A friend recently sent me an old article from John Piper entitled “Why Memorize Scripture?” Memorizing passages of the Bible is something I’ve developed more of an interest in over the past couple of years and, to my surprise, I’ve found that I’m actually able to do it—even to memorize extended sections if I am willing to put in the effort (not always a sure bet).
Piper offers a list of reasons why we should memorize Scripture. They are:
Conformity to Christ - Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.
Daily Triumph over Sin - As sin lures the body into sinful action, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.
Daily Triumph over Satan - When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight.
Comfort and Counsel for People You Love - When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.
Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers - Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn.
Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways - The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes.
These are six really good reasons. On the flip side, I suspect that the primary reason most of us do not commit more Scripture to memory is simply the difficulty involved. It is a difficult and time-consuming process to take those words and force them into our minds.
So how about you? Is Scripture memorization a part of your routine? Is it something you do as a regular part of your devotion to the Lord?
Last week I offered the first of a series of wallpapers to coincide with the Scripture Memorization effort some of us are enjoying. This week we are moving to a new passage of Scripture and hence I wanted to offer you a wallpaper to go along with it. Our new passage is going to be (to no one’s great surprise) Romans 14 (and the first seven verses of Romans 15). This will be our last passage in Romans; it means we will have memorized chapters 12, 13, 14 and the first portion of 15. This includes, then, this entire “application” section of Paul’s Epistle. It will be good to have it filed away so we can continue to meditate upon it, learn from it, and grow because of it.
I hope you find them useful. In the coming weeks I’ll post “catch-up” wallpapers for Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Romans 12.
Also, if you are into graphics design and would like to come up with some alternate designs for the Scripture memory wallpapers, please let me know. I’d love to be able to offer up a series of designs for each passage.
And finally, if you need this wallpaper in a size I haven’t offered, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do. I’m not sure who uses what wallpaper sizes these days.
If you are interested in joining in with us as we memorize portions of God’s Word, please add your name and email address below:
As you know, I’ve been enjoying memorizing passages of Scripture with readers of this site. To this point we have finished Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Romans 12. We are hard at work on Romans 13. I thought it might be valuable to offer wallpapers for your desktop that tied in to the memorization program (though even if you are not participating you may enjoy them). I had a graphics designer come up with some designs and will link them each time we begin a new passage. Here, then, is a wallpaper you can download for Romans 13.
A couple of months ago I began an effort to memorize Scripture with other people who read this site. My initial projection of having thirty people interested in participating was quickly shattered and there are now more than 1100 participating. Those who have been participating from the beginning have now memorized Psalm 8, Psalm 103 and Romans 12. Speaking personally I can say that the time I’ve spent committing Scripture to memory has been profoundly important. It has been rich in a spiritual sense and has fed my soul. Perhaps best of all, it has really renewed my love for Scripture and my belief in its power, importance and relevance.
I’d like to invite you to participate in this program. It’s very simple. We are focusing on longer portions of Scripture though I am also sending out weekly “Fighter Verses” for those who prefer to memorize shorter portions. This week we are beginning a new passage—Romans 13. It is a great passage that reminds us to submit to those whom God has put in authority over us, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” It tells us to pay our taxes with joy “for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” And it challenges us to fulfill God’s law through love. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
So if you are not currently working on memorizing portions of the Bible, why not join in? I am convinced that if you make the commitment you will soon realize the blessings.
Every Sunday I send out an email to remind you of the passage we are working on, to let you know about the new Fighter Verse, and to encourage you to press on. If you’d like to participate in the program, just send along your name and email address using this little form. You’re free, of course, to unsubscribe at any time.
Those of us who are participating in the “Memorizing Scripture Together” program have come to the close of our second long passage. Those who have followed along from the beginning should now have stored away in their hearts and minds both Psalm 8 and Psalm 103. To those who have managed to do one or both, congratulations! I told you that you weren’t too old…
I know there are some who have not quite finished with the passages. Hence, I am going to declare this a transition week meaning that there will be no new long passage. Instead, I’d encourage you to practice (and practice again) the two Psalms we’ve memorized. And if you need a bit of extra time to perfect them, that is what this week is all about.
