God commands us to memorize His Word, the Bible, and to meditate on it all the time. God’s purpose in telling us to do this is to bless us through the renewing of our minds, yet most of us let the enemy steal this blessing from us. Why and how to obey God here is explored in detail, with practical help for anyone who is willing to try.
In the Bible it is written, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
This text in Deuteronomy 6:4-7, considered by many to be one of the most important in the Scripture, even having a special name (the Sh’ma), contains a command that is very practical, very valuable, and very often overlooked. God says to each and every one of His children that the words that He commands us are to be … “in thine heart.” It is not a suggestion but a command, just like loving God is a command, and it is to the individual (thy, thou and thine are all singular). What does this mean, to hide the actual words of God’s laws in our hearts? Why is it important, and how do we do it?
In order to hide God’s laws in our hearts we must memorize His Law, Torah, the Mosaic Law, and continually meditate on it. To meditate is to think deeply or carefully about something, to focus our mind on it, to contemplate, ponder and reflect on it. Like a cow chewing its cud, we are to ruminate on the words of God’s commands: we are to bring these words up into our conscious mind from memory, carefully and prayerfully consider the wording of each command, comparing and contrasting the ideas and concepts with other portions of the Word (also from memory), pondering them, and considering how our own attitudes, feelings, thoughts and actions align with these concepts. We are to cultivate and maintain this activity as a constant pattern of life, throughout each and every day. God wants this to be our addiction, our obsession: “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” (Ps 119:97)
We can see that God intends this by considering the implications of the immediate context of the Sh’ma: we are to be always speaking about His commands to others as we go about our day, especially to our children whom we are responsible to instruct in the ways of God. The only practical way to do this is to memorize the text, to learn it verbatim such that we can quote it with authority, confidence and ease, as anyone attempting to obey this principle will promptly discover.
The following verses confirm this as they continue: “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (De 6:8-9) In other words, we are to be constantly thinking about the actual wording of God’s commands and we are to arrange our lives and environments so that we are being continually reminded of these words. Observe that it isn’t merely the general concepts in God’s commands on which we are to focus: it is the very words themselves, which perfectly express these concepts in all their various nuances and forms.
In addition to Torah, we are to be speaking the Psalms to ourselves, and singing them to Him in our hearts (Ep 5:19) — so we must memorize them; He encourages us to memorize the Gospels by linking the conditions for answered prayer to Messiah’s words abiding in us (Jn 15:7); to be truly mindful of the words of His apostles and prophets (2Pe 3:2) we must memorize Acts and the Epistles; and He commands us to integrate the entire Word of God into our minds and hearts as the Spirit’s living weapon of spiritual warfare. (Ep 6:17) As God commands us to be saturated with Torah, the very foundation upon which the rest of the Word of God is built (Is 8:20), He calls us to let the richness of His entire Word imbue all our thoughts and conversations. (Col 3:16)
In order to be constantly thinking and speaking about the Word of God throughout the course of our daily lives we must do these two things:  we must memorize it and  we must cultivate a regular practice of meditating on His Word in an effort to understand Him and His ways, seeking to know and worship Him as He truly is (Je 9:24), and to love and obey Him with all our heart. (Ec 12:13)
Reading about the concepts in God’s Word is like touching cool water to our parched and thirsty lips (Pr 25:25); memorizing the text is like taking water into our mouths and swishing it around, relishing its refreshing potential. It feels great and gives us a little nourishment, but it isn’t quite enough for us to live on. Meditating on the Word of God until it becomes part of who we are is like swallowing water down into ourselves, internalizing it, and finding that it produces little wells of water overflowing inside of us, constantly nourishing and refreshing us and those around us, so that we’re never thirsty again. (Jn 7:38)
As in all of His commands God’s purpose here is to bless us (Ac 3:26), yet our initial response is invariably one of resistance. Firstly, we may think we are actually unable to memorize His Word, that it’s just too difficult, so it’s easy to give up before we even get started.
The reality is that it’s not so much a matter of ability as it is a matter of priority: we don’t realize how important and valuable it is so we don’t take the time to do it. But if a wealthy patron offered to pay us a hundred dollars for every word of the Ten Commandments we were able to recite, I am quite sure most all of us would start immediately and have it memorized word-perfectly within a very short time, pocketing thirty-two grand and asking for more. If our benefactor was game and we’re like most, we’d take up Scripture memory with feverish intensity and be a millionaire in short order, no doubt about it.
