Five Tips for Bible Memory
Some Scripture memory systems are amazingly involved. They can include boxes of memorized verses on cards, or long lists of previously memorized verses for review. I admire and appreciate those who have persevered in these systems and found them life-giving and sustainable in the long run. For me, such a process would threaten to dominate, if not devour, the limited time I realistically have on a daily basis for devotions.
Instead, I’ve found Scripture memory to be for me a tool in the belt of meditation, and one important pathway for Bible application. Meditation is the nonnegotiable habit of grace I want to practice each day, even if only briefly when life circumstances have crunched my time.1 Scripture memory is not something, at least in every season of life, that I practice daily, but I aim on a weekly basis, if not a couple times each week, to spend several minutes seeking to memorize some powerful text I’ve come across in my Bible reading and want not only to meditate, but memorize, for my own soul or for the sake of ministry to others.
Here are five simple tips for Scripture memorization.
1. Diversify Your Picks
You can memorize whole books, or whole chapters (Romans 8 is a great starting point, or Philippians 3), or key sections.2 My preference over the years has become key sections (say four to seven verses, like Titus 3:1–7) that I come across as I’m moving through a Bible-reading plan. It’s often a section I find so densely rich that meditating on it for just a few minutes feels woefully inadequate. To enjoy more of its goodness, I need to put it to memory. (If you’re looking to get started on a few key sections to memorize, try Col. 1:15–20; John 1:1–14; Heb. 1:1–4; and Phil. 2:5–11.)
Resist the urge to see simple memory as the goal. . . . Don’t memorize mindlessly, but engage the text and its meaning.
2. Take It with You During the Day
Write the passage down or make it prominent and easily accessible on a tablet or phone. I wouldn’t suggest quarantining your memorizing to a certain slot in the day, but unleash it into all of life. Play an audio recording in the car, look at a piece of paper while standing in line. Put a text on your home screen so you see it when you look at your smartphone.
3. Seek to Understand, Feel, and Apply the Text as You Memorize
Resist the urge to see simple memory as the goal. Learning the text “by heart” is secondary; taking the text to heart is primary. Don’t memorize mindlessly, but engage the text and its meaning—not only its implications for your life, but what effects it should have on your emotions.
4. Turn Your Text into Prayer
Personal and corporate prayer times are a great time to exercise what you’re memorizing, and see and feel it from a fresh angle as you turn it godward and express its significance for others. There have been times for me when praying some memorized text became the pathway for seeing fresh glories that had been hidden to me until then.
5. Memorize in Light of the Gospel
Finally, let the truth of Colossians 3:16 shape your memorization: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” The “word of Christ” here, or “message of Christ,” isn’t first and foremost Scripture, but the gospel. So, in other words, memorize in light of the gospel.
Memorizing Scripture, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily Christian. Jesus spoke with Jewish leaders who had memorized more of the Old Testament than we ever will, and he said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). And Paul spoke about Jews who intimately knew the Scriptures,
but their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (2 Cor. 3:14–16)
Whether we’re memorizing texts from the Old Testament or the New, this is our need again and again: to turn to the Lord. In our memorizing, whether whole books or chapters or passages or single verses, we always must keep in mind Jesus’s great lessons in Luke 24 about Bible interpretation: “He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27), and “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44–45).
- For more, see the afterword on communing with Christ on a “crazy day.”
- The most acclaimed text I know of for memorizing entire books of the Bible is Andrew Davis, An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture, available as an e-book as well as a free pdf online at http://www.fbcdurham.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Scripture-Memory -Booklet-for-Publication-Website-Layout.pdf.
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Maybe the breakthrough could come with some simple change in perspective. What if Scripture memory really was about today?