Tune in next Sunday and I’ll announce our next long passage. It’s going to be a good one…
If you’d like to participate beginning next week, just add your name to the list and you’ll receive an email on Sunday…
If you need some more encouragement to memorize Scripture, you may be interested in this recent sermon by John Piper. He titled it “If My Words Abide in You.” It deals with the necessity of storing up God’s Word in our hearts. It would be well worth your time listening to (or reading through). You can find the link here.
Here is part of the message’s summary: “What does this mean to have Jesus’ words “abiding in us”? More than memorizing Scripture, it means that Jesus’ words take root in us—they find a home in us—and bear the fruit of faith and holiness. But what does this have to do with memorizing Scripture? The broad biblical answer is that the Holy Spirit awakens life and faith and personal transformation through the word of God in our conscious minds. And anything that brings the word of God into connection with our minds will work to strengthen faith and bring about the fruit of transformed lives—and not just our own, but the lives of others also. Memorizing Scripture makes this kind of connection between God’s word and our minds more constant, deep, and transforming. Nothing else can take its place.”
The name Ryan Ferguson may be familiar to some of the readers of this site. Ryan has appeared at a couple of conferences where he has recited long passages of Scripture. I first saw him at WorshipGod ‘06 where he dramatically recited all of Hebrews 9 and 10 (though he had memorized the entire book). I recently got ahold of Ryan and asked if he would answer a few questions about memorizing Scripture. I trust this brief interview will serve to encourage you either to begin memorizing passages from the Bible or to press on in your conviction that you ought to.
Why did you decide to memorize large passages of Scripture? It began when I saw a man named Tom Key recite the book of Revelation. He is a professional actor out of Atlanta, Georgia. I was blown away. At about the same time my church had just studied Ecclesiastes so I started memorizing and asked our teaching pastor if I could recite it for the church.
What are some of the passages you’ve committed to memory? I have memorized the books of Ecclesiastes and Hebrews. I have memorized various Psalms, Genesis 1, and various other smaller sections.
How do you decide which passages you will memorize? It depends. When I did Hebrews that was a specific choice to serve the people at my church. I memorized it while our church studied for one year. Some of the Psalms I did specifically for the WorshipGod08 conference this summer that centered on the Psalms. Ecclesiastes was a work that God was doing in my heart. I memorized it in response to a time in my life when like Solomon I was asking a lot of questions.
You are known for reciting passages “dramatically.” Is there benefit in memorizing Scripture with dramatic recitation in mind? Yes, but answering yes doesn’t mean you have to be an “actor.” In a sense we are all actors. Many people will tell a story to kids and do character voices; most of us have played make believe or pretend; any time we make a joke we are acting, that is, we are using text (or words) to make point or get a reaction. If we think of Scripture as more than just recorded words, but specific words written in a specific time to specific people to make a specific point we can understand more than just the denotative nature of the words. We can see the heart behind the words. Everyone does this in one way or another, for example, a wife reads a note from a husband on Valentine’s Day and experiences joy beyond the mere words on the page. She knows those words communicate so much more than just “I love you.” Whenever we receive emails, we don’t just read them we interpret them; we try to figure out what the person is saying, and that, in a sense, is acting. Actors take words on pages and interpret them. So when we approach the memorization of Scripture, it will help to think dramatically; it will help us to think of more than just the written words. Think like an actor; think about what you are trying to communicate with those words.
What are some of the blessings you’ve experienced in memorizing Scripture? I have heard it said that joy comes through obedience. I would say that I have experienced joy in memorizing Scripture because God has asked me to hide his Word in my heart so I don’t forget him. There is a joy in knowing God’s Word. In a different way, I have been blessed to be able to use the Scripture that I have in my head in specific instances to encourage or exhort a brother or sister in Christ.
What benefit is there in memorizing entire books of the Bible? If we value Scripture as God’s inspired Word, then I would suggest that the benefit of memorizing entire books is that we get to experience everything God wanted to say through that author at that particular point. For instance if you memorize Ephesians, you get to experience how the Spirit inspired Paul to write the first three chapters declaring truth after wonderful truth about God, and then you would experience the practical power of Scripture in chapters four through six as we have multiple commands given to us about our living. When we have whole books in our minds, we can experience the entire story of that book.