You can do what you ought to do if you will do it. Every one reading these words has already memorized vast amounts of information by learning to speak, read and write a language. It took several years of constant effort but we all did it because it was important to us. We still memorize: people’s names, phone numbers, dates, things we need to do, and we do this every day. Of course you can do this, if you will just try. Here’s how in three easy steps.
Step 1: Read the following words out loud three times: “Oh, How love I thy law!“
Step 2: Recite look up from the page and say the same six words without looking. If you can’t say them all on your own yet, then repeat Step 1. If you need to work with fewer words at a time, even one at a time, uncovering them as you go, do what works for you.
Step 3: Review Keep saying the words you’ve just memorized out loud or in your mind a few more times without looking. Then cover up the printed words, uncovering them a phrase or line at a time after you say them, checking to see if you are getting it right.
Bravo! You just memorized half of Psalm 119:97. Now let’s memorize the rest of this verse the same way: “It is my meditation all the day.” Read it out loud several times; repeat it, hear it, speak it, see it. Then recite it in small sections with the words covered up, uncovering and checking yourself as you go. Then review and recite the entire verse a few more times until you have it down and lock it in.
Read, Recite, Review: it’s kindergarten kind of simple. Some of us do this much more efficiently than others, but we can all do it when we’re motivated. There are many tools and resources available to help; it may work better for us to write our verses out, or play an audio version to ourselves over and over, etc. Whether it takes us a few seconds or several minutes to memorize a verse … we can do this! What we lack is motivation: memorizing isn’t very entertaining; for most of us it’s hard work.
For a few of us, the fact that God tells us to do something is more than sufficient; we love Him enough to know He is worthy of obedience and we really do try our best. The rest of us need some additional incentive; we instinctively ask ourselves “What’s in it for me?”
The answer here is simple: Everything.
Our thoughts define and shape who and what kind of people we are; they are the inward expression of what we believe and value, and these thoughts translate into actions through our will. We are almost always thinking about something in particular, and taking an inventory of our thoughts is the only way to truly understand ourselves, to know what we believe and value. This is actually how God Himself defines us: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Pr 23:7)
God being central in our lives means that He is central in our thoughts: pursuing, understanding, enjoying and obeying God is at the core of who and what God’s children are. Yet we are all born broken, alienated from God, and we need to be transformed. Meditation on the Law of God is the vehicle through which God renews our minds — nourishing, healing and transforming us to be like Himself. (Ps 19:7) It is an ongoing process with a constant dynamic of either growth or decay. Without this discipline firmly rooted in our experience we will weaken, succumb to the lies of the enemy and live distanced from God, largely deceived about both Him and ourselves, ignorant of His values and ways.
In truth, this is what is at stake: nothing less than our spiritual health and freedom … it’s everything.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the importance of meditation is to compare it with drinking or eating. Jeremiah said, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” (Je 15:16) Hearing or reading the Word of God is like putting food in our mouths; memorizing the Word is like chewing food up, and meditating on the Word is like swallowing food and digesting it so that it becomes part of us. Most of us are spiritual anorexics, starving to death because we don’t eat. We may hear some scripture in church or even read and study our Bibles a little … and we’re happy to get the taste of some food in our mouths … but if we never chew it up and swallow it down we will never get strong enough to live in our gifts and calling. Is it any wonder that we’re always finding ourselves back on life support in God’s intensive care unit? We’ve been there so long we’re thinking it’s normal. It’s not.
What would happen to you spiritually if you started taking care of your spirit, eating three square meals a day? What are some of the blessings God promises to those who meditate on His Word?
The main blessing of meditating on the Word of God is that it will help us to understand God’s nature and His ways: “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.” (Ps 119:99) God is not easy to understand; He seems very far away to most of us and His ways seem hidden, not obvious to the casual observer. This text indicates that if we are meditating on God’s Laws and testimonies that we will move beyond the understanding of our teachers … implying that even most of our teachers are not doing this for themselves, just passing along what others have given to them, unable to discern truth from lies. If we are not meditating in His Word for ourselves then we are easily misled by others who misread it and/or take it out of context. In our ignorance and deception we will tend to misunderstand God and have inappropriate expectations, fears and desires, resulting in much confusion, frustration and disappointment.
