After finishing up my morning Bible study several years ago, an idea seemed to just pop into my head: to memorize Romans. Maybe I had a lot of grace that day, or maybe I was a little too sleep deprived, but there on the spot, I decided to do it.
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it now, but at first, memorizing Romans sounded easy. Sixteen chapters, seven thousand words. I could be done in a year! I thought. Well, in the seven years since that snap decision — through three moves, marrying into the military, living in Europe, and becoming pregnant — I’m set to finish chapter 11 by the end of August.
The process hasn’t been quick, to be sure, but it has been immensely valuable. Over the last seven years, Scripture memory has become the most meaningful and effective way I have found to grow my faith. That’s because Scripture memory is the gateway to begin practicing a lost discipline: meditation.
Meditate Day and Night
We may not hear the word meditation in church very often today, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t talking about it. In fact, Scripture strongly emphasizes meditation as a daily part of a believer’s life. David and the other psalmists often speak about how delightful and blessed it is to meditate on the word of God:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3)
God’s advice to Joshua, the new leader of Israel, was simple. He told him to “meditate on [the Book of the Law] day and night” (Joshua 1:8). Mary the mother of Jesus found strength as she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Paul, the master scholar, commands us to meditate on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Philippians 4:8).
Meditation is not a holiday in the Christian schedule but an everyday habit.
Four Benefits of Meditation
As I look back over the last seven years, four benefits of meditation stand out to me. First, meditation is simple. It’s completely portable, can happen anywhere and at any time, and helps me get rid of a dependence on my own words to draw near to God’s presence.
Second, meditation is inviting. God’s word leads us to worship and prayer more effectively than anything else. My time spent memorizing and meditating on Romans has taught me that when I don’t feel like spending time with Jesus, what I really need is a few minutes with his word to change my heart.
Third, regular meditation is transformative. It makes the word of God the barometer for my life. The Bible becomes the gauge by which I evaluate my daily choices, and puts God in the forefront of my mind. Meditating every day refocuses me on what’s important, reminds me of what I know about God, and tunes out distractions.
Fourth, meditation is personal. There’s no program to hide behind, no one else’s prefabricated thoughts or prayers to rely on, no commentaries talking about someone else’s meditation. It’s just me and God’s own words. Interpreting the Bible for myself fosters curiosity and admiration and actually increases my desire to study deeply and pray daily.
Three Tips for Memorizing
Memorization is a great way to begin this discipline of meditation. Saying the words over and over, and pondering their meaning, may soon spark the same sense of wonder for you that it did for me. Like any new program or challenge, memorizing can be really exciting at first, but in order to stick with it for the long haul, these few tips have been game-changers.
First, pair your memorization with an activity you already find relaxing. Over the years, I’ve recited while washing the dishes, walking the dog, driving a long distance, or folding laundry. These tasks are pretty simple and not very distracting, which gives me plenty of mental energy to devote to my practice and reminds me to do it.
Second, always review old material first, and then add on the new material. Review keeps old material fresh, and I’ve found it’s harder to push myself to review the old stuff if I’ve already worked on fun new verses. On my current schedule, I review one chapter of Romans per day and then go as far into chapter 11 as I can, adding a new section of verses every week, repeating each new section ten times. On this schedule, I say the whole book of Romans (up to chapter 11) every two weeks.
Third, feast; don’t force. Think about sitting down to an exquisite meal. Enjoy every bite. Don’t pile your plate full and cram it in — you’ll miss the flavor and craftsmanship that went into the preparation. Slowing down is the best way to move from memorization to meditation. Give yourself the space to chew on the words as you say them, and see if you end up with some surprising insights.
Memorizing Romans has become a good analogy for my daily walk with Jesus. Sometimes I am so excited and seem to be making so much progress. Other times, I feel like I am never going to finish. Often some crazy life-change messes with my schedule. Then I feel like I’m starting right back at the beginning.
Becoming a Christian and continuing that journey can feel very similar. I think that’s a good thing. The constant reminder of my weakness and God’s strength, my unworthiness and God’s faithfulness, keeps me from depending on myself or seesawing between the high of success and the low of failure.
As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” — and for me, memorizing Scripture as a means of meditating on the words of God is the best way to experience how satisfying the Author himself can truly be.