The Inestimable Value of Scripture Memorization
I stared at my computer, desperately trying to come up with the name of the guy on the screen.
I had recently returned from spending three months with a group of young men and women pursuing Jesus and studying His Word together, and while I could recall countless memories shared with this young man, I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name.
For years, I have struggled with memorizing names. I remember faces, I can sometimes remember a few names, but rarely do they work together in my mind. And here I was, begging my brain to recall the name of someone I called a friend and whom I’d spent several months with just a few weeks before.
His name did finally come, a few hours later, and once it hit me, I fell over sideways in laughter and embarrassment. How could I forget the name of someone I shared a name with? His name was Nathan.
I’ve humorously looked back upon that story countless times over the last several years, especially in light of memorizing Scripture. Though I struggle with memorization, I’ve found that intentionally memorizing Scripture has been one of the biggest blessings and opportunities for growth I’ve experienced.
A memory-less generation
We live in a time when memorization is downplayed — we have Google, Evernote, and our iPhones to do the hard thinking for us.
When I was a kid, I had dozens of phone numbers memorized — I had to since there wasn’t a convenient way to store them. Now as I sit here, I can only think of two (and one of them is mine). It’s far easier to go to my contacts and push a button than to have countless numbers sitting in my head.
We live in a generation that grabs our calculators to solve simple addition or multiplication math problems. Cashiers at the store don’t know how to count back change — but most of us don’t worry about it because using a credit card is far easier than having to figure out how much money to hand over.
Things have radically changed over the past several decades, let alone centuries, and when we as a generation create ways to remove needing to memorize anything commonplace, our knowledge and memory of Scripture diminishes as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the digital age. I love having a computer and an iPhone. But with it has come a downfall — I don’t need to memorize anything. The Evernote app has been called “the digital brain,” and it’s true. Anything important that I might need access to, I store there for quick retrieval. If I don’t know a detail or need a bit of information, I search Google.
But Isn’t It Difficult?
While we may not use it as often as we should, our brains have incredible power to think, reason, and memorize. God made our brains capable to store information and quickly retrieve it when necessary.
We are not at a disadvantage in the memory department.
I once challenged a group of teens to memorize a lengthy Bible passage. Most balked and complained, declaring they couldn’t memorize a passage that long. Yet I found it interesting that these same individuals who declared they could not memorize Scripture were the same teens who could quote lengthy sections from the latest movie, they could sing the lyrics to countless songs, and had sports stats memorized for numerous athletes.
We can (and do) memorize, but the reality is we only memorize things we deem important — or that which is repetitive and gets stuck in our minds whether or not we want it to (like the song “It’s a Small World After All” — no one sets out to memorize it, yet we can sing it).
Are you ready to embark on the life-changing adventure of Scripture memorization? Here are four quick tips and reminders to help you get started.
1. The Author Lives Inside You: A key to Scripture memory is realizing that the Author Himself lives inside your life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Though you could memorize Scripture in your own wisdom and ability, what if you didn’t have to? God wants you to know His Word, and He will enable you to memorize and recall His Word — which is a good reason to always start your times of memorization in prayer.
2. Choose a Good Translation: There are a host of Bible translations available today. Some are better than others, but it is important to choose one that is word-for-word (rather than a paraphrase), and I’d suggest using the same translation you typically use to read and study — for example, I would recommend: KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, CSB, MEV, etc. It is far easier to choose a good translation now and keep it for life (or several years) rather than bouncing between different translations for memorization.
3. Start Slow: If you haven’t memorized much lately, you will find that starting slow will help. Our memory is like a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened for optimal performance. Don’t start with an entire paragraph, start with a verse or two and slowly continue adding other verses.
4. Repetition is Good … Over Time: Saying a verse 50 times in one day is good … but not as effective as saying that same verse everyday for 50 days. This is a longterm process, so don’t pack everything into one day. If you follow the suggested plans in this article, you will eventually be spending the bulk of your memorization time quoting previous verses — this is exactly what you want! Even after you have a passage memorized, you should spend time daily (for the next 100 days or so) reciting the verse(s) to keep it in your memory.
