by David Mathis | July 10, 2013
Here’s one way to cool down during a sizzling hot July: ice-cold memorization.
Grab an iced tea, find some air-conditioned space, and put these ten passages to memory. You’ll never regret any extended time given to memorizing God’s word — especially when it’s the passages that come up again and again as particularly useful in the Christian life and in ministering to others.
These are ten that will prove especially useful for pastors and Christian leaders, but we think this is a good list for all Christians as well. See which ones you already know. Put a little polish on those, and perhaps tackle a new passage or few you don’t yet have to memory.
However frequently our churches celebrate the Table (the more often, the merrier, it would seem), here’s the passage many pastors (should) recite in public more than any other. Speaking these “words of institution” with your eyes graciously scanning the congregation, rather than reading from a Bible or piece of paper, can make for a powerful moment in the life of the gathered church.
Hopefully the Great Commission is such an important text in focusing the mission and direction of our individual lives and especially our corporate life together, that you’d have this one ready to go at the drop of a hat. The generals and commanders should have this mission plan put to memory.
This psalm of confidence in God as our refuge and strength — a very present help in trouble — can be deeply comforting personally, but in particular in consoling others in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances, whether it’s at the bedside, or in the hospital, or at the scene of the tragedy. When you’re called on unexpectedly to say a word of comfort about the nearness and unshakable strength of God, it’s hard to beat a gentle but confident reciting of Psalm 46, chased by a short prayer tailored to the trouble at hand.
Any good shortlist of passages to memorize cold needs a good Christological anchor text, about Jesus’s objective work for us and outside of us. It’s easy to gravitate toward the more subjective texts that may feel more immediately applicable to our posture of heart and outward actions. But Christianity begins with Christ’s objective accomplishments, not the subjective application to us, essential as it is. And Colossians 1:15–20 may be the most power-packed six consecutive verses in the Bible for forming and shaping a distinctly Christian worldview. This is a potent little stick of dynamite to have hidden in your heart (along with Hebrews 1:1–4 and Philippians 2:5–11).
Here’s the good-as-it-gets subjective passage to complement the great objective accomplishments in Colossians 1:15–20. This is where we want to live daily, and lead those who are following us, “count[ing] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Even though the world, the flesh, and the devil almost constantly keep us from extended experiences of what Paul describes here, we love our tiny tastes and glimpses — and desperately want to keep realigning and recalibrating our heart-life, and our church, with this emotional North Star.
Many of us have discovered that the longer we live the Christian life, the more admired and appreciated is the fruit of the Spirit at the end of Galatians 5. It’s a seriously profound list. The more and more our life is genuinely characterized by the virtues here, the more and more we are learning to live by the Spirit, in the kind of trust and reliance that makes our everyday lives surprisingly supernatural to the patterns of this age.
Okay, so just memorize the whole of Romans 8. Some have called it the most important chapter in the Bible. It very well may be that. Perhaps resolve with some ministry partner to tackle the chapter together, five verses each week, for two months. Meet weekly to stay accountable and recite the chapter as far as you’ve learned it so far, for some listening ears other than your own. But if making that kind of commitment is too much in this season of ministry, at least try to button down the final dozen verses. These are the biblical Himalayas. And they are omni-relevant in the Christian life and in ministry.
This is the so-called “Aaronic Blessing” of the old covenant. God instructed Aaron (Moses’s brother and Israel’s first high priest), and his sons after him, to bless the people in this way. The threefold repetition of “Lord” rings of our Trinitarian Sovereign, and the use of this particular name makes it easily transferable to new-covenant Christians with the sovereign Christ as our “Lord.” A clear, well-paced and pastoral reciting of this blessing makes for a beautiful benediction for weekend corporate worship, or for a wedding or funeral, or for putting the kids or grandkids to bed.
These concluding verses from the short little missive by Jesus’s half-brother Jude also make for a wonderful doxology in ending a service or speaking a goodnight blessing. Or for asking God’s blessing on some new ministry endeavor. And so we end with Jude’s words as a prayer for any fresh initiatives God is calling us to in Scripture memorization…
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.