Many new (& not so new) Christians want to memorize Scripture. How can they start? Here are a few of the tips & tricks I’ve found helpful.
A few years ago, I put together a tool to help memorize the book of Colossians. I had used one like it by Tim Brister to memorize the book of Philippians, and found the format useful and the experience rewarding.
Lately, I’ve been considering making a new one and making it available. Maybe changing up the formatting a little bit to make it easier to print, but essentially keeping it a similar style as the Colossians one.
The book I’m considering building one for is 1 John. Why 1 John?
- We’ve been studying this epistle at our church, and every time we come to it, it’s inspiring challenging (but hopeful) thinking and desires.
- In many ways, 1 John is the textbook for what Ray Ortlund describes as gospel culture—how the gospel shapes what we believe, who we become, and how we behave.
- John’s thought process is unlike ours in so many ways. 1 John is a decidedly non-linear book, and seeking to memorize it may be a great help in better understanding his message.
So that’s why I’ve been mulling it over. Now, here’s the question for you to answer, via Twitter, Facebook, or email: would a resource like this actually be helpful to you?
For some reason, we think we can’t memorize Scripture. But is that true? Here’s my encouragement to you on the subject.
If you’re regularly attending an evangelical church, it’s a safe bet that at least once a year you’re going to hear about how you should memorize Scripture. Maybe try a book like Philippians or Colossians. Maybe a series of passages on specific topics. Or maybe…
But, you get the idea.
At one point, I had the entire book of Philippians memorized. Basically, I spent several weeks working through individual verses using a combination of writing and speaking to help make them stick. The great news is, it worked. The bad news is I didn’t keep up with it. And because I didn’t, I lost it. I still have pieces of it floating around, but I can’t say with integrity that I still have it memorized. At best, I have a strong familiarity with it, which is better than nothing.
We talk about memorization a lot at my house. Emily and the kids recently memorized the Apostles’ Creed. They did it using a song, which is a great approach. So now, when they recite it, the girls actually sing it, which is kind of fun. And this got me thinking about how easy and difficult it is to memorize Scripture.
Memorizing Scripture is easier than you think
Memorization is actually pretty easy. Seriously. If you’re in your mid-30s, I guarantee you’ve got dozens of one-liners from The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother, and/or Arrested Development rattling around your noggin. Why? Because the one-liners stuck with us. I have a friend who was just diagnosed with mono, and Emily immediately asked, “Are you sure he wasn’t just really bored?”[1. An allusion to a line in Wayne’s World, for those who don’t know. My friend quoted the line himself, as part of his coping strategy.]
In the same, way, memorizing Scripture is actually pretty easy. The trick is finding a way to make it interesting for us. By that, I don’t mean that the Bible is boring. I mean the process. So in the same way we used a song to help the kids memorize the Apostles’ Creed, why not use songs to memorize Scripture? The Rizers albums are really helpful for this (and are ideal for kids). Similarly The Verses Project is a terrific tool to help you memorize passages of Scripture. (They also offer visual art to aid with memorization.) Using songs—especially catchy ones—you can probably memorize a few verses of Scripture in no time at all.
Memorizing Scripture is harder than you think
At the same time, memorizing Scripture is actually a lot harder than you might think. You might find a technique isn’t working quite the way you’d hoped. Maybe you went too big too quickly and fell off the wagon. Maybe your biggest problem is simply keeping up on your practice. Maybe you still feel like you aren’t capable of memorizing anything. (Despite, again, having a ton of pop culture references in your head.)
And then there’s what Paul calls “the flesh” which will war against you as you try to fill your mind with God’s Word (the same thing that happens when you’re trying to pray, fast, study your Bible…)
These are the discipline parts of memorizing Scripture. And as much as I’d like to think otherwise, there are not easy solutions to the challenges they bring. You need to find techniques that work for you. You need to choose wisely as you decide what to memorize (maybe Romans it’s the best place to start right out of the gate, huh?). You need to create some sort of reminder system about practicing, which may include accountability from friends or family.
And more than anything else, you really, really need to pray.
God wants you to know his Word. He wants you to meditate on it. To “store it up” in your heart and mind as the Bible says. Memorizing Scripture is an essential way of doing this. The work is easier than we might think. The discipline might be more challenging. But the rewards are so much sweeter than we realize.
Something all Christians should make their aim is memorizing Scripture. Whether it’s important verses, extended passages, or even entire books, there is something powerful about being able to recall glorious truths from God’s Word and preach them to yourself, and share them with others.
