We are transformed to be more like Christ through the renewing of our minds in God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2). Scripture memory is an indispensable aid for the the Christian.
Consider the example of Jesus and how he interacted with Scripture:
“As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer” (Luke 5:16, MSG). And when Jesus prayed in solitude he surely meditated on Scriptures that he had memorized.
We know that Jesus memorized a lot of the Old Testament because he was able to quote it on the spur of the moment in all sorts of situations: when fighting off Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, teaching the crowds, answering his disciples’ questions, or responding to the Pharisees criticisms.
The Prophets and Apostles Memorized Scripture
There are many examples and references in the Bible of the heroes of our faith memorizing Scripture:
- Moses taught the Israelites to memorize Scripture: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).
- Joshua learned from Moses and carried on his teaching: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8)
- The Psalmist speaks of loving God’s law so much that he memorizes it by hiding God’s Word in his heart (Psalm 119:11).
- Peter’s Scripture memory bore tremendous fruit in his spontaneous sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-42).
Some Benefits of Memorizing Scripture
Scripture memory is a wonderful aid to meditation. For one thing it enables you to take God’s Word with you wherever you go so that at any time – while driving, waiting in line, talking with a friend, or laying in bed (my personal favorite!) – you can mull over God’s Word and pray through it.
When you memorize Scripture in this way you’re taking its structure, wisdom, and grace inside your soul. And by doing so you’ll experience new and deeper insights and intimacies with God then you could otherwise enjoy.
Memorize Looooong Passages
The typical approach to Scripture memory, popularized by the evangelical organizations like the Navigators and utilized by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life, is to memorize lots of individual verses or short passages on topical themes. This is a helpful approach, especially for learning key doctrinal points and witnessing for Christ. However, the Bible was not given in verse format, but in flowing conversations.
Memorizing larger sections of Scripture in paragraphs or whole chapters dramatically deepens our experience with God’s word. It’s powerful for our spiritual formation in Christ because it helps us to immerse our whole beings into the flow of the Spirit and life of the Word of God. We simply let the passage carry us along. As we prayerfully recite a passage of the Bible over and over it renews our minds in God’s goodness.
Another important benefit of memorizing long passages of Scripture, rather than only verses, is that it forces you to submit to God’s Word. We tend to try to make the Bible say what we want it to say! But this is very hard to do when you take Scripture in its context.
Martin Luther taught, “The one who is trained well will be able to use a chapter of Scripture as a [pocket] lighter to kindle a fire in his heart.” Praying over a chapter that you’ve memorized is like carrying a pocket lighter that can warm you up to God’s presence at any time!
What Martin Luther is saying is that Scripture memorization helps us to meditate deeply on it and to engage personally with the Lord in prayer.
How to Memorize Passages of the Bible
The thought of memorizing a whole chapter of Scripture might be intimidating to you. Just don’t start with Psalm 119 – the longest chapter in the Bible! – and you’ll be okay.
Memory is like a muscle so if you exercise it you’ll be surprised how much Scripture you’ll be able to memorize!
Here are some training tips for memorizing long passages of the Bible:
- Repetition. Mostly, Scripture memory requires repeating the verses. Repeating words over and over can brand them into your brain.
- Concentrate. You need to sustained, focused attention on the words you’re committing to memory.
- Understanding. When you understand something — when you see insights and connections between thoughts — it helps you to retain the information.
- Imagine. Your imagination is powerful! See the Bible scenes or images that are in a passage and it will help you to internalize the Scripture.
- Use acronyms. Especially if you’re memorizing a list it is helpful to take the first letter of each word in the list and turn it into an acronym. Then by memorizing that one word (which may not be a real word!) it will help you to memorize the whole list!
How Memorizing Scripture has Helped Me
I am continually amazed at what happens when I memorize a long passage of Scripture and pray through it. The Lord gives me new insights from a passage that I have read and meditated on dozens of times before; God’s Spirit speaks to my soul and teaches me wonderful things that I couldn’t learn any other way. Internalizing God’s Word conforms my mind and heart to God’s ways and brings me his encouragement, comfort, and guidance for that day.
The Psalms have been especially fruitful for my memorizing long passages and chapters from the Bible. That’s because they engage my heart and lead me right into prayer and worship. (They’re also easier to remember because they’re rich with imagery!)
Here are my favorite sections of the Bible to hide in my heart and use for meditation: Electric Passages of the Bible to Memorize.