Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and in a Bible study a couple of years back a pastor encouraged us to, if we’re able, memorize the entire chapter, for it will do us much good. (If unable, then memorize Psalm 117, the shortest chapter in the Bible, he joked). With 176 verses (8 verses in each of the 22 sections categorised by the Hebrew alphabets, which was likely written in such a format so that it was easier for the Jews to memorize it in its original language), I’ll be the first to admit that I never did memorize the chapter, and I’m sure none of us in that class did – Still, many verses in Psalm 119 are probably familiar to us – a good number of hymns and gospel songs have been based on verses from this lengthy Psalm. Verse 11 in particular – I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you – was perhaps the very verse that pushed me into the habit of memorizing verses, which ultimately spun into the re-Ver(sing) Verses project.
Analysis: Deter sin
How do we deter sin? Often, we know what is right and what is wrong – so what happened when we sin? Do we not know that we’re sinning? More often than not, we’ve forgotten. In that moment of weakness, God’s words are so far away from us that our immediate unholy desires get the better of us. Of course, there may be other more tricky situations that forces a hard decision, but knowledge isn’t enough when waging a war against sin. A constant application of God’s words is necessary.
David says the mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip [Psalm 37:30-31]. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart [Psalm 40:8]. If we keep all the laws of God in our hearts, we will naturally be strengthened and be able to stand firm against sin. Not only will we not waver (his feet do not slip); we will also have the natural desire to do God’s will.
We usually hide what is precious to us, what we see as important enough to attempt to prevent others from taking it away from us. How do we hide God’s words in our hearts? By memorizing, I suppose. If we memorize God’s words, they become embedded in our hearts and will appear frequently in our thoughts and feelings. When the Holy Spirit works on you, you are prepared with God’s words in your hearts to do His work. When temptation arises, by remembering the words of God, you will refrain from falling into it. Don’t just read it, don’t just hear it. Memorize it, strengthen your faith with it.
Why do you memorize Bible verses? In Sunday School children are brought up with regular memory verses, and they often compete for prizes and for acknowledgement. We’re not children anymore – we don’t memorize verses so that we can recite it to an audience and be patted on the head. We memorize them to honour God, and when that moment of action comes, we can honour God because we have not forgotten His words. Admittedly, those memory verses that I went through as a child without really knowing why I was memorizing for stuck with me through all those years, and I still find myself saved by some of them in critical moments today. Even if you memorize for the wrong reasons, at the end of the day, when you keep God’s words in your heart, you will surely benefit from it.
Memorizing one verse is not difficult. Memorizing a whole list of them is harder. What do you memorize in your daily lives? When I was a history student, I remember memorizing a large amount of context easily. My mother has the amazing ability to memorize her shopping lists – she never forgets what to buy. The list goes on.You may memorize a verse today, but a week later, you’re sure you’ve forgotten about it. Maybe you only have short term memory. So what’s the point of trying to memorize when you’re sure you’re going to forget? I’d like to think that the human brain is far more able than we are aware of. You may forget the verse, but when your circumstances call for it, the meaning behind the verse will probably strike a chord somewhere in your heart.
If you haven’t already started, why not start today? If you have no idea where to begin, why not begin with Psalm 119:11 as your first memory verse? Let us hide God’s words in our hearts together, so that we will not sin against Him.