So… how do you get started? Here are a few tools I’d recommend:
1. Scripture Typer. This is a great way to ease yourself into memorizing Scripture. The idea behind it is that it uses visual and kinesthetic memory to help you memorize verses. So, you type out a verse as it appears, then you can work on memorizing it by filling in the blanks as you type, and progressively work toward being able to type the verse in its entirety.
For example, one I tried out recently was John 3:16 (HCSB): “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
I typed this out in total, with it present on the screen. Then tried it again with every other word missing. Then did it again with the opposite words missing. Then tried it from memory (which is what the above was typed from).
2. Fighter Verses. Fighter Verses is a five-year memorization plan, focusing on “the character and worth of our great God, battling against our fleshly desires, and the hope of the Gospel.” It features a number of different sets that can be used free online, or with the iOS and Android devices (which cost $3 a piece).
3. The memory moleskine. This is the most advanced option, but it’s a terrific for memorizing an entire book of the Bible, something I attempted back in 2011 with Philippians. And best of all, I actually did it. The problem, of course, is that I didn’t keep up on my practice, so I lost about 90 percent of it. However, if you can commit to “tending the garden,” these little notebooks and the process of reading, speaking, writing, and repeating, are amazing. Want to give it a shot? Try Colossians.
Bible study has never been easier. We live in an age where we have more and better translations, more books, and more technology to assist us than ever before. Honestly, we should thank God for the assistance the technology that exists today brings to studying the Scriptures. Nevertheless, we have to be careful.
Being mindful of technology
In his book The Next Story, Tim Challies wisely cautions us to be mindful about how we use technology. “Am I giving up control of my life,” he asks. “Is it possible that these technologies are changing me? Am I becoming a tool of the very tools that are supposed to serve me?”
Technology, in other words, is a wonderful servant but a cruel master. How this applies to our Bible study is simple: Technology should aid us in confirming our conclusions, not determine them for us. We use the tools that exist to dig deeper, rather than skim the surface of the Scriptures. But technology can easily make us lazy, if we’re not watchful.
- We can run a word search “wrath” or “love” and come up with a short or long list, but not come to a comprehensive knowledge of what the Bible teaches on either.
- We can look up the Greek behind a particular word or phrase and still not actually get what it says.
- We can pull together an explanation of a text from multiple sources, but not actually understand it ourselves.
And so we must be mindful. Technology is a wonderful tool, but one that always tempts us to become lazy in our studies.
What are the right tools for me?
But because we have so many really, really good options available to us, it can be a bit overwhelming. We can be paralyzed by choice. So I want to take a second to offer some recommendations on a few different tools that will help you in your study of God’s Word in three broad categories:
- Memorization and devotional
- Basic study
- Comprehensive study Read More about Get serious about your studies: you and your technology
For the last several months, a few thousand people have been working to memorize the book of Philippians as part of the Partnering to Remember project started by Pastor Tim Brister. Now that the formal part is over, one of the biggest challenges I’ve found is making time to actually practice going through the whole book. I usually try to get through even a chapter a day in the morning, but with little kids who seem to know just when not to wake up, I rarely seem to get through it. I try to make up for it by working on it a bit in the car on the way to the office (or my office away from the office [read: Starbucks]) and on the way home, but… sometimes the day just gets in the way.
But I’ve not given up. I’m committed to not letting the last four months of work go to waste because it’s probably been the best use of my private worship time so far in 2011.
Now what about you? Are you in the “wash, rinse, repeat” phase of memorizing Philippians? If so, how are you keeping on track?
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)
Thursday night, Emily and I were talking about something she read in Jamie Munson’s book, Money – God or Gift. In it, Munson talks about how we treat money and that basically, the idea of divvying everything up into categories of “needs” and “wants” is an oversimplification. Why is that?
Well, the reality is that the wants vs needs dichotomy doesn’t take into account two things:
- That “wants” can be used for evangelistic goals.
- That sometimes God allows you to abound simply because He wants to bless you.
Christians in the west have got a weird relationship with wealth in that we tend to fall into one of two extremes, either prosperity theology or poverty theology. One treats wealth as something we’re entitled to, the other treats it as something utterly wicked. Neither is true.
Continuing to work through Philippians 4:10-13, I was reminded of how these arguments miss the point. Here, Paul reminds us that the point is not asceticism any more than it is affluence. God is no more honored by deprivation than He is by gluttonous over indulgence. Instead, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are panting for our basic needs or basking in an abundance of provision, we are to remember that it is God who strengthens us. Because God provides, and because God sustains and strengthens us, we can be content in any and every circumstance.