I have also thought that the benefit of having entire books memorized will be revealed if we ever have to endure persecution. If the printed Scriptures are removed from our lives how much will we be able to recreate from the passages we have diligently put into our minds.
Do you have any warnings or exhortations you’d want to extend to people who are seeking to memorize Scripture? Yes, and I believe this is key to memorizing. Don’t memorize data!! Our minds while often compared to computers are not computers. We need more than just letters, words, and sentences to be able to connect our minds and hearts to the text. We need to know what it says, why it was written, and what the text is trying communicate. It is very difficult to just sit down and memorize a sequence of words that has no connection or story. For instance, it would be much more difficult to memorize the genealogies in Chronicles than it would be to memorize a narrative section in the book of Genesis. Why? Because we communicate ideas with our words; we don’t communicate words with our words. Many of us could tell a fairy tale to a child that we have not memorized because we know the story; we know the idea. The same is true with Scripture. Memorization is knowing the story and then choosing to use the specific words of any piece of text to tell that story. I hope this makes sense…
What are some longer passages you would suggest for beginners? Prior to giving specifics, let me first suggest that whatever longer passage you choose, make it a passage of Scripture that God has used in your life and heart. This connection will assist you in your memory work, because it will be connecting God’s powerful Word to your thinking and living. I would suggest the following: Psalm 1, 46, 139, 150, Genesis 1, John 1, I John 1, any chapter in Ephesians, James 1. I would also suggest (and would like to do this) II and III John and Jude because they are short books, but you would still be encouraged by having memorized an entire book.
Describe the methodology you’ve used to file away large passages of Scripture. I have been asked this in almost every church to which I have traveled. I work in a very specific way, and it may not work for everyone. When I memorize a book, I first put it into a Word document and remove all the verse numbers but leave the chapter numbers. I then break up the book into paragraph form so that it looks and reads more like what I am used to reading. I then memorize one paragraph at a time. When I have one memorized, I add the next paragraph and do them together. I do this process until I have memorized the desired section.
This particular way of memorizing has some inherent problems that people have raised that are valid. I do not have verse recall. I can’t just jump in and tell you Hebrews 7:6. For some people they would rather have the chapter and verse reference, especially those who are counselors. I understand this, but for me it is the way it works. I also believe that sometimes communicating the Word of God to people doesn’t have to be referenced…this is purely my opinion. I believe that God through his Spirit can quicken our mind and bring particular Scripture to mind when needed. It is interesting that in the book of Hebrews the author quotes this way, he uses the phrase “as it says also in another place…” when referencing the Old Testament. He doesn’t even say who wrote it or in what book.
Can you share any final tips and tricks that may be useful? I am not sure if this is a tip or trick, perhaps it is more of an encouragement. I often hear people say, “I just can’t memorize.” In some instances that statement may be true, but I have started asking people questions to show them how well they do memorize. I will ask questions like the this, “How many lines from movies can you quote?” or “Tell me every phone number you know” or “Tell me the names of every sports team you know” This list of questions could go on and on. We all can memorize. Much of memorizing depends on where you put your attention. I love mountain biking; I study it; I read about it; I look online at blogs about it. I could tell you a lot about mountain biking other than my experience. I have memorized a lot about the topic I love. Developing our memories takes work, time, and discipline. Don’t be disappointed if it takes you a while to memorize Scripture. God has not set up a Bible quiz to determine if you have all your verses memorized this week. God desires that you love his Word. Psalm 19 uses very specific language, language of desire when referring to God’s Word. Love God’s Word, spend the time with God’s Word to hide it in your heart.
As I’ve said before, the bulk of the Memorizing Scripture Together effort is happening via email, but I do want to provide the occasional update on the blog. Because we are beginning a new passage today, it seemed like an appropriate time to mention it here.
Those of us participating in the program have just completed memorizing Psalm 8. I want to focus on at least one more Psalm, and another one that can be used as a prayer. And so I think Psalm 103 is an excellent choice. It is a beautiful Psalm of adoration and one you can memorize and then pray back to God. We will give this one four weeks. I might have considered trying three weeks except that the holidays are upon us and I’m sure we will all be quite distracted in the days to come. This Psalm has four stanzas and you’ve got four weeks; let’s shoot for January 11.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul! how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Join the Fun
I send out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to).
