To Fight Sin with Scripture
Earlier this year a friend told me that he had memorized Matthew 26:29 to remind him of the joyous promise of Jesus’s presence at the great feast in heaven and to help him resist the temptation to overindulge in alcohol.
For adults and children alike, one reason to memorize Bible verses is to help us fight sin in times of temptation. As the psalmist summarizes: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). When tempted, how helpful it is to say, “Help me, O LORD my God!” (Ps. 109:26), “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7–8), or more straightforwardly, “Be gone, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10).
Why else is memorizing Scripture crucial, especially for children?
To Form Character
Memorizing Scripture forms our character. My favorite college philosophy professor, who taught me many complex things, taught me the simplest of truths through the simplest of sayings: “Garbage in; garbage out.” That is, if we fill our heads with garbage, our behavior will be trashy.
Conversely, if we fill it with “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,” and if we “think about” whatever is “worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8), then we will live a live that reflects the beauty and truth and goodness of God. Put differently, having God’s Word in our heads and hearts forms us into virtuous people who embody the fruit of the Spirit.
To Grow in God’s Will and Ways
Children who memorize Scripture are better suited to have a grasp of the Bible’s big story and main messages, understand God’s will and God’s ways, and live lives worthy of the gospel. It provides them with a solid foundation they can stand upon and draw upon throughout their lives. And it equips them to make wise decisions and to live out their faith faithfully in a fallen world and through future challenges they will face.
Moreover, the more children know of the Bible, the more they connect with their pastor’s sermons and their Sunday school teachers’ lessons, which, in turn, helps them grow even more in their Bible literacy.
Would you like to receive weekly emails with lessons from The Biggest Story Curriculum that would include a brand new children’s program podcast, tips for parents and teachers, and more helpful resources? Learn More.
To Develop a Holy Habit
Reading, rereading, and reciting Bible verses helps children develop a holy habit! Just as we need to practice healthy habits with our bodies—like eating the right foods and exercising—so we need to practice healthy habits of faith.
If day after day, month after month, and year after year we wake up every morning, go for a two-mile run, do twenty push-ups, and eat some oatmeal with yogurt and blueberries for breakfast, we will turn into fit and healthy people. (That is, assuming we aren’t also drinking milkshakes at each meal and snacking on bags of potato chips the rest of the day!)
Likewise, if day after day, month after month, and year after year children wake up every morning, pray, read the Bible and memorize a verse a month, they may by God’s grace turn into strong and healthy Christians.
To Carry God’s Word Anywhere
In addition, memorizing Bible verses is a way for children to carry God’s Word with them wherever they go. If a child has a verse in her head and heart, she can recall it whenever she needs encouragement, comfort, or guidance. This is especially important for when she is up against a difficult challenge or significant struggle with family or friends. For example, when a child is feeling scared, she can say to herself the comforting words of Psalm 23:4 and remind herself that God is present and he will protect her:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
To Encourage Some and Evangelize Others
Memorized Bible verses not only benefit the children who learn them on their faith journey through life. They also can be used to encourage others. Children can be equipped with the very words of God to help a friend who is going through a tough time at home, has lost a loved one, or is struggling with a bad habit.
Having God’s Word in our heads and hearts forms us into virtuous people who embody the fruit of the Spirit.
Moreover, Bible verses can be used to witness to those who don’t yet know Jesus. If a child knows John 3:16 by heart, then when someone asks him, “Why are you a Christian?” or “What do you believe?” he’ll have something not just smart but scriptural to say. Bible verses can also provide support for children defending their faith.
To Have Fun
If done in a group (with our families, our church families, or at a Christian school), learning to remember Scripture can be a fun and rewarding activity. Parents and teachers can use creative ways to teach and learn verses, such as using hand motions, props, songs, and games. Also, and within reason, give prizes: a new Bible for 104 verses memorized, a patch for finishing all the selected verses in Romans, a star for each line of a long verse. Whether you give a tangible reward or not, the sense of accomplishment is always a reward.
To Build Community
Related to what was said above, if Bible memorization is done in a group, it creates a sense of unity and belonging. It bonds people together! It also deepens relationships and builds a stronger community.
Close friends can also memorize verses together to keep each other accountable. For example, if two boys are struggling with anger, they can together learn Proverbs 15:1 (“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”) and James 1:19 (“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”)
To Provide Words for Prayer
Last but certainly not least, memorized Bible verses can help children know how to communicate with God. One day, after Jesus finished praying, a disciple asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer (or the Disciples’ Prayer!)—a short and simple prayer that offers the perfect substance of and model for Christian prayer.
Adults and children alike all need God’s help in how to praise God (adoration), ask for forgiveness (confession), express gratitude (thanksgiving), and present our requests to him (supplication).
Adoration: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!” (Rev. 15:3)
Confession: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
Thanksgiving: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” (Psalm 118:1)
Supplication: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13)
A New Spiritual Discipline?
One of the neglected spiritual disciplines of our time is Scripture memorization. Rarely are churches, families, and individuals taking the time to learn by heart God’s Word. Perhaps this is because we think that rote learning is not heart-learning, or perhaps, due to the technology at our fingertips, we do not see the need to use our memory much. Whatever the reason, I have written this article to encourage the young and old, especially the young through the counsel of the old, to start now and make memorizing Bible verses a new spiritual discipline—a holy habit that will help you develop a deep and lasting relationship with God.
Douglas Sean O’Donnell is a contributor to the The Biggest Story Curriculum.
Resist the urge to see simple memory as the goal. Learning the text “by heart” is secondary; taking the text to heart is primary.
It is within a man’s private life, in those “unseen hours,” where his character is most laid bare.
If you’re a pastor, youth leader, ministry volunteer, or simply a Christian parent of a Christian teenager, you’ve probably struggled with the best approach in talking with young people about theology.
Children who are able to read will benefit from being with their parents in worship, and it is the duty of husbands and fathers to make sure that their families hear God’s word both in private and in public.