A recent workshop on revival pressed me to think deeper about the place of Scripture memorization and meditation in the biblical counseling process. Professor John Woodbridge, Research Professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, spoke about common aspects that were regularly part of revivals. He co-authored the book, “A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.” One aspect regularly found among people experiencing a revival was “daily Scripture-saturated living,” which includes “memorizing and meditating on Scripture.” Since this has been such an important, common aspect of revival, Professor Woodbridge was interested in knowing if any of the churches represented in the audience had intentional programs of Scripture memorization and meditation. I was able to affirm that our church did, since it is an essential part of our biblical counseling ministry. He and others expressed appreciation for the comment.
Martin Luther Would Be a Biblical Counselor
A standard practice of the biblical counseling movement has always been having our counselees memorize Scripture. The movement is in good company since Martin Luther believed that the person described in Psalm 1 who constantly meditates on Scripture is a truly happy person. Though happiness as the world uses the word is not a goal of counseling, the happiness Luther was pointing toward is a desired outcome of biblical counseling. Just like Martin Luther, we all want the person that we are caring for to have a life characterized by this description – “whatever he does prospers” spiritually (v. 3). This Psalm that both introduces and summarizes all 150 Psalms says that the prerequisite for this kind of God-pleasing life is that “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). We all desire that our counselee be “like a tree planted by streams of living water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (v. 3). As Martin Luther pointed out, this will produce godly happiness in our counselee’s life.
Thinking about Our Counseling Practices
These beautiful promises from Psalm 1 have forced me to think more honestly about memorization and meditation in my counseling. Yes, I always assign Scripture memorization and meditation to my counselee as part of their projects for growth to be worked on until our next meeting. Yes, at the next session, I usually ask them to recite the verse that they have been working on. But sometimes I pass on asking them to recite the verse when I think we are going to be pressed for time. Unfortunately, this sends the message to the counselee that the memorization of Scripture is not as important as other aspects of the biblical counseling process. Actually the message that the counselee needs to be receiving is that Scripture memorization and meditation is one of the most important components of the process. My heart’s desire is that during the counseling process the counselee will so establish the habit of Scripture memorization and meditation that he will still be doing it long after he has forgotten my name.
With regard to meditation, unfortunately I rarely ask the counselee any questions about their meditating on the Scripture. During each session when reviewing the assigned projects for growth, I should ask what the Spirit has been progressively showing him in God’s word as he has continued to meditate on the verse since our last meeting. An appropriate follow-up question would be, “How has your thinking and behavior recently changed based on your meditation on God’s word?”
Differences between Our Confessed and Practiced Counseling Practices
In regard to Scripture memorization and meditation, I have come to realize that my counseling as confessed has not been matching my counseling as practiced. As confessed, I fully believe Psalm 1 for myself and for my counselee. But as practiced, I have not been adequately coaching my counselee to find “his delight…in the law of the LORD” by pressing him to meditate “on this law…day and night” (Ps. 1:2). I don’t think that as a biblical counselor I am alone in these shortcomings. Here are some definite changes that we need to consider in order to shore up our counseling in the area of Scripture memory and meditation:
- We will teach Psalm 1 to our counselee as a passage of hope for them.
- We will teach our counselee how to memorize Scripture.
- During each counseling session, the counselee will recite the passage assigned and one other passage that had been previously assigned.
- We will teach our counselee how to meditate on Scripture.
- We will ask our counselee how his life has changed as they have meditated on a certain passage.
If we deeply want our counselee to “prosper” spiritually, “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Ps. 1:3), let us do all we can with the Spirit’s help to encourage him to memorize Scripture and to meditate on it. This hiding of God’s enduring, wise Word in the counselee’s heart will help him “keep his way pure” (Ps. 119:9, 11). Is this not one of the most important desired outcomes of our counseling?
Question for Reflection
What is one practical step you can take to help your counselee truly develop the life-long habit of memorizing and meditating on Scripture?
 Dr. John Woodbridge, “Revival: When God Works In Great Spiritual Power” (presentation, EFCA One 2017 – biannual conference of the Evangelical Free Church of America, Austin, TX, June 21, 2017).
Ken Long (M.Div., M.S. Eng.) is a husband, father, author, pastor, and certified biblical counselor. He loves serving Christ, his family, and churches desiring to develop transformation ministries.