Write today’s verse(s) on an index card so you can keep it with you to look at throughout the day. Being able to memorize and review while you sit in traffic, wait in line, or brush your teeth is helpful.
If you have a problem keeping the words in their correct order, write down the first letter of each word on a card. For example Philippians 1:1 (NKJV) would be: PATBOJC, TATSICJWAIP, WTBAD.
If you are an app fanatic, there are several good Scripture memory apps for smart phones, tablets, and computers. Do a search online and find one you like (several turn Scripture memory into a game).
I love to listen to the Bible in my car. Listening to an audio Bible with the same translation can help you hear the passage in a different way … and it’s a fun challenge to try to quote the verses alongside the audio (which will force you to quote faster than most people normally recite verses).
A simple plan to memorize short passages
If you find yourself struggling with a specific temptation, going through a particular circumstance, or need a fresh reminder of truth, memorizing short passages can be a great way to retain several verses centered around a specific theme or topic.
- Choose a theme or topic to focus on.
- Find 5–10 verses that center around and proclaim truth about that topic.
- Choose one passage to start with and read the passage 10+ times (preferably aloud).
- Start with the reference, say the verse, and restate the reference. It is also helpful if you tie in the theme (so you have a mental filing cabinet to put the verse in). For example: “A Life Defined By Love. John 13:35. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35.”
- Try quoting the passage from memory, looking if necessary, until you can quote it accurately without help.
- Refresh and test yourself throughout the day.
- The next day begin by quoting all the verses you’ve memorized thus far, checking accuracy and working on any problem areas, then add in the next verse following steps 3–5.
A simple plan to memorize longer passages
Memorizing longer passages enables you to see the flow, tone, and context of a book. While memorizing topically can help you focus on a specific theme, most people agree that there is tremendous benefit in memorizing longer passages and entire books of the Bible. While this can be a bit more challenging, the key is consistency in your memorization.
Understand the Context: When you memorize longer passages, it is helpful to know the context. Before you start memorizing a paragraph or even an entire book, read it through several times — personally, I would encourage you to read the passage/book through daily, which will not only help you memorize faster but will also ingrain it deeper in your heart and mind. When you know the flow of thought and the overall context, it will help you keep things organized as you memorize. If you have time, learn some details behind the book itself — for example, if you were going to memorize a passage in Colossians, find out why Paul wrote the book, who the Colossians were, what was the purpose of the book, where was Paul when he wrote it, etc.
Hints for Longer Passages:
- Give the priority of your memorization time to reviewing old verses. Begin each day’s memorization with a review of the verses you already learned.
- Memorize the verse numbers. This seems like a waste of time and a bit tedious but I promise it will help you later on in life (and it actually makes memorization easier in the long run). It will also help you not forget a verse in a long passage, and it also helps when you quote a specific verse to know exactly where it is found.
- Recite the previous day’s verse 10 times out loud. Look at your Bible if you need to.
- Recite all the verses in the passage/book that you’ve memorized (remember to say the verse numbers).
- Read and say today’s (new) verse 10 times out loud (it is helpful for you to see and hear it).
- Quote the new verse 10 times out loud without looking.
- Recite the entire passage including the verse you learned today.
Put It into Practice
Remember, one of the greatest tools to help us study and saturate in God’s Word is to memorize it. Memorizing forces you to hold Scripture close as you dwell upon it. And if we ponder what it means while we memorize — more than just repeat words — it can radically change our lives and give us greater insight into the Word.
As Robert Murray M’Cheyne once wrote, “Anoint mine eyes, O holy dove! That I may prize this Book of Love. Unstop mine ear, made deaf by sin, that I may hear Thy voice within. Break my hard heart, Jesus, my Lord; in the utmost part, hide Thy sweet Word!”1
Before we dive in, it’s important to be convinced why we should memorize Scripture. I’ve found that when things prove difficult, if my “why” is strong enough, nothing can deter me. And that is certainly true in Bible memorization. For some, memorization may come easily and for others (like me) it may take some effort. Either way, remember, the time invested in memorizing God’s Word reaps fruit and benefits beyond any struggle, difficulty, or amount of time.