Meditation in God’s Word will also help us understand and remember what sin is: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Ps 119:11) By design, God’s children instinctively want to avoid sin (1Jn 2:4) — it’s built into our very DNA; when we break God’s Law we hurt Him and separate ourselves from Him (1Jn 3:4): we cannot be in fellowship with God while we are willingly disobeying Him or neglecting His commands. (1Jn 1:6) When we memorize God’s Word and prayerfully meditate on it, particularly His commands in Torah, we understand them better and more accurately so that we are able to obey Him more fully, keep our spirits free, clean and holy, and walk with Him more consistently.
When we are obeying God and walking in fellowship with Him we are abiding in Him. When we are meditating on His Word, constantly thinking about Him and His ways, His Word is abiding in us. In putting these two together, abiding in Him and having His Word abide in us, we meet the conditions for answered prayer detailed by Yeshua in John 15:7: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” In this state, our will becomes His will because we are filled with an awareness of God’s priorities and values (1Jn 5:14-15): “we then (are) as workers together with Him.” (2Co 6:1)
Meditating on the Word is God’s prescription for leading a successful and fruitful life: “Blessed is the man … (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Ps 1:1-3) Scripture memory and meditation is the discipline which lays the foundation for a full and rewarding life with God; it is the very first principle introduced in the Psalms, our songs of worship. (Col 3:16)
The enemy is at war with the saints, constantly trying to take us down, tempting us and trying to deceive and destroy us. How do we recognize him when he comes at us? How do we defend ourselves and overcome his onslaughts? What weapons do we have in our fight against Him? (1Ti_6:12)
Whenever Satan came to Yeshua to tempt and deceive, Yeshua responded the exact same way every time, by quoting the part of God’s Word that exposed Satan’s deception and made God’s will perfectly clear. (Mt 4:3-10) Yeshua had evidently memorized the entire Torah before beginning His ministry, and it equipped Him for victory in His mission. He was human like the rest of us, and needed to spend time hiding His Father’s Word in His heart and meditating on it so that He would understand God’s way clearly in every situation He faced. In other words, He had to train for combat in order to be successful in battle. Without following His example here we cannot hope for the same kind of victory in our own mission in God.
The primary weapon God has provided in our fight against the enemy is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. (Ep 6:17) It is a weapon the Spirit uses in and through us; He exhorts us to take it with us where ever we go so it must become part of us. If we don’t memorize the Bible and meditate on it regularly we will not be able to resist the enemy effectively and he will overcome us.
In pursuing the blessings of God here we must ever keep in mind that God’s command is not merely to memorize His Word: memorization itself is not the goal. Many people devote themselves to memorizing the Bible for ulterior motives: perhaps to look good before others, or to be able to win theological debates, or to try and win favor with God. The scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day were like this: they could quote the entire Old Testament verbatim … but they were not meditating on it, so they missed its main message and killed their own messiah. Their goal was religious power and prestige, and they received their reward.
The goal is to meditate on the Word; memorization is merely a necessary means to this end. Meditating regularly on God’s Word requires a shifting of our heart’s focus from ourselves and the world to God and His kingdom. We must try to cultivate this discipline through personal effort and accountability to others, but God Himself must be the one Who ultimately delivers us from ourselves and renews our hearts in Him. The going may be slow, but the discipline of memorization and meditation is the means, and God will help us to do this well the more we continue in it. As we prayerfully pursue Him in this we find that He is more than willing to assist and complete in us the work He has begun. (Php 1:6)
Experts say that developing a new habit takes about 3 months. Just like making adjustments to take care of our body by eating well and exercising takes time, developing the discipline of scripture memory and meditation takes time. It should become part of our daily routine, as natural to our life as eating or getting dressed for the day. And we need to think long haul – this is not merely a new project or a fad, it is a way of life.
One of the big obstacles we think we face is time: many of us are already overloaded in the extreme and adding one more thing just doesn’t seem possible. But memorizing scripture need not take up a lot of time out of our day, or even any at all. We don’t have to actually set aside time to do it if we are creative in how we go about it. For example, we can find a free Bible app, download it to our smartphone and bookmark a section of scripture to memorize. Whenever we find ourselves idle for a couple of minutes we can work on it. We could prop it up in front of us while we are on the treadmill, or brushing our teeth, or combing our hair, putting on makeup or shaving, glancing at it when we need to. If we are caught in traffic, waiting in line at the store or in an office, or eating a meal we can take it out and go through our verses. Any place where we can read we can memorize, and any time our mind does not need to focus on the task at hand we can review our verses and meditate on them. In the same way, if we like something more tangible, we can write our verses out on 3X5 cards and keep the stack in our purse or pocket.
