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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.

Scripture Memorization: why?

In the last blog post, I put forward the ancient practice of memorizing God’s Word. Many of us, if we’re Christians, might find this easy enough to ascend to if only because God tells us to do so. But, perhaps in the back of your head you are still wondering, “why devote so much time and energy to memorizing Scripture when I can just look it up on my smartphone?” It certainly does seems like the Christian climate is saturated with an eclectic array of spiritual disciplines. I can’t count how many times I’ve inundated myself with trying to keep up with all the latest spiritual fads promising freedom from sin, eternal joy, and sanctified living. I don’t think the fads will ever taper-off. As long as there is a consumeristic demand for easy spirituality there will be a supply of products to meet the insatiable thirst for Christian nominalism. If you’re tired of the noise…I would like you to consider going back to the timeless practice of memorizing and meditating on Scripture. But this brings up another objection…

Why devote yourself to memorizing the Bible (which is old) when there is so many other contemporary techniques (which are new) to choose from?

What is the value of memorizing Scripture? We need only look to the Bible itself to find it wrought with testimony of the effect it has on the believer’s soul. Allow me to share a few…

What does Scripture do for us…

As good as these disciplines can be, Christian bestsellers, worship music, devotionals, being in nature, and sermons (among others) just cannot match the supernatural weight allotted to the Word of God by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, not the least of which is the divine guarantee that if you give yourself wholly to memorizing the Scripture and letting the word of Christ dwell within you richly, you will be transformed.

What would you add to this list about Scripture?

Scripture memorization: what?

If you walk into the religious section of any bookstore, you’ll find aisles filled with how-to guides for spiritual growth. Some of them are good, and some of them…not so good. This post is going to concentrate, not on the bad or good disciplines, but on one of the greats: memorizing Scripture. For while there are many worthwhile spiritual disciplines, only a handful of them come directly from the Lord Jesus Himself: the ancient practices of prayer, baptism, Lord’s supper, and the internalization of God’s Word.

Why memorize Scripture?

For one, because God tells us to over and over and over…

  • If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. (John 15:7-8, HCSB)
  • How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
  • I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11)
  • I will never forget Your precepts, for You have given me life through them. (Psalm 119:93)
  • Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
  • This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. (Joshua 1:8)
  • My son, don’t forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commands. (Proverbs 3:1)
  • Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)
  • Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
  • We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)
  • So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)

We are not to settle for the mere reading of God’s Word, or even understanding His Word (though we are certainly not called to less than these!).

God calls us to know His “every word” (Matt. 4:4) “richly” (Col. 3:16) “in our hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19) and  “minds” (Deut. 11:18) so that we can “recite it day and night” (Josh. 1:8).

But why devote such labor to memorizing words that for some of us feel very archaic? Wouldn’t we be better served by memorizing one-liners from contemporary sermons, pithy sayings of wisdom, or quotes from modern authors? I will share more exhaustively in the following post the value of memorizing Scripture. But today I wish to leave you with this: Read the rest of this entry

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