In this eight-week guide, we will take the first week and study our “why” — allowing the Word itself to convince us why we need to memorize it. And then we will take the remaining weeks to actually memorize Scripture.
I invite you to join me on this exciting journey of spending time in God’s Word to know Him more. Remember, the point isn’t merely to memorize words or information, but to pause, ponder, and grow in greater intimacy with Jesus, and in turn, let your life be transformed by truth. Know I am praying for you and cheering you on into the endless depths of Jesus and His Word.
Week One: A Study on Why
- Re-read the section on page 85 called “Put It Into Practice” to lay the foundation for why.
- As you read the following passages (and any others that you search out), make a list of WHY memorizing Scripture is important for your life.
- Passages to get you started: Deuteronomy 6:6–9; 11:18; Joshua 1:8; Job 23:12; Psalm 1:1–3; 37:31; 40:8; Psalm 119; Proverbs 3:3–6; 4:20–21; 6:21–22; 22:17–18; Isaiah 26:3; Jeremiah 15:16; Matthew 4:4; Romans 10:17; 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 6:10–18; Philippians 2:5; 4:8; Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; James 1:22–25; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 1:17
- Once you’ve made your own list, if you’d like additional thoughts, check out deeperchristian.com/scripture-memory for a list I created of 10 compelling reasons why you should memorize Scripture and other helpful hints to do so.
Week Two: Topic — The Word of God
- This week we begin the exciting life-changing adventure of memorizing Scripture! The first few weeks we are going to focus on memorizing passages related to a particular topic. I’ve provided seven Scriptures for the week to memorize, but if you sense that is too much, then I’d encourage you to memorize only the first three or four (taking two days to memorize a single passage).
- Review the practical steps above for memorizing a topic. Remember, this isn’t about memorizing something to check it off a list, but an avenue to dwell upon the Word, for the Word to dwell within you, and for you to grow in greater intimacy with Jesus Christ as He shapes you by His Word.
- Passages to memorize this week: Psalm 119:103; Psalm 119:9, 11; Psalm 1:2–3; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; John 5:39; 1 Peter 2:2; Proverbs 4:13
Week Three: Topic — The Centrality of Christ
- Passages to memorize this week: Colossians 1:15–16; Colossians 1:17–18; Romans 11:36; John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 John 5:12; Hebrews 1:3
Week Four: Topic — Walking in Freedom and Victory
- Passages to memorize this week: Romans 12:1–2; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 12:1–2; Romans 6:16; John 14:6; John 15:4–5
Week Five: Topic — A life defined by love
- Passages to memorize this week: John 13:35; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 3:17–18; Matthew 5:44; 1 John 4:20; John 15:12–13; John 14:15
Week Six: Passage — 1 Corinthians 13
- For the remainder of our study (weeks 6–8) we are going to start memorizing longer passages of Scripture. You may find that memorizing longer passages is actually easier because you stay in one context/flow of thought. While I recommend memorizing the reference for each verse, if you decide not to, make sure you know it for the whole passage.
- I’ve split the passage into seven sections to help you memorize a small amount each day, but if you sense that is too much, then I’d encourage you to take two or three weeks to memorize the passage rather than jumping to another longer passage.
- Review the practical steps (on page 84) for memorizing a book or longer passage. Remember, this isn’t about memorizing something to check it off a list, but an avenue to dwell upon the Word, for the Word to dwell within you, and for you to grow in greater intimacy with Jesus Christ as He shapes you by His Word.
- Sections to memorize this week: 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 13:3; 1 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Corinthians 13:5–6; 1 Corinthians 13:7–8a; 1 Corinthians 13:13
Week Seven: Passage — Psalm 23
- Passages to memorize this week: Psalm 23:1; Psalm 23:2; Psalm 23:3; Psalm 23:4; Psalm 23:5; Psalm 23:6; Review all of Psalm 23
Week Eight: Passage — 1 John 1
- Passages to memorize this week: 1 John 1:1; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 1:3–4; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 1:6–7; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:9–10
- I encourage you to keep memorizing the rest of 1 John over the next several weeks. Imagine how beneficial and rich it would be to have the entire book of 1 John memorized!
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