A few years ago a local Youth Pastor had a contest. All the youth and leaders had to take part. First, he asked everyone if they could write down all of the ingredients in a Big Mac. A very large number of the kids and leaders were able to do so. High fives all around the room.
Then he asked them to write down the Ten Commandments. Only one person got the answer right, a young teenage girl who was not a leader. No high fives, just some guilty surprise by the room. His point was simple: isn’t there something missing in your walk with Christ if you do not know the Ten Commandments but you do know the ingredients in a Big Mac?
From what I gather, most schools do not get children or teens to memorize texts anymore. It seems to be viewed as a poor way to learn. This view easily carries over into Christian circles. However, I think Bible memorization is a great good, one that all Christians, regardless of age, should practice. Here then are a number of comments on Bible memorization to help you memorize the Bible.
First, why should I memorize the Bible when I have a smartphone and google?
Simply put, you cannot live or understand what you do not know. The fact that a verse is in the ether does not mean that it is in your head. It is only what is in your head and heart that you can think upon, develop, and grow into. To memorize a Bible verse means that it lodges in your head. Of course you might never think about the verse again, but you probably will. You will definitely not think about a text that you do not know.
As well, the very process of memorizing means that the text will be very present to your mind for at least the season of memorizing. The youth leader who does not know the Ten Commandments will have a hard time keeping them, or reasoning from them.
Second, doesn’t memorization just teach empty rote learning, not heart learning or wisdom?
This is often said as if the answer is an obvious “Yes.” But it is both a false dichotomy and not true. The youth leaders in my opening example had neither rote learning nor heart learning. They did not know. How could they grow “ten commandment wisdom” if they do not know the ten commandments?
It is true that in older times when Sunday Schools and Youth Groups had contests and prizes to spur on Bible memorization, that many people worked hard just to win the contest, and then would say that a week later, with a laugh, they could not remember the verse. But that was a week later.
Many of these same people will now say that some of the verses come unbidden to their mind. They will say something like, “It is hard for me to memorize the NIV or the ESV because the KJV or RSV that I memorized as a young person is stuck in my head.”
Third, but don’t you find Bible memorization boring?
Years ago the Christian singer Rich Mullins would regularly have people tell him how meaningful some of his lyrics had been to their lives. He always thanked them and asked them to pray for him. But he also did something else. He asked them if they were memorizing the Bible.
It was very common for people to tell him something like this, “I find your lyrics powerful and meaningful, but Bible texts often leave me cold.” He would then gently respond with something like this, “Listen, my words are the words of a redeemed sinner. Merely human. It is far better for you to memorize the Bible. It is God’s word. My words will pass. His words endure with wisdom and power.” Rich’s words are true.
To have God’s word written in our mind is a great good.
We easily slide into preferring the words of C.S. Lewis, or our favourite Christian singer, over the Bible. We easily slide into preferring our own words as we journal, over God’s word written. But these preferences reveal the foolishness of our heart, not true wisdom. To have God’s word written in our mind is a great good.
Fourth, how do you memorize?
Here are seven simple pointers.
1. Say the Bible verse (with verse reference) out loud 20 times in a row. You can make the number of times smaller or larger, all that will be affected is the speed at which you memorize. However, do not skip saying the verse out loud. It seems to make a big difference.
2. To mix things up, write the verse out by hand 20 times in a row. It is definitely better if you do this with pen and paper than by typing. For some reason, typing does not have the same benefit as memorization.
3. Generally memorize the version you read, but you should check out a couple of other translations as well. Some versions of the Bible, like the NLT, are really designed for the easy reading of big chunks. Other versions, like the ESV, strive to be more literal, therefore more “verse-by-verse.” It might very well be that the “angular” verse in the ESV is better (and easier) to memorize than the smoothness of the verses in the NLT.
4. Take a break from memorizing the verse to think about it and notice truths in the verse. A helpful exercise can be to write down 20 things you notice or learn from the verse. Knowing the verse in this way can help you memorize the verse.
5. Another break that you can take from memorizing the verse, that will actually help you memorize the verse, is to consider how the verse can be prayed or can guide you in praying.
6. Memorize until you can easily say the verse without looking, then start on another verse.
7. It is not a sign of failure if you need and want to re-memorize the verse later on. You memorize the Bible so that you can get God’s word into your heart, not to prove how good you are at memorizing.
Fifth, what verse should I memorize?
There is no rule here. Memorize verses as you come upon them in your Bible reading, or small group time, Christian reading, or in the sermons at your church. Ask a mature Christian in your church for some suggestions. You can also check out the Navigator’s excellent resource, Topical Memory System.
With all that said, please pray for your local church, and please pray for me, that we will take God’s word written to heart in every way, including Bible memorization. By the way, the young teenage girl who I told you about at the beginning of the blog? The only one who knew the ten commandments? I do not know how this fits, but she was one of the few who did not know the ingredients of a Big Mac.