Let’s face it: we are all forgetful and lazy at times, and even if we do get off to a good start with scripture memory, after a few days or weeks we can easily slip back into old patterns. This is especially true after a disruption of our normal routine, such as a debilitating sickness or even a weekend getaway. We need other people in our lives to help us stay on track. Being in relationships where we have invited another to hold us accountable is one great way to help ourselves here.
When Jesus sent out His disciples on a journey He never sent them alone. We should invite someone else into our scripture memory journey with us so that they can ask us how we are doing, listen to our verses at regular intervals, and check our progress. We can share with them what we are learning in meditation, where we are struggling, and where we have been blessed.
If we can find someone else who is willing to actually walk with us here, so much the better; we can take the journey together, helping and encouraging each other along the way. Memorizing passages together with someone else and sharing what God is doing in each of our lives in the same text of scripture is one of the most powerful bases of fellowship: the richness of this kind of spiritual intimacy is hard to describe.
Each one of us has a gift, and some of us will find this harder than others. Let’s not bite off more than we can chew and burn ourselves out or get discouraged. A verse a day is actually plenty, especially if we are spending a good amount of time reviewing what we have already learned. Let’s not focus so much on how many verses we are getting down, but on how consistent we are being with the discipline and how well we are integrating it into our regular pattern of life. Like the proverbial tortoise and the hare, slow and faithful progress will serve us much better than jack rabbit starts and stops.
When it comes to hiding the very words of God in our hearts, the question of which translation to use naturally arises. As it is beyond our present scope to discuss the validity and accuracy of the various modern Bible translations, suffice it to say that if we don’t fully trust the wording of our Bible then meditating on it won’t be easy, and submitting to it in areas where we are broken and need healing will be even harder. We need to trust the very words of our Bible as inspired — enough to let it judge us and change our lives, as if God Himself is speaking the very words to us, rather than being its judge and deciding whether it is correct or not.
When we quote our Bible in resisting the enemy, identifying heresy and lies and determining the will of God, the very words must be precise and accurate, just like the original. Slight changes in wording alter the meaning and impact of its texts; the enemy will certainly exploit any and every weakness that has crept into our Bible to bring both shame and harm to ourselves and others. If God has not superintended and blessed the translation of our Bible, the enemy has no doubt leveraged the weaknesses and biases of its translators to corrupt it in ways that we cannot readily perceive — our primary spiritual weapon will not be as sharp and powerful as it is supposed to be. (He 4:12)
It seems very few of us today believe we actually have an English Bible we can trust like this, one that is — for all practical purposes — as accurate and inspired as the original manuscripts … living and powerful … but without such a Bible we cannot actually obey God’s command here like we should. My advice? Consider that God powerfully used the old Authorized King James Bible in two Great Awakenings. No other English Bible has been so used of God. The motives of its translators should also be acknowledged: they did so under threat of severe persecution, and not to make a profit as so many do today. We also do well to note that the KJV is actually one of the few Bibles we can freely quote at length without concern for copyright law; it may be illegal to quote the full text of any book of the Bible from most modern translations without written approval from the publisher. Puts a bit of a spin on this, does it not? For further insights here, The Syrian Recension and Given By Inspiration may be very helpful.
One of the biggest pitfalls that can endanger us as we make progress in this journey is that any success here can start making us proud. Whenever we begin to feel the slightest bit of this sickness coming on … we should immediately start meditating on verses that will help correct the situation: “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.” (Pr 16:5) If we don’t humble ourselves, God will do it for us … and in my experience, we’re much better off self-correcting here. Don’t let this go to your head; remember how long it took you to get on board and how poorly you still do it compared to your potential. After more than four decades in this journey myself, believe me, I could still be much more faithful here.
Armed with the knowledge of God’s will and way, prepare yourself for the journey of a lifetime, a journey into the Father’s heart and arms. Saturate your soul with the words of God as you walk with Him; as you abide in Him let His words abide in you. Let the meditation of your heart be acceptable in His sight. (Ps 19:14) This gift of God is one that keeps on giving, like a well of water springing up into everlasting life, feeding you and those around you with the sacred bread of eternity, nourishing, refreshing and strengthening you to be all that God has intended you to be. (Jn 4:14) May He bless you richly as you pursue Him.