals, and philosophy of life.

Romans 8 provides a good example of this effect. By the very act of committing Paul's analysis of life and the universe to memory, and then repeating it often enough to keep it vividly in mind, one is forced to grapple with the issues of time and eternity, the world and judgment, life's stresses, and the incredibly dramatic redemptive work of God through Christ. One may read Romans 8 over and over, preach many sermons on it, and yet fail to make its sublime ideas bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. I think that in a strange and thrilling way, memorized ma­terial becomes part of a person in some­what the same way that digested food does. And as one's eating habits have a great ef­fect upon his body, so mental-spiritual in­gestion of Scripture cannot fail to be a major directive force in the unfolding of the total self.

5. An overpowering sense of radiant joy — delight unspeakable — sometimes floods one's soul after he has devoted per­haps half an hour to repeating memorized Scripture, with full attention focused upon it. This effect is not automatic, and I doubt whether it can be cultivated. It comes un­bidden. But in the rare times that it comes, one feels lifted into the suburbs of heaven.

Dare I say it? . . . I wonder whether per­haps more Kingdom work would be done if all churchmen (paid and volunteer) would divert half an hour a day away from activities that produce results on the statistical tables and zealously spend it memorizing and repeating Scripture.

Whether such a redirecting of time and energy (countless millions of hours a year, if practiced only by active churchmen in the United States) would have tangible ef­fects upon the visible church, I do not know. But of this I am very sure: it would profoundly alter the life of every person who participated. If you would like to know whether this is true, there is only one way to find out. Try it!


The subject of this article is treated in greater detail in his forthcoming book Ten Paths to Peace and Power, to be published by Abingdon.

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 Webb Garrison is pastor of the Central Methodist church, Evansville. Indiana. He is a graduate of Emory University (B.Ph. and B.D.) and has an honorary Litt.D. (McKen­dree College). 

May 1967

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