There is nothing glamorous about it. It is accomplished most often from rote memory work using basic resources. It isn’t something you to do to impress others or show off your knowledge. It’s easy to forget about doing. If you forget about it for too long, much of your previous hard work goes out the window (although it can be recalled with a little effort), so you have to stay with it in order to truly benefit.
I’m talking about memorizing Bible verses.
For the small fraction of readers that made it past the previous sentence and are still reading, hear me out when I say that memorizing scripture can play a significant part in one’s daily life. It has been a part of mine for decades, although I confess that I have let the practice slide from time to time. Fortunately, for the past several years, I’ve been on track again.
My wife, Linda, taught a children’s Bible drill class for older elementary school children at our church for a number of years. Those who took the process seriously still benefit from that time in their childhood devoted to this discipline. But the practice isn’t just for little kids in church! It’s for all people of all ages who are serious about growing in their Christian faith.
Why memorize scripture? I like the answer from Psalm 119:11 the best: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” There are other reasons as well. The main reasons I choose to do so are:
- The Bible tells us to do it. The verse quoted above is enough for me, but there are other passages such as Deuteronomy 11:18ff (although we’re not to take that one literally if doing so is for show – see Matthew 23:5). You can find other passages about knowing and cherishing His Word.
- Doing so helps us resist temptation. Think of how Jesus responded to the temptations of Satan when He was fasting in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4). He always responded with quotations from the Word of God. God won’t bring to mind in time of need Scriptures we haven’t bothered to memorize beforehand. We have to do our part. Unlike Jesus, I still sometimes ignore that voice and do what I please rather than what pleases God, but that’s my stubbornness at work and no fault of God.
- Knowing the truth of the Word equips us to recognize false teaching. I have been told that those who need to identify counterfeit currency don’t just study existing counterfeit examples; they study the real thing and get to know it so well that any counterfeit immediately jumps out at them. There are many who claim to be teaching truth, but if what we hear is contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture, it should be rejected as false. How will we discern truth from falsehood unless we know the real thing well?
- It equips us for gospel conversations. Memorizing isn’t just for our personal benefit. If we are to be faithful to Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15), then we have to know what that message is. It is best to be able to do so without reliance on any physical resources in front of us.
- It can be used by God to bring comfort in time of need. I make it a point not to concentrate my memory work on feel-good passages. That seems too self-serving to me. The 100 verses that are at the core of my memory work are selected in order to provide a well-rounded knowledge of the gospel in order to have those conversations mentioned in the previous point. There is nothing more comforting to me than an understanding of God’s story as recorded throughout the Bible. Still, if there are particular passages that are meaningful to you and that provide great comfort, then by all means hide them in your heart.
Which verses should you memorize? For a number of years in my young adulthood, I would pick at the start of the year 100 verses and then work on them throughout the year. Sometimes I went with prepared packets I found at Christian bookstores. Other times I chose passages that were most meaningful to me. One year I picked one of my favorite Bible books – Philippians – and memorized its 104 verses. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep reviewing those selections, so I couldn’t begin to quote them to you today without taking time to re-learn them. You certainly have the freedom to choose as many or as few as you wish from wherever you wish.
The last several years I’ve concentrated on 100 specific verses chosen because, all together, I think they provide a well-rounded understanding of the gospel and the Christian life. These are the same 100 I review weekly year after year. I am less concerned with learning additional verses now than I am with learning these 100 really well and making them a part of who I am. You can find these 100 verses here if you’re interested. They are categorized into different sections and are quoted from the 1984 New International Version of the Bible since that is what I was using most often at the time they were chosen. Pick a translation you like if this one doesn’t float your boat.
How do you memorize them? Before personal computers and smart phones, I used 3×5 cards with the verse on one side and the Bible reference on the other. About a decade ago, I started printing them on the perforated business card sheets you can find at office supply stores, again with the verse on one side and the reference on the other. For the last few years, though, I’ve mostly used the app Remember Me on my smart phone, a great little free app available for Android, iOS and Blackberry that lets you practice in a variety of ways as well as lets you hear them read to you – good for when you’re driving or at times when you need something spiritually healthy to listen to. I also wrote an email reminder-based course you’ll find here if you’d like a little nudge daily and some simple question-based approaches to memorizing the 100 verses mentioned above.
Regardless of the method chosen, it is still a matter primarily of drill and practice, learning a verse phrase by phrase, repeating it over and over along with the reference of where it’s found. Spending a mere ten minutes a day is perfectly adequate for most people to easily learn 100 verses over the course of a year. Once you learn a verse, go on to the next, but never, ever let a week pass without reviewing all the ones you’ve previously memorized or they’ll fade from memory took quickly. Since I’ve spent several years now on the same 100 verses, it takes me about 20 minutes to quote them all given the reference, and just a few minutes to quote the references given the verse text. I do that weekly for the 100 to keep them fresh. Even after several years of working on the same 100, I find weekly reviews necessary. If I neglect it for a few weeks, I inevitably miss some the next time I review.
If setting aside even a small chunk of time is an issue for you right now, then grab a few moments here and there throughout the day while you’re waiting in a line, walking to your destination, or anytime you find yourself with a couple minutes to spare. When I take a bus to work, this is a great use of the ride. Watch fewer commercials on TV and invest that time more wisely. An hour-long TV show typically has at least 15 minutes of commercials, so that’s more than enough time for the day’s memory work.
You may be able to find other resources for memorizing scripture that add elements of excitement, variety or games to the process, and if that’s your thing, go for it. I’ll stay with simple drill and practice using the Remember Me app for now.
As mentioned above, there are several reasons for being intentional about memorizing scripture. Whatever your reason, I encourage you to do so. Like so many others, I have found the practice to be instrumental in my daily walk with Christ and in my ability to grow as a Christian.
(Note: For a number of additional scripture memory resources, check out http://www.godresources.org/?p=scripture-memorization.)