With the advent of Bible apps for smart phones and waterproof Bibles for the foul elements, memorizing scripture does not seem to be a necessity for the open-air preacher. With fingertip availability of the Bible, open-air preachers may fall into the trap of thinking that knowing where the verse is in the Bible is just as satisfactory as memorizing it. While we can justify ignoring Scripture memorization for the sake of the efficient use of time, we must admit that this is an excuse. For many of us we do not memorize out of laziness and a lack of commitment. We do not believe in the power of the memorized Word of God to sanctify us and improve our preaching to the glory of God.
In this post, I will list eight reasons why open-air preachers should memorize verses from the Bible. May our Lord stir up your conscience to show your need to practice this spiritual discipline.
1. Scripture memorization allows you to preach with conviction.
Memorization requires a man to move to meditation. When an open-air preacher has turned over in his mind and heart a verse, then God will use him to preach this passage with power and authority. The Holy Spirit has warmed the preacher’s heart to the text. When he goes to stand on the street corner, he does not spend time repeatedly shuffling the Biblical pages in his hand. Instead, the memorized passage flows out him like the liquid in a shaken soda can after it has been opened.
By memorizing Isaiah 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins,” a preacher can urgently proclaim the gospel to the souls who walk past him.
2. Scripture memorization allows the Holy Spirit to bring an appropriate text to mind.
Luke 12:11-12 teaches this truth. “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
Christ promised that the Holy Spirit will bring God’s truth to us. Through Scripture memorization, the Holy Spirit can recall passages that will be an appropriate response to our audience. On one occasion, the Holy Spirit reminded me that everyone will have to bow the knee to Christ after a mocker walked past me. By God’s grace, I immediately quoted Philippians 2:10-11 within the earshot of the mocker. “…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It warned the mocker that he will give Jesus Christ the submission that He deserves either before or after the grave.
3. Scripture memorization allows you to answer the fool.
The Bible teaches us to be wise on how we respond to the fool. Proverbs 26:4 tells us to “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” The next verse tells us to do the opposite, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” God is teaching us that the situation does govern our response. We must be wise in discerning when we should be quiet since it is a wasted effort (Prov. 23:9), or when we need to rebuke him to reveal his foolishness to others. For example, Psalm 14:1 is an excellent verse to use for someone who shouts out, “There is no God!” For God says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
Brethren, in the heat of the moment, we do not have time to tell the man to stop so that you can look up an appropriate verse. This is why we must saturate our minds with the Word, so that we can determine the proper response and apply the sword of God’s Word swiftly.
4. Scripture memorization allows you to make a defense of the gospel.
Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” Even though we can open our Bibles to the relevant texts, we should over-prepare by having gospel verses memorized. Our gospel conversations should not be significantly hindered depending upon whether we have access to a Bible. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, we must memorize passages that explain God’s character, man’s judgment, Christ’s redemption, and the command to repent and believe. Please take the time to memorize one or two verses for each point, so that you are prepared to cite the verse.
5. Scripture memorization allows you to encourage other open-air preachers.
When a group of men gather to labor in the fields for the harvest, there usually is one brother who is discouraged. He may be disappointed with the lack of fruit in his ministry. Or he is battling the fear of man and does not have much courage to preach boldly on that day. By having key texts in our heart, we can encourage our brother.
For the one who wonders if it is worth it to preach, then quote Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
If a brother is battling fear, then tell him of Paul’s prayer request for boldness. Ephesians 6:19-20, “and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Memorization equips us to love our brother by imitating Barnabas.
6. Scripture memorization allows you to guard your heart from sinning.
When we enter spiritual warfare on the streets, Satan will bring many temptations in order to neutralize our effectiveness. David teaches us the positive results of remembering Bible verses. Psalm 119:11 states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” God sanctifies us through learning His Word. His powerful sword slays the unrepentant sinner, but it grows the regenerate believer in holiness. David did not say that he would have scrolls of the Old Testament near him at all times. Instead, he dedicated himself to storing up the Bible for times of temptation.
When pleading with sinners, open-air preachers must be on guard. If you are prone to anger, then memorize Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” If you are quick to answer a harsh jab with an angry right hook, then learn Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If you are tempted with lust, then remember Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The best way to prepare for Satan’s attack is to have God’s Word hidden in your heart.
7. Scripture memorization allows you to be prepared for persecution.
Paul warned the Philippians that they need to be prepared to suffer. Philippians 1:29-30 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Open-air preachers are on the front lines ministering to a secular culture. This society hates God and will only defend free speech with which they approve. Therefore, brethren, we will be the first ones thrown into jail for preaching the truth. Memorize the Word now so that you will have it with you in jail. We cannot assume that the authorities will be so kind to allow us to have a Bible if we are locked up. Since we are living in shifting times, we must be prepared to go months and possibly years in prison without access to God’s precious Word. While there is still time, use your freedom to hide Scripture in a place where the governing rulers cannot have access.
8. Scripture memorization allows you to remember the greatness of the God you preach.
During an outreach, our minds can move to focusing only on the horizontal. Between preaching to the apathetic and having gospel conversations, our hearts can quickly forget the grandeur and glory of Christ. By memorizing 1 Timothy 1:17, the Lord pulls our eyes to be in awe of God’s glorious character. “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I pray that our Lord has stirred your hearts to see the importance of memorizing passages from the Bible and to understand it as an essential tool for the open-air preacher’s toolbox.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.