Pastor Earl Langley of Nashville, looking back over a fruitful life, recently told me his earliest memories. At age 6, he attended a church where a woman named Mrs. Peters was keen on Scripture memory. To anyone who would memorize Psalm 23, she offered a pencil with a plastic cover imprinted with a Bible verse.
“I remember being intrigued with those small shiny pencils,” said Earl. “I memorized Psalm 23 and won one of them. But what I really won was a far greater prize—a marvelous passage of Scripture that has stayed with me through all these years. I’m 73 now, and while other passages seem to escape my memory, the Twenty-Third Psalm remains firmly entrenched there. Praise the Lord, who is and has been my Shepherd for all these years.”
How many of our youngsters will be able to give a similar testimony 70 years from now? Two classic Christian practices are endangered by our swiftly changing world. One is the singing of the great hymns; the other is the discipline of Scripture memorization. I encourage Christians to learn the hymns without neglecting newer songs of praise, and I believe we also need to learn Bible verses.
Our world has forgotten how to memorize. Our retrieval devices do it for us. We carry translations of the Bible on our cell phones. We search data on our computers. All the information of life fits on our electronic devices, and with a click of a button we recall what we need.
I’m not complaining. We should praise the Lord for the portability and accessibility of Scripture! Our expanding technologies hold unbelievable potential for evangelism and discipleship. But no electronic device can replace our God-designed brains. Just because the Bible is clipped to our belt doesn’t mean it’s inscribed in our minds. Just because it’s at our fingertips doesn’t mean it’s sinking into our souls.
There’s no substitute for engraving the very words of God into the furrows of our thoughts. The Bible doesn’t say, “Your Word have I clipped to my belt.” It says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart” (Psalm 119:11).
The genius of Scripture is its capacity to transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Ephesians 4:23 commands, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”
Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above. Scripture memorization is a way of digging into the mind and planting the truth a little deeper in order to achieve a richer harvest. Prior generations memorized vast portions of God’s Word; we can memorize more than we think.
Restoring the art of Scripture memory is crucial for us and our churches and children. It’s vital for mental and emotional health and for spiritual wellbeing. Though it’s as easy as repeating words aloud, it’s as powerful as acorns dropping in the forest. It makes the Bible portable; you can take it with you everywhere without packing it in your purse or briefcase.
It makes Scripture accessible day and night. It allows God’s words to sink into your brain and permeate your subconscious and even your unconscious thoughts. It gives you a word to say to anyone, in season and out. It fills your heart and home with the best thoughts ever recorded. It saturates the personality, satiates the soul and stockpiles the mind. It changes the atmosphere of every family and alters the weather forecast of every day.
Memorizing Scripture produces clearer and cleaner thoughts, steadier nerves and healthier emotions, happier homes and boundless optimism. And it allows our minds to feed on His faithfulness.
Where to Begin?
Whatever your age or circumstances, find a verse to memorize and begin now. Children can often memorize more quickly, but unless we’re suffering mental illness we can memorize at any age. As we grow older, Scripture memory becomes increasingly vital. It is mental and spiritual therapy to keep the mind sharp and young. Here are some suggested texts to tackle:
John 14:1-6. This passage begins with Jesus saying, “Let not your heart be troubled.” It ends with “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” These verses will be a tremendous comfort to you and to those to whom you quote them. Yes, it’s a passage of six verses, but take one phrase at a time and add line upon line.
Psalm 100. There are five verses here, but all are relatively short. Notice the words joyful … gladness … singing … thanksgiving … praise. You could choose any of the verses or learn them all, one at a time.
Psalm 4:8. This is a bedtime verse, a pillow for our heads: “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Psalm 5:3: Your day will go better when you start with this attitude on rising: “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.”
Romans 6:23: When you internalize this text, you’ll always be able to lead someone to Christ, for this verse is the Gospel in capsule form: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How To Memorize
Don’t be daunted by the task. Just find a way of working Scripture memory into your routine. It can fit into things you’re already doing. Driving to work each day? Put a verse on your dashboard. Brushing your hair? Post a verse on your mirror. Turning on your laptop? Create a homepage with your verse. Quote it several times upon awakening and before retiring. Say it aloud until its words begin to sound wonderfully familiar. Learning a verse is like making a new friend. At first the relationship is a bit stiff, but then it becomes more relaxed, and finally it’s as comfortable as an old shoe.
Devise some homemade mnemonics and mental associations, either for the verse or the reference. I remember the location of Proverbs 19:11, for example, because my dad was born in 1911 and this verse reminds me of him: “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger.”
Make a list of verses you want to memorize. As I have my daily devotions, I frequently read a verse I’d like to learn. I put it on the list. It’s a lifelong habit, for I don’t expect to exhaust His Word or outlive my need for its strength.
The Bible is the unfailing message from a God who is both intimate and infinite, and who is omniscient and omnipotent. It verbalizes His revealed intelligence about how we should think, feel, act and speak. Its theology is therapeutic; its advice sensible. Every verse is priceless, for all Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and we’re to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16, Matthew 4:4).
As our minds become saturated with Scripture, we think more nearly as God thinks. As we meditate day and night on His Word, we become like trees planted by rivers of water that flourish and bear continual fruit.
In his book “How to Be Born Again,” Billy Graham told of a woman imprisoned by the Japanese in China and placed in a concentration camp where the Bible was forbidden. Somehow she acquired a copy of John’s Gospel, and every night she pulled her head beneath the covers and, using a small flashlight, began memorizing the book. As she memorized a page, she would tear it out and flush it down the drain.
Just before the prisoners were released, a reporter for Time magazine entered the camp to interview the detainees. Later, this reporter was standing at the gates as the prisoners came out. Most shuffled along looking like zombies. This little missionary, however, was beaming and bright as a button.
“I wonder if they managed to brainwash her?” someone asked.
“No,” said the reporter. “God washed her brain.”
This year let God wash your brain. Rediscover the nearly forgotten art of lifelong Scripture memorization and devise a plan for hiding His Word each day in your heart. ©2011 Rob Morgan
Scripture Quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Rob Morgan is senior pastor of The Donelson Fellowship, in Nashville, Tenn., and a best-selling author with more than 25 books in print.