| How to Memorize Scripture
What things can hold us back?
Reasons why we may never get started (or quit soon after we started)
It may be that you see the value of memorizing scripture, but just cannot get yourself started, or if you do, it does not last for long. If you have tried to memorize scripture before you probably had some sort of trouble. Let's identify some common causes of a fizzled out scripture memory program.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:14-16)Paul sees that the important thing is not to worry about what you have or have not done. These things are not as important as keeping yourself moving forward towards the goal. As Christians we have been set free from all forms of condemnation. We need not be bound up by our own weaknesses and fears. The only one who fails is the one who does not get up when he falls down.
Another related issue is the feeling of frustration caused by not being able to remember verses for long. I think that this is often a matter of technique. Our memories have to be properly trained. Nevertheless, some people do have better memories than others. But remember that at the beginning of this chapter I said that it is not those who learn the most scriptures who are the winners, it is those who internalize what they have learned. Sometimes I personally feel like a man who has been given the task of filling a large tank with water using a wicker basket. I fill up the basket and no matter how fast I run, it is almost empty when I get to the tank. It seems will take most of my life to fill that tank. Later I realize that the reason I was given the task was not to fill the tank, but to have a clean basket. The task we have been given is to develop a pure mind and a pure heart. The information in you mind is not the end in itself, but a means to the end. Be warned also that a mind continually exposed to garbage will yield an impure mind and an impure heart.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)Do you remember what you ate for supper last Monday night? How about three weeks before that? Probably not. But you probably did eat, and you are well nourished because of it. The important thing is that you eat every day, just as it is important that you feed yourself spiritually every day.
Some have better memories than others, but I think that everyone can train themselves
to remember things permanently - if they really want to.
It is easy to underestimate the value of slow growth. Lets say you 'dabble' with memorizing scripture
for 20 years if fits and starts and during that time have learned then forgotten a few hundred verses. There are
several reasons for my forgetting them. But, now think about what could have accomplished.
If you had learned only one verse per week for 20 years and made it a point to learn it well,
you would now
know 1000 verses!.
About two years ago (1994), I was memorizing scripture on a daily basis. In fact, I was working on it each day for over a year. Everything was running smoothly then suddenly one day my second son was born. This added a significant amount of work to our family routine and my scripture memory program was lost in the dust. (Footnote added in 2004: Life is still very busy. Many important things to do. All the more reason to work at it consistently, a little each day)Change is inevitable, but the practice of your spiritual disciplines should not have to get lost in the shuffle.
There is a second group of things which can take the momentum out of a scripture memory program. These are the things which grab your interest and time and then grow so big that they displace what you were doing. You lose interest and again, soon you are no longer in the habit of memorizing scripture. After a while you realize that you are spending your free time an energy doing something else other than what you should have been doing.
We need to have hobbies, and frequent distraction is good mental therapy, but what we do must be evaluated on a regular basis against the goals we have made. Frequently, the things we get involved in are good things and are of value. But they are not the most important because they do not move you to the fulfillment of your goals. Other things are more obviously a waste of time and are not profitable at all.
Now we get back to the ideas of self control and training. The laws of Physics
say that things left to themselves always tend towards disorganization. We
humans follow this law of Physics to the letter. But this does not _have_
to result in failure. If it does, it is your own fault and loss. Later,
we will discuss ways to prevent you from drifting away from your goals. We
will discuss some principles which you can use to develop priorities
in your life.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)Most people do not have bad memories, they have untrained memories. We all have fairly good memories. Think of the amount of memory it takes to talk and to write and find your way around each day. You could show me many thousands of people and things which I will be able to recognize or remember. Think of all the songs and stories you know. All these things (and much more) are a function of your memory. One complaint people have is that they have bad memories. This just is not true. They say they can't remember this or that as well as they used to be able to. But this is not a sign that you have a bad memory, but one which has not been trained to organize information well. Your memory does not have to grow worse with age. You just have not been taught how to use your memory, and it grows ineffective through lack of use. So do not disqualify yourself from the task before you get started. One who groans 'I am not good at memorizing scripture' is defeated already.
