How (and How Not) to Memorize Scripture

Don’t Give Up

For almost four decades I have given myself to the delightful discipline and hard labor of memorization of Scripture. I can say without a doubt the countless hours I have spent working on hiding text after text of inerrant Scripture in my mind and heart has been infinitely and eternally worthwhile. It is an investment in the health of my soul, the advance of Christ’s kingdom, and the benefit of the flock entrusted to my care as a pastor. Though I have often struggled and sometimes been discouraged at the slow progress, I have never questioned whether I should continue. I commend this discipline with all my heart.

How to Memorize Scripture for Life

Andrew M. Davis

Through his years of experience in extended Scripture memorization, Andrew M. Davis helps readers commit to studying God’s word so they may grow in holiness, resist temptation, and share the gospel with lost people.

Therefore, the first piece of advice I would connect with this laborious practice is simple: don’t you dare quit! The enemy of memorization is giving up. The temptation to give up pops into the mind whenever the sense of labor rises when compared to the apparent lack of fruit or progress. The “cost/benefit ratio” can lurk and get twisted by the Father of Lies and pull the Scripture memorizer to abandon continued efforts.

Other than that, a few other things come to mind regarding how not to memorize Scripture:

Don’t ever boast about your work. Always remember to give full credit to God’s work in you, and constantly seek the Spirit’s help as you memorize. Our pride is a deadly enemy to every good thing God wants to work in our souls. When we are in heaven, the humbling work God intended in our salvation will have been perfected. We will be radiantly glorious with perfect hearts, perfect souls, perfect minds, and perfect bodies. And we will also be perfectly humble for we will finally realize the truth of the words, “What do you have that you didn’t receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Don’t be overambitious at the start of your memorization career. Bite off a reasonable chunk and get increasingly good at it. So, walk before you run, run a 5k before a 10k, a 10k before a marathon. This is a matter of humility as well as patience. God grows us little by little, like plants that start from tiny seeds and get watered and waited on. So it is with the discipline of Scripture memorization. Let God develop this pattern in you until it has deep roots in your soul.

Don’t do prophetic genre (i.e. OT prophetic books) too early in your career. In my experience, they are the hardest books to memorize since the Spirit leads the prophet in trains of thought that are not always easy to follow. I am well aware that “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful” for our full fruitfulness in Christ. However, I am speaking as one with a lot of experience. The memorization I did in the minor prophets and in Ezekiel was the hardest I ever did. Work on a New Testament epistle first, or a portion of a Gospel. It will feed you and encourage you immediately, and your confidence will grow. Tackle the visionary prophets later.

Don’t try to retain everything you’ve ever memorized for your whole life, since this will limit how many new verses you can absorb. Be willing to “kiss the verses goodbye” after a reasonable time of reviewing them. This may seem like you’re discarding God’s word, but it is really a humble acceptance of your limited time on earth, your limited head space, and the unspeakable glories still waiting for you in the books you have yet to memorize. The goal is not perfect retention of specific portions but a breadth and depth of knowledge that will take a lifetime to develop. So move on when the time is right.

Don’t become performance-oriented and perfectionistic, forgetting that the purpose of memorization is insight and growing knowledge of God and his word. I continually seek being “word perfect.” That is my goal, and I aim for it daily. But some passages are more challenging than others, and after I have made a reasonable attempt to iron out imperfections, I am willing to move on to other passages. My goal is 95% accuracy over a long portion of Scripture with little or no hesitation verse to verse, like water flowing smoothly down a mountain streambed. If someone were to listen to me and find niggly problems here or there, I don’t think the overall benefit would be enhanced by stopping me and getting each tiny glitch right. Yet for all of that, I do try to correct errors.

Always remember to give full credit to God’s work in you, and constantly seek the Spirit’s help as you memorize.

Don’t be too intimidated to try memorizing whole chapters and books of the Bible. All Scripture memorization starts with individual verses, key passages, favorite portions. I am aware of that. But I want to strongly advocate having a goal of memorizing whole books of the Bible. The very idea can seem daunting, but it is magnificent to be able to recite all of Ephesians or Philippians straight through after having put hundreds of hours into the project. In those hundreds of hours there are countless insights and delights.

Don’t forget to connect the passages you memorize with the person and work of Christ, since faith in Christ is the ultimate point of all Scripture. Scripture is given to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15). Even the portions that do not directly tie to the life and saving mission of Christ in some way shed light on him. Christ Jesus is the center of the Spirit’s intention in all prophecy, and all biblical roads lead eventually to him. It is by Scripture alone that we know Jesus. If I were to choose one passage that best commends Scripture memorization, it would be John 15:7–8: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” It is by having Christ’s words living in us that we can abide in Jesus spiritually. So see your Scripture memorization that way. Don’t fail to connect everything to Jesus.

Don’t allow familiarity to breed contempt. The more you memorize Scripture, the more you may feel tempted to critique it and find flaws with aspects of how it’s written. It is still, and will always be, the perfect word of God, breathed out by his Spirit. Scripture is infinitely deep, and some of its passages are difficult to understand. (2 Pet. 3:16) The more we labor on each word, each phrase, it is easy to lose our reverence for it and to think we “own” it. Scripture is our access to the voice of our King, Almighty God, and we are his slaves. (Rom. 6:22) Let us never fail to be humble and contrite in spirit and to tremble at his word. (Isa. 66:2)

Don’t fail to translate all that knowledge into actual faith-filled obedience to Christ. It is not those who know God’s word but those who know it and obey it that are well-pleasing to God. Knowledge can puff up the ego (1 Cor. 8:1), but biblical knowledge is never given except that God desires it to transform our hearts and lives.

Concerning the “How to’s,” there are straightforward details and mechanics of memorization that can help you memorize Scripture from individual verses to whole books of the Bible. The basic method is simple: repetition over time. Read it ten times, say it ten times, repeat the verse once a day for one hundred days. That’s it in a nutshell. There are many techniques I’ve picked up over the years that I share in my book, so I’ll leave it to you to read it. However, I cannot possibly overstate how important this discipline has been to my formation as a Christian man, husband, father, pastor, and servant of God.

Day after day the word of God has flowed through my mind, shaping me and convicting me, guiding me and equipping me, delighting me and filling me with joy unspeakable and full of glory. However you personally do it, hide God’s word in your heart. Begin today!

Andrew M. Davis is the author of How to Memorize Scripture for Life: From One Verse to Entire Books.

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