Yes, you really can memorize Scripture. Seriously, really you can.


“No, I can’t do that.”

Let’s be honest: that’s what most of us think every time the subject of memorizing Scripture comes up. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s simply the task itself that intimidates us. I mean, it is God’s Word, after all—who wants to be the person quoting it to mess it up? Or perhaps it’s that we simply think we’re incapable of doing it. Memorization is for… well, we’re not sure who, but not us. Or, worst case, maybe it’s a lack of desire. We just don’t want to do it.

It’s tempting to take the semi-berating approach when it comes to offering any sort of corrective to our thinking on this point. You know what I mean, right? The “if you can quote lines from The Simpsons or The Princess Bride, you can memorize Scripture” one. And it’s true, but it’s kind of jerky.

Instead, I want to share a little something cool that happened last night.

Now, yesterday I mentioned how I’d once memorized the book of Philippians. Even though I had it all down, I didn’t use it, so I more or less lost it. Except, I found out later that day, that I hadn’t quite lost it. Emily and I started exploring this book with some friends, and I put up my hand to read a portion of the first chapter. I started reading but found that I wasn’t relying solely on the printed words in front of me. At a couple of points around verses 21-22 and 27-28, it seemed to flow pretty naturally from me again.

It’s been the better part of five years since that’s happened. But it’s still (sort of) there.

And that’s good new for me because it’s making me want to try again. To try to start recapturing what I’d lost (and not lose it again, Lord willing).

So, what does this story have to do with why I think you can memorize Scripture, too? Well, here’s the thing: memorizing Scripture is hard, yes. But you can do it. God has given you a wonderful gift in the mind you possess. Your mind, regardless of how intellectual you think you are (or aren’t), is more complex and mysterious than anything we humans can devise using it. And, if you are a Christian, he has given you an even greater gift in giving you his Spirit to dwell within you. You have the author behind the authors of Scripture living in you! And he will help you to know God’s Word and store it up in your heart and mind.

Maybe starting with something as ambitious as a full book is a bad idea for you. So don’t get too ambitious and burn yourself out. But you can try a single verse.

Maybe Philippians 1:21,  “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Or perhaps John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way: that He sent His One and Only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (HCSB[1. Which offers my preferred take on this verse]).

Or one as simple as, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

You could even start with, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Regardless of where you start, or how long it takes, you can memorize Scripture. Start with one of the four verses I’ve shared above. Or pick another one that is especially meaningful to you. Or go with something totally random. But do it. Try one verse. Read it. Write it. Think about it. Speak it. Repeat it. No matter what doubts you have going through your mind right now, believe me: you can memorize Scripture. No, really—you can.

Memorizing Scripture is easier (and harder) than you think

An open Bible being read

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.

New and noteworthy books

Noteworthy books to arrive in April and May

One of my favorite times of the day, after coming home and greeting my family, is seeing what mail has arrived. This is not because I love finding out how many bills are waiting for me, but because there’s often a new book waiting for me from one of the many Christian publishers out there (and occasionally from a non-Christian one). Here’s a look at several of the more noteworthy books that have arrived over the last while:

The Gospel Project Bible (B&H Publishing Group). This new study Bible “is designed to lead readers to understand basic biblical doctrines, to see how all the Scriptures point to Jesus, and to join Him in His mission of seeking and saving the lost.” One of my favorite things about it so far? The summaries of all 99 of The Gospel Project’s essential doctrines. (For more on this Bible, check out this post on the Gospel Project blog.)

Living in the Light: Money, Sex & Power by John Piper (The Good Book Company). This compact book is demonstrates how Christians can enjoy these three “dangerous opportunities” in a way that “satisfies you, serves the world and glorifies God.” I’ll almost certainly be reading this in the next few weeks.

Liberating King by Stephen Miller (Baker Books). I’m just starting to crack into this one, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read. This book is all about the good news we all need—how the gospel overcomes our sin and how “holy living is within our grasp when we keep our eyes and our adoration on the one who was sent not only to save us but also to make us into new creations.”

Habits of Our Holiness by Philip Nation (Moody). This new book on the spiritual disciplines “connects [them] to all of life” by showing how they have their “greatest power when practiced in community and on mission.”

Pictures of a Theological Exhibition by Kevin Vanhoozer (IVP Academic). “Through essays on the church’s worship, witness and wisdom, Vanhoozer shows us how a poetic imagination can answer the questions of life’s meaning by drawing our attention to what really matters: the God of the gospel.” Having flipped through this, it’s definitely one I want to read (hopefully soon), but it’s not going to be a fast one.

Delivered from the Elements of the World by Peter Leithhart (IVP Academic). Purporting to elude conventional categories, this book on the atonement “prods our theological imaginations” by reframing Anselm’s question “Why the God Man?” instead asking, “”How can the death and resurrection of a Jewish rabbi of the first century . . . be the decisive event in the history of humanity, the hinge and crux and crossroads for everything?”

Aspire: Transformed by the Gospel by Matt Rogers (Seed Publishing Group, LLC). This is a new 15-week workbook style study intended to be used to disciple believers in a church context. Think one-on-one relationships or groups of three. The content in it looks really solid so far, balancing theological insights and practical application well.

And a bonus book (one I purchased):

The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton (Penguin Classics). Chesterton’s writing brings me joy, so I’m looking forward to working my way through each story featuring this Catholic priest… who also happens to be an amateur detective.