We are not accustomed to using our memories these days so it hurts to do so when we first try. Many of us are not accustomed to putting in the extra work required to meet personal goals and therefore it is left undone. Mark Underwood, a friend of mine from my University days wrote to me some time ago with the following comments regarding this issue:
I remember a couple of years ago I used to jog around our neighborhood. About three quarters of the way through, after a slight incline (upward) in the road, I would get an overwhelming urge to stop. Undoubtedly, this was because I had to work a bit harder to get up the hill, and I would become tired and want to stop. And stop I did. Later, however, as I became more fit the hill wasn't so tiring. But I discovered that I would STILL get the same strong urge to stop at that same place. And I would stop. Once though, as I was running, it occurred to me that I should try to keep on going. I ran up the incline, came to the point of the 'urge', but kept on going. It was a strange moment of freedom, realizing I could break this stopping habit so easily. All it took was a revelation that I didn't have to stop any more, and a persevering through a 'pain' period of about 20 seconds, where my body would cry out to stop. The next time I ran up the incline, stopping wasn't even a serious option!
That experience has given me a suspicion of everything which I perceive as a barrier, which often now the Lord shows me is a mere self-deception rising up from a certain fear in my heart. Heaven knows that there are barriers in my life that I don't even perceive yet. But by the grace of Christ there will be a revelation, an exposing of a fear, a casting out, and an fuller penetration of the love of Christ by his Spirit in my heart.
When you become aware that you have sinned or are sinning the proper response is to confess it (admit it and agree with God that it is wrong) then repent of it (stop, turn away, have a change of heart) then renounce the behaviour (treat it like filth and cast it away). If you do this your bond of fellowship with God will be restored. It has been said that either the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1Jo 1:5-10)
Review is a vitally important part of a successful scripture memory program. Each set of verses you learn must be completely mastered before you go on to the next. To be successful, you must first be convinced that this is true. If you do it will be easier to be patient. According to my Websters', patient means:
Bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain; not hasty or impetuous; steadfast despite opposition, difficulty or adversity.
Remember that the goal is to learn the Scripture you learn perfectly, 100% error free. If you have a problem with patience then stop and consider this: Slow and steady wins the race. Determine to be steadfast. Convince yourself that this is the best way to ensure that you will get to the goal.
Make certain also that the Scripture you memorize is used for something else
than using up spare neural connections in your brain. The purpose of this,
after all, is so that you and the people you know will grow more obedient to
God and more like Christ in character. Meditation and application are
important steps in a successful scripture memory program, somewhat separate
from the memorization process, and must be tended to with the same diligence and deliberate
discipline if this success is to come.
Other people spend all of their time just getting by. Consider the single parent of two young children who works each day. He or she may not have a car and has to spend a lot of time on the bus going to and from work, the daycare, the mall and such. After this they still want to spend quality time with their children, give them the opportunity to take swimming lessons and participate in Church. At the end of each day, they are also tired out. How can they find the time to memorize scripture?
This perception that you lack sufficient time (and energy) can sometimes prove to be a significant challenge to one who wants to memorize scripture. The reality is, people typically always find the time to do the things that are the most important to them. This may require a certain amount of serious reflection on what you do with your time. The athlete organizes his life around his training because it is important if he is to achieve his goals. He puts in the extra effort required to see that this is done while still meeting his other obligations. If you think that you do not have time to memorize scripture, you are really saying one of two things:
I was surprised to discover that even in Christian circles, very few people are interested in
memorizing scriptures. They often act indifferent when I start talking about it. For example, I have
told people I am writing an Internet book on the subject of scripture memorization and
asking questions about it they would say 'OH' and then start talking about something
else. So do not be surprised if people do not understand because if many Christians do not see it
as being important, then certainly most non-Christians won't either.
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Copyright (c) 1997-2004 Stephen Simpson. All rights reserved. You may use
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION,
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by
permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers