When I first read Gorden Wenham’s careful and convincing chapter in Psalms as Torah  that the Psalms were meant to be memorized, I asked myself, “So why haven’t you memorized any psalms?” Answer: I find memorizing long passages difficult—very difficult! But I’d recently read a book on memory tricks, so I resolved to give it a try. Besides, I loved praying psalms and knew that would be a way to add psalm praying to my regular prayer time rather than my Bible reading time.
Was I surprised: I now love memorizing psalms! And it’s easier than I thought.
1. When I memorize psalms I can pray them any time
Most psalms are inspired prayers meant to be sung. Psalms teach us how to pray, and I’ve prayed them for years. Now that I’ve memorized four psalms, they’re available to me to pray at any time. I usually walk during my main prayer time, and I absolutely love beginning with something memorized.
2. When I memorize psalms they increase my joy & peace
I wanted to add a thanksgiving psalm to my regular prayers to help me give thanks for answered prayers. I chose the beautiful Psalm 30. Wow. Beginning each day extoling God for salvation and remembering how he brought me to him is so uplifting that it makes my heart sing. It increased my joy by leaps. It reminded me that just as God miraculously saved me, so he can get me through that day’s troubles, and that brings me peace. Yet those weren’t my goals. They are side benefits: I aimed to bless God and he blessed me!
3. When I memorize psalms I’m more likely to do what they say
Praying psalms commits me to obeying what they say. Praying, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1) commits me to obeying God, not the world. Praying, “I will extol you, oh Lord” (Psalm 30), commits me to extolling God—to magnifying him and to telling others of his good care. In fact, I now regularly follow reciting this line with a prayer, “God, how can I best extol you today?” In the midst of memorizing this psalm, I jumped at the chance to speak on overcoming fear, knowing this would be a perfect means to glorify God. Frankly, until I memorized Psalm 30, I wasn’t actively looking for ways to publicly glorify God for what he’s done in my life.
4. When I memorize psalms they prepare me to face any circumstance
Confidence songs like Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd”) can be on my tongue the instance a difficulty strikes. This one is full of imagery, and just picturing the mental images I focused upon while memorizing this psalms brings me the peace of the psalm even before I recite the words.
5. When I memorize psalms I meditate on God’s words more frequently
The blessed man meditates on God’s words day and night (Psalm 1). In ancient times, you couldn’t meditate on God’s words at night unless you had them memorized: Torches just weren’t that efficient. With psalms memorized, I can meditate even when my Bible’s not open.
When Clay was a child his agnostic father would come into his room at bedtime and recite Psalm 23 with him. Clay quickly memorized it and remembers walking down the street to grade school reciting it to himself. He found this encouraging and spiritually formative as he was growing up even though he didn’t become a Christian until several years later in junior high.
6. Reciting psalms makes my sleep more peaceful
This was another surprise. When I awake in the middle of the night and my thoughts start racing, I can calm them by reciting psalms. This is turning out to be a good way to get back to sleep. The psalmists apparently knew this since they talk about night songs (Psalm 42:8), meditating in bed (Psalm 63:6), and awakening at night in order to meditate on God’s promises (Psalm 119:148).
7. Poetry is easier to memorize than prose
Martin Luther “described the Psalter as a mini-Bible, which sums up the whole message of the Scriptures.”  Since poetry is easier to memorize than histories and letters, it’s a good way to get more of God’s words into my heart.
8. Memorizing psalms is a good mental challenge
Okay, there’s nothing particularly spiritual about this. But keeping my brain active could give me more years to actively serve God.
9. Jesus memorized psalms
WWJD? Jesus quoted psalms regularly: He had them memorized. We’re called to imitate him.
10. The psalms were meant to be memorized
Why not memorize them if they were meant to be memorized? This was the clincher for me. I decided if the ancients could do this, then I could do it.
Coming next : Tips & tricks to make memorizing psalms easier
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- Gorden Wenham, Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically (Studies in Theological Interpretation) (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 41-56. ↩
- Ibid., 63. ↩
- Gordon Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms
(Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 40. ↩