HOW TO MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE
Updated: May 8, 2020
“I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.” - Psalm 119:11 (CSB)
As you consider ways to redeem this time, let me encourage you to include scripture memory in your strategies to grow in godliness. Scripture is the chief tool of the Holy Spirit to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness, so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s why we center our lives, both privately and in the church, around God’s word. But most temptations and trials don’t arrive while we have our Bibles open on our laps. That’s when the spiritual disciplines of memorization and meditation benefit us most. Donald Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life illustrates this well:
“The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, but if there is no Bible physically accessible to you, then the weapon of the Word must be present in the armory of your mind for the Spirit to wield it. Imagine yourself in the midst of a decision and needing guidance, or struggling with a difficult temptation and needing victory. The Holy Spirit enters your mental arsenal and looks around for available weapons, but all he finds is a John 3:16, a Genesis 1:1, and a Great Commission. Those are great swords, but not made for every battle.”
In fact, all of the elements of the Christian life are strengthened when our hearts are overflowing with the treasury of God’s word. Our evangelism is clearer to us and our listeners when verses from the Romans Road are quickly called to our lips. We are better at building up the body and quicker to do the “one anothers” when we’ve been disciplined to repeat those to ourselves and others over and over. Even prayer is improved when we repeat God’s promises and truths back to him. Everyone thinks they are bad at scripture memory. Medical constraints can make scripture memory impossible for some believers, but for the majority of us, it’s more a matter of discipline. If you can tell me the starting lineup for the Razorbacks, your classmates' names, the science formulas for your Chemistry test, or the lyrics to your favorite song, then you can memorize scripture. You just need a plan for what verses to memorize, a method of repetition that fits, a system of accountability, and a pattern of review. PLAN THE VERSES YOU WANT TO MEMORIZE There are two typical strategies. First, you can use a topical system. This is especially helpful if you're wanting to memorize passages that address a specific topic (evangelism, hope, sexual purity, etc.), or if you're needing to build up a broad base of scriptures in your arsenal. I have also benefited greatly from a second strategy, which is to memorize longer sections of scripture. It has been a sweet way for me to meditate on scripture over extended periods of time. Isaiah 53, Psalm 103, Philippians 2, and John 15 are all wonderful places to start. It takes longer to memorize big chunks and requires different strategies. That’s where finding a method of repetition, accountability, and review can really help.
FIND A METHOD OF REPETITION: Everything we memorize, from movie lines to bank account numbers, is aided by repetition. For some this just means reading something over and over again. That’s where index cards or a digital equivalent are helpful. I recommend using the app “Fighter Verses” developed by Desiring God. The app includes lots of tactile learning games that bury God’s word even deeper.
Another method that has proven helpful for many is the “Scripture Letter” method. Writing out the first letter of every word and all punctuation marks of the verse(s) you are memorizing can be a great tool. This can help with initial memorization and be referred back to to trigger your memory when you get stuck. Rewriting over the letters again and again can also help it stick. If you are attempting to memorize a larger portion of Scripture, you can utilize the https://bates.link/scripture-letters/ website, which will generate any chapter of the bible in this format (ESV only). You could easily print it out and pin it somewhere you will come across it often, like your bathroom mirror or above your kitchen sink. HAVE A SYSTEM OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND REVIEW: Including others in this process is often necessary for success. As an added bonus, it’s also a great way to disciple and edify others. Set a regular time when you’re going to quote your verse, word-perfectly, to someone else. If you’re memorizing long passages, I suggest quoting all the accumulated verses up to that day instead of just the newest one. This helps drag those verses out of your short-term memory and store them in your long-term memory. Scripture memory is about the long game. Don’t try to go too fast because you might give up. But if you stick with it and chip away, you’ll be amazed at how much you can memorize in a year. Plan to revisit those verses regularly. Pull the swords out of the armory and make sure they’re still polished and useful. I have found that quoting them to myself as I fall asleep (or to my toddler as he tries to go back to sleep at 2:00 AM) to be useful. Consider also, attaching scripture memory to other disciplines in your life like jogging, for example. Review old verses and drill yourself on new ones on the streets around your neighborhood. It may be that you’ll have lots of extra time on your hands over the next few weeks. Why not fill that time with God’s word? It may be that the next few weeks will be filled with extra trials and temptations. Why not prepare for and combat those with scripture memory?