Memorizing long Scripture passages

This past Sunday, our church announced a plan to begin memorizing Scripture corporately again.

We will memorize and recite Matthew 28:1-7a (HCSB) as a church over the Santa Barbara coastlands on Easter morning! But we will start by working on it in bite-size chunks, starting this week with the first verse…

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb (Matt. 28:1).

If you’ve never memorized a large passage of Scripture, this is a great time to give it a shot, even if you are not part of this particular congregation. It may seem daunting, but I am about to show you how it can be done, and once you tackle a large passage, you will surely want to memorize more. The experience of retaining Scripture to dwell on in the heart brings with it eternal blessings to which no other spiritual discipline can compare. I wrote about some of these blessings here.

I wrote this post to share with you two tips that have helped me with retaining Scripture: repetition and review.

An immersion in Scripture (repetition) coupled with constant practice (review) is extremely effective in getting the word of Christ to dwell within you richly (Col. 3:16). And even if you do not feel like you’ve got a great memory, you can still do this. In fact, I implore you to try.

If you will commit to spending 10-15 minutes a day for the next six weeks, you will be able to recite this resurrection passage with ease.

Here’s how I memorize large paragraphs of Scripture…

  1. The first thing I do is read the verse over and over. At least 10 times. This is old-fashioned repetition, and there’s no substitute for it. It is important that you actually read and speak the words because the visual will burn a snapshot of the page into your memory and speaking the verse out loud will help you learn. If the verse is particularly long, I sometimes break it up into phrases made by the commas. 
  2. Then I shut my Bible, and recite the same phrase from memory 10 more times. Remember to actually speak the words, not just think of them. This will reinforce your memory. So by this time, I have only spent about 10 minutes in Scripture! Not bad. But the verse is not permanently engrained. I know this because 3 hours later, I have to look up the verse again! That’s ok. The form and feel of the phrase is somewhere in my memory. All I need to do at this point is drive it deeper through review.
  3. It is important to review memorized portions of Scripture. EVERY DAY. If you don’t do this, you will forget everything you’ve learned. So continue rehearsing and reciting what you’ve already learned at least 10 times a day. You will begin to notice after a few days that lines becomes easier to remember. After a week of doing this, it will become second nature. And this only requires about 10 minutes a day.
  • One last tip is what some call “cleaning up the weeds.” When you are memorizing large swathes of Scripture, you might recall most of it, but sometimes get a pronoun or a preposition wrong. Don’t be discouraged. But also don’t let those wrong words become engrained in your head! It’s important to clean up those weeds. I do this by periodically referring to the Bible, checking to see if I am reciting the Word of God accurately or not. If I found I have made a mistake, I quickly correct it by going over steps 1-3 again.

Here’s how I did this with the verse we are memorizing this week.

  • I broke verse one into sections, and started with the first phrase, “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning”. I read this phrase 10 times, then shut my Bible, and recited it from memory 10 more times. I did this periodically throughout the day until it stuck. The next day, I did the same thing with the next phrase in the verse, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb.” Finally, I put the two phrases together, and worked on reciting the verse from memory 10 times (sometimes double-checking my Bible to make sure it was right). After I was fairly familiar with the verse, I simply recited it 10 times a day through the week. Even though I have a horrible memory, simple repetition and consistency helps me to retain the holy and precious words of God.

You can do all of this in about 10 minutes.

After a week, you’ll have deeply memorized a short text of Scripture. Now you’re probably wondering what happens when we start adding more verses. Well, more on that next week!

Do you have any Scripture memorization techniques you can share? Have you been greatly blessed by memorizing Scripture? Are you going to try this? I’d love to hear from you.

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB where he is committed to challenging Santa Barbara's independence by calling the city to follow Jesus. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting Peoples, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on February 12, 2013, in reading, realitysb, Scripture, spiritual formation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. During a tough time in my life last year I was advised to read Psalm 139 once everyday. Every time I read it, one part of it spoke to me in particular, different than the day before. Without even meaning to, I memorized the whole thing within a few short weeks just from reading it over and over. I always go back to those precious words when I’m feeling insecure or like God isn’t with me.

    I’ve also started memorizing small verses intentionally. I find verses coming to me when I’m experiencing doubt, fear, whatever it is! It’s what my soul needs to hear. Always satisfies.

  2. Thanks for encouraging us to memorize scripture together. I used to do this, but have become very lax as my memory fails with age:) Time to get going again. I find that it helps me to write out the verse several times, since I am a visual learner. Then I purchase spiral index cards and write the verse in there to keep with me to review through the day. I then employ your method of reading it aloud and covering up various parts of the verse till I get the whole thing down. The spiral cards are also encouraging to keep as you begin to get more and more scripture committed to memory. Also, in children’s ministry we have used a white board with “fill in the blanks” of words in the verse to make a game of it. I enjoy your teaching, Chris.

    • Great point about the types of learning. Andrew Davis came out with a book a while back, called An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture in which he outlines all the different types of learning, kinetic, visual, aural, etc. I love your idea about the index cards. I might do the same thing with a whiteboard! Thanks Karen.

  3. I am passionate about scripture memorization too. For me, I found my most effective opportunity for memorizing scripture were in the white spaces of my day — in traffic, in line for food, in the shower, etc. I created scripture memory packs that are temporary tattoos for the insides of your wrists. I would love to send you a pack or two! Check out out: http://www.armedwithtruth.com

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