So what are we doing differently in the Armstrong house in light of this?
We’re continuing to look at how God might be calling us to be more generous and how we can wisely steward the finances He has entrusted to us. But, the thing I’ve been convicted of recently has been not enjoying what He has entrusted to us. Being a single income family, there’s not always a lot to around, so it gets tempting for me to get a bit freaked out about money. And in doing so, we fail to actually enjoy what we do have, focusing only on what we don’t.
Again, not appreciating and enjoying what God has provided with a spirit of thankfulness is no more honoring to Him than extravagant indulgence. Both show that our trust is in the gift, not the Giver. Neither leads to contentment.
So our first step in this course correction has been two adjustments to our budget:
- We’ve rejigged things so babysitting money exists
- We’ve created an “unexpected/in case/do something fun” line item
Even if we don’t use the money allocated to these immediately or in the budget cycle, it’s there to use. So we can save it up and do a big night out, or we can enjoy simple things like a couch date with a movie from Blockbuster and a couple of drinks from Starbucks.
Nothing too extravagant, but it’s been helpful in reminding us that He has blessed us with much (and really, He has), and it’s helping us to learn to be content as we thankfully appreciate all that He has provided.
Continuing to work through the last portion of chapter four and reflecting more on Phil. 4:8-9:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
These verses have been ones worth savoring in the last several weeks. The hoopla surrounding you know who continues and it has been really easy to get distracted from everything else. In light of that, I’ve been considering the following question(s):
Despite the need and command to be extremely discerning (see Phil 1:9-10), is it possible to spend so much time focused on what is unpure, unlovely, lacking commendation, and unworthy of praise that you miss out on all the glorious things that God is doing around you, through you and to you? Do you need to be intimately familiar with evil to know what is good?
Discernment is essential, and I am grateful for the measure of it that the Lord has given me. But I’m also by nature something of a curmudgeon. This tends to make it very easy for me to focus solely on negative things rather than on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. And sometimes I wonder if this is what gets us into trouble when it comes to issues of discernment?
I know that whenever a pastor writes a book that says something either heretical or merely stupid (while all heresy is stupid, not all stupidity is heresy), there is a tendency to say “You need to read the book first before you can say anything about it!”
Now, to a point I agree. I do think we would all do well to guard our tongues, especially in making pronouncements without facts. But Philippians 4:8-9 have been reminding me of an important truth:
One does not have to engage with what is evil in order to know that it is evil.
In fact, Paul says the opposite: “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b).
In the same way that I don’t need to try heroin to know it’s bad for me, I don’t have to familiarize myself with false doctrine to know it is evil. If my focus is on what is right, true, pure and praiseworthy, if my focus is on knowing what God is saying to His people through the Scriptures, it’s easy to discern what is evil and avoid it—or, if necessary, confront it.
And truth be told, I’d much rather read my Bible than a bad book any day. Wouldn’t you?
There’s a little under a month left until Easter Sunday. If you’ve been participating in Partnering to Remember, that means we’re coming into the home stretch. As you may recall from past updates, I’ve found myself a couple of weeks ahead on memorizing Philippians, but lately I’ve noticed that I’m having a much harder time focusing on it. I think I have 15 or 16 verses left, but for whatever reason they just aren’t sticking.
Maybe there’s a lot going on right now (which there is). And maybe I’m also being a bit too slack in my discipline (which I am). It’s funny though, I found myself starting to get a bit anxious about it a few days ago.
While working on Phil 4:10-13.
Yeah, I’m ridiculous.
So it’s probably a good thing that I’ve been continually coming back to Phil. 4:6-7
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Confession: Every time I read or speak Philippians 4:6-7, my mind immediately goes to the song that is on the Rizers album. Abigail still adores that record.)
While these verses speak to issues much larger than my tiny, silly anxieties (read: pride issues), it is an excellent reminder that at the heart of anxiety and worry is a lack of trust in and thankfulness to God. Jesus made this point well in Matt. 6:25-34, when he repeatedly points to the birds in the air and the lilies in the valley and says,
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
It’s important to remember, but oh so easy to forget, that we always have two choices in all things: We can live by faith—that is, live with confidence that God will always do what He promises—and be free to pursue His purposes in this life, or we can spend our time worrying ourselves into a tizzy.
I’d much rather do the former than the latter. How about you?