As a teenager, I was challenged to memorize full chapters of the Bible and then meditate on them. At the time, I was excited and got off to a good start, memorizing Romans 6 first of all, later James 1, and other passages. Over the years, my faithfulness in memorizing Scripture waxed and waned. I would be “gung ho” for a while, and then nothing for months. All that changed a few years ago when my friend Linda, who grew up as an MK and knew of my interest in memorization, asked about our being accountability partners for one another in this area. We were on opposite sides of the world, but we could set goals, hold each other accountable, and e-mail regarding the truths God was teaching us through memorization and meditation.
For that first year, we chose the book of Philippians to memorize. In later years, we worked on Colossians and 1 Peter. We also made a rule for ourselves: if we came to a verse we did not understand, we were not allowed to run for a commentary to seek the meaning. We had to memorize the verse and spend some time meditating on it, thinking about the words and how it fit into the larger context. It was amazing how often slowing down and spending this time in meditation did reveal the meaning. However, if after a fair amount of meditation we still did not understand, then we were allowed to seek a commentary; it was the “last resort,” not the first.
Memorizing large portions of Scripture (as opposed to isolated verses) has been a tremendous blessing to both of us. We have learned so much of the truth of Scripture as well as how to put it into practice in our daily lives. As we meditate, we come to understand the passages in a deeper way than merely reading them. The verses we have learned become ammunition to fight temptation. For me personally, I have been led to praise God for the richness of His Word. There are passages that I have reviewed many times and that I think I understand. Then one day, as I review and meditate again, I have one of those “light bulb” moments, when the light comes on and I see the passage from a whole new perspective. Perhaps my circumstances have changed, and a passage I could not relate to in the past is now relevant in my life. Perhaps I am facing a particular trial and that passage encourages me in a whole new way. I praise God that His Word is absolutely inexhaustible. It never grows old; it is continually fresh and relevant.
Now, practically speaking, perhaps you are thinking: “I could never memorize whole chapters or whole books of the Bible. I do not have the time, and I do not have a good memory.” Well, consider these hints. You might find it IS possible!
- Use the “whole method.” This single idea revolutionized my Scripture memory. When I was in Freshman Speech in college, I was introduced to this method for memorizing speeches. They taught us not to try to memorize a speech line-by-line, because the brain works like a filing cabinet. If you memorize one line at a time, each line will be put into its own “file folder” in the brain; then, when you try to put it all together, the brain has to access one folder after another. Instead, work on a large “chunk” of the speech all at once. Read your “chunk” out loud several times each day; soon you will be able to glance up from the paper, and before long, you will not even need the paper, and the whole “chunk” will be in one “file folder.”
This method applies wonderfully to Scripture memory. Instead of beating your head against one verse at a time, select a “chunk”; I like to choose five to ten verses depending on the difficulty of the passage. Then, I read my five or ten verses out loud five times; it takes only five or ten minutes. I do not consciously “try” to memorize; I simply read. The next day I read the verses out loud five times, and the next day five times, and so on each day. Within a week or so, I am glancing up from the page; and within a month, I have it down. The benefits of this method are superb:
- The passage slides into your brain easily without your “straining” over individual verses.
- You gain a much better understanding of the flow of the passage, the logical progression of ideas.
- It is then far easier to recall the passage and to meditate upon it.
- Find an accountability partner who will hold you to your goals. It helps if it is someone you respect enough that you will be at least a little bit embarrassed if you fail to meet your goal.
- Start with a passage that is very familiar: 1 Corinthians 13, James 3, something from Philippians. A familiar passage will be easier to memorize and will encourage you as you get started.
- Print your verses on 4×6 cards. I like to use my Bible computer program to do this, but you could even photocopy the page from your Bible and cut and paste it onto cards. I do my official “five times a day” reading as part of my devotions or when I am cooling down after exercise, but I like to take my verse cards with me if I think I might be waiting at the bank or riding in the car for a long time. Linda likes to work on her memorization while walking outside or riding a stationary bike.
- Set reasonable goals. Linda and I have found that we can memorize about 100 verses a year (8 or 9 per month). Books like Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Peter fit this plan. Perhaps you want to start with 5 verses per month (60 per year). Just set a goal and get started!
I cannot begin to tell you how this spiritual discipline has enriched my Christian life! The last time I was in the US, Linda and I were talking about the blessings and rewards of Scripture memory. We have both found that our faithfulness in Scripture memory has a major impact on our spiritual growth in all areas. We both find it easier to “walk in the Spirit” when we are faithfully memorizing. It seems easier for us to genuinely believe God, take Him at His Word, and have strong faith. I have found that when I slack off on memorizing for a few weeks—even though I may be still faithfully reading my Bible and praying—I do not grow as much. Linda says that when she is faithfully memorizing, she runs more quickly to God for victory over temptation, and her thoughts naturally gravitate to His Word when sorting through life’s complicated problems. This spiritual discipline is truly transformational. I challenge you to try it!