It is my intention to primarily use email to update the participants in the Memorizing Scripture Together effort (click here to learn about the program). However, this morning I logged in to the software I use to send those emails only to find that it is down for maintenance until 9 AM tomorrow morning. And so I’m going to post this on the blog today just to keep people in the loop. The email blast will go out as soon as the software is available again.
As we began the program last week I received some immediate feedback. Much of it was of the “this is tough!” variety. And I tend to agree. Memorization does not come easily to most of us, so we are only going to commit passages to memory through long, hard work and through endless repetition. Speaking personally, though, I can say that already I’ve found these times to be a blessing. It has been a worshipful time as I’ve repeated God’s praises again and again. I’ve emphasized different words and phrases as I’ve gone through it and have repeated it with different focuses. This has kept it fresh in my mind and has kept me seeking the “heart” behind the passage.
Every week I want to offer a tip, a suggestion, an interview or something that will help us in our efforts. This week’s tip is very simple but very effective.
Use Index Cards. Choose a portion of the verse that you’d like to master that week, and either write or print it on an index card. I wasn’t able to find printable index cards at Staples so instead purchased cards meant to be inserts in name badges (Avery #05392). They are slightly different dimensions but work just fine. Print the verse on one side and the citation on the other. Put this card in your pocket or in your Bible or in some place where you are bound to come across it at least once or twice a day. You may also wish to print up several of the cards and place them around the house—on the bathroom mirror, above the kitchen sink, below your computer’s monitor, on the fridge, and so on. That way, at any time, you will have the verse near you and can recite it a couple of times between other activities. As the program continues you will build up a collection of these cards and you can skim through them every week or two to ensure that the verses stay fresh in your mind. This is a memorization technique “classic” but one that continues to reap benefits.
This Week’s Fighter Verse
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
This Week’s Passage
Those of us who are working on the longer passage are focusing on Psalm 8. This is a three week project, taking us until December 14.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8
We would love for you to join us. I plan on sending out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to). Otherwise, just keep an eye on this blog and dedicate time to memorizing the Scripture passages.
The “Reading Classics Together” effort has taught me that blogs (even this blog) can offer a kind of excitement and accountability by community that helps me do things I wouldn’t otherwise have the discipline to do. And from what I hear, it works for some of you, too. Many of us would never have read Owens or Edwards or Pink if we had not had the crowd accountability we’ve found here. This has been the reason for the success of the “Reading Classics” program, I’m sure. Shared enthusiasm means that more than one person will be reading a particular book and shared accountability means that more people will continue reading a book. It has worked well!
Today I’d like to introduce a similar effort dealing with Scripture memorization. But just like “Reading Classics” isn’t quite an easy book club dealing with short, simple, modern books, I don’t think this “Memorizing Scripture” effort will be exclusively dedicated to memorizing short and isolated verses. Instead, I’d like to focus on longer passages—whole Psalms, poems, portions of prophecy and maybe, just maybe, entire books (Colossians, perhaps?).
Don’t freak out yet.
I have a terrible memory. Memorizing comes to me only with great effort so I will be—will need to be—moving through these passages at a reasonable pace. I do not intend to try to memorize Psalm 119 in a week (or a month, for that)! But over time I would like to challenge myself and others to commit to memory lengthy portions of the Bible. I am convinced that we can do it, if we do it together.
So here is what I propose. For those who are interested in working on only verses or short passages (still a good and noble goal) I will provide a weekly verse and will post it on this site every Sunday. This will coincide with the verse my church has committed to memorize that week. But I will also be progressively working on larger portions of Scripture and I’ll post these larger passages as well. That way you can commit to individual verses, larger passages, or both. In any case, you’ll be memorizing Scripture and that can only be a good thing!
I plan on sending out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to). And then, beginning on Sunday, we’ll get memorizing Scripture together.
Are you in?
About the Author
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three young children. I worship and serve as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and am a co-founder of Cruciform Press.