On Moses, Messiahs, and Memorizing Scripture

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Stewarding a Christian publishing program will mess with your head if you let it. You find yourself (well, I find myself) imagining a desired future for the people of God. And it becomes frighteningly easy for you (me) to assume a kind of messianic posture toward God’s people: “Y’all need to get on board with my compelling vision for the future of Christian discipleship! You’ll thank me when you do!”

Maybe it’s a Mosaic posture. That feels slightly less sacrilegious.

For would-be messiahs and Moseses, personal integrity is (or should be) important. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not only unacceptable, it’s ineffective. Very few people will follow hypocrites, at least not with zeal. Zealots quickly tire of hypocrites. And zealots are the footsoldiers of any grassroots movement.

My particular hypocrisy at this particular moment is Scripture memorization. I represent an organization for which memorizing Scripture is foundational. I represent a publishing program which has championed Scripture memory from our very beginning. We publish authors who have said outright that the best, most effective way of experiencing spiritual transformation is to commit Scripture passages to memory. Get it in you, the logic goes, and it will inevitably work its way through you and out of you into your world. It’s a good logic. I believe in it.

I just haven’t really done it.

I’d say that I can’t memorize Scripture, but that beggars belief. I’ve memorized pretty much every single line of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I have a rabbinical recall of lyrics by musicians from the Beatles to Taylor Swift. (Don’t judge me.) I memorize important dates, phone numbers, PINs, what have you.

But Scripture? For whatever reason, I’ve struggled to make it stick. I have been known to take the long way from my office to our common kitchen so I’ll avoid bumping into my friend Roy because I knew he’d ask me how it’s going memorizing the Beatitudes. And you can’t really tell somebody, “Stop bugging me about memorizing Scripture” when it was your idea in the first place. Roy’s being helpful; I’m being avoidant.

So then, what is the proper course of action for somebody with a mandate for memorizing Scripture, a messiah/Moses complex, and a demonstrably unreliable memory to do?

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That may or may not be in the Bible. It’s probably not, since I seem to have memorized it.

I’m going to post here every now and then to give you all an update on how it’s going adopting the habit of committing the messages of the Bible to memory. This will undoubtedly be equal parts celebration and confession. But confession is good for the soul, supposedly, and celebration is always worthwhile. And maybe together we can crack the code about how to get the Word of God in us so it do its good work on us and through us.

David Zimmerman
David Zimmerman

serves as the NavPress publisher. He leads the team in acquiring and developing new NavPress resources and building on the strength of a robust backlist catalog, including the bestselling Message Bible.

7 thoughts on “On Moses, Messiahs, and Memorizing Scripture”

  1. Since I wrote this post my friend Roy has died after a long and heroic battle with cancer. I miss him and remember his bugging me about memorizing Scripture with fondness.

    • I miss Roy, too, David–both his encouragement and his model of Christ-likeness. But your great post was both encouraging and motivating too. Thanks for the gracious prodding to get back into memorizing..

      Grateful for you and all you are doing in NavPress,

  2. I also struggle with memorizing Scripture. I know where it is, and I’m much better about addresses, but have switched back and forth between different translations, ESV, KJV, NKJV, and NASB. I have learned that if it is in there in KJV, I don’t mess with it. I mostly study out of NASB (Ryrie) or the Nelson Study Bible (NKJV). But to say, I have hybrid verses in my head that have stuck. I find that needing a verse helps me memorize it.

    • Yes! I have more posts about Scripture memory coming; I’m finding that passages that are less conceptual and more lifestyle directed are proving stickier for me.

  3. This article made me remember a time when I was in middle school during the 1950’s. My best friend and I enjoyed watching the TV show $64 Thousand Dollar Game Show. In one game a contestant had to spell the longest word in the dictionary. My friend and I decided to memorize the spelling of that word, over a weekend. I concentrated all weekend and had it down perfectly. Monday morning on the school bus, I found that my friend had forgotten about our bet. But I can still sound off the spelling of that word even today – antidisestablishmentarianism!
    BUT – that is not the longest word in the dictionary now – it is —–Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. I will not try to memorize that one.


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