Memorizing Scripture, Part I (Why Memorize, Memorizing Individual Verses)

A reader asked that I say a little more about Scripture memorization, which I mentioned fondly as part of my experience in the residential program. So, with some trepidation, I interrupt your regularly scheduled All Exgay All The Time programming to bring you my thoughts on that subject. Exgay-obsessed blogging will resume tomorrow (God willing) with a post on the “healing” talk.

I’m a little wary of writing about it, because I’m not an expert. These are just my crude trial-and-error experimental efforts which have borne fruit for me. Many smarter, wiser, more experienced, and holier people have written on this subject, and I encourage you to Google “Bible memorization” or “memorize Scripture” or anything like that to REALLY learn how it is done. A great starting point would be this pdf of an excerpt from John Piper’s book When I Don’t Desire God posted online. (Chapters 7-10 are in the excerpt–chapter 8 deals specifically with Scripture memorization.) All I have to offer here is my own experience of mucking through with it.

By the way, I’m going to assume throughout that if you’re interested in memorizing Scripture you are already committed to reading and studying the Bible on a regular basis. Reading it daily. Ray Comfort, an evangelist whom I often find edifying, likes to say “Bible before breakfast. No read, no feed!” If you aren’t reading your Bible on a daily basis, I strongly feel that this should be your priority. (Check out the 19th and the 119th Psalms if you need persuasion on this point.)

Why memorize?

First, I think that knowing the Scriptures by heart makes it easier for them to influence our worldview, the grid through which we view our lives and experiences. Just as the snippets of song lyrics and literature and film that we carry around in our memory influence how we see things, getting the Bible stuck in our brain allows it to influence how we see things. Which, if you believe as I do that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, is a good thing. It brings our minds and hearts more into harmony with God’s mind and God’s heart.

Second, memorizing means that we have the Word ready at hand at all times. Any idle or intellectually undemanding moment can be devoted to reflecting and meditating on the Scriptures. More importantly, it means we have the Word when we really need it–in the face of temptation. Think about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. At every temptation, He rebuked the devil with Scripture. Well, in our lives, in the moment of temptation, if we don’t have the Scripture in our minds and hearts, it’s unlikely to do us much good. It’s a valuable weapon against temptation, but we rarely have time to go grab our Bibles and search for a relevant verse in the heat of battle.

Third, I have found that hiding God’s word in my heart somehow allows it to grow something there and bear fruit in my understanding of the passage, and thereby in my understanding of God. I don’t fully understand how this works, but it does. Even if I’m not deliberately trying to penetrate to a deeper understanding, I find that just knowing the Scripture and going over it thoughtfully (reciting it aloud or silently) during the day helps me to see different aspects of the passage better. It sort of matures (or ferments?) in the mind over time. So, for example, I feel I have a much better grasp on the Epistle to the Philippians than many other books I have studied much more intently with many more commentaries for a much longer period of time, simply because I had it memorized, tucked away in my heart. You will see new facets of the Scripture passage as you come back to it in your heart a week or a month later.

Aids to Memorization

Software: There are some Scripture memorization programs out there. I’ve used Scripture Memory System–it’s not ideal, but it works. I think it can be a good supplement, but I’m uncertain of how well it would work as the backbone of your Scripture memorizing efforts.

Index Cards: The low-tech version of the above. Carry ’em with you, stick ’em up around your house, whatever. These are really valuable for the memorization of individual verses or short passages; for obvious reasons, they become less valuable the longer the passage gets.

Memorization Type #1: Short-text (isolated verse) memorization

You can memorize either individual verses or more extended passages (longer paragraphs, chapters, or whole books) of Scripture. I think the latter approach is more valuable, but if you’re pressed for time, or if your memory isn’t so hot, or you just aren’t sure whether it’s worth the effort and commitment, memorizing isolated verses is also good. (Just make sure you’re understanding the verse in context!) It’s also a good way to collect verses in your mind that deal with a particular problem or issue you might want to focus on. So, for example, if you’re struggling sexually, you can memorize different verses that deal with sexuality and/or overcoming temptation more generally.

Index cards are useful here. Just pick the verse or short passage you want to memorize, write it down on an index card, and read it aloud several times. Then try reciting it aloud without looking at it, until you get it right. Do it from memory several times, checking your performance against what you have written down after each time. Then, as you have opportunity, test your memory of the verse over the next several days and continue to test it periodically. If you write the verse on one side and the chapter and verse reference on the other, you can use the index card as a sort of flash card to quiz yourself with.

Which verses? I don’t know a fixed list. As you read the Scriptures, take note of any verses that strike you or that you think you need to focus on. While I was in the residential program, I kept ten favorite verses stuck to the bottom of the bunk above mine, right above my head (along with Donne’s Holy Sonnet #14) so whenever I was lying in bed and looking up, if there was enough light, I could see those verses. They comforted and challenged me immensely. So I’ll list them here, and maybe some of them will work for others as well.

  • Exodus 14:13-14 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
  • Job 13:15 Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.
  • Ps. 63:1, 6-8 O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly. My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water… When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You, Your right hand upholds me.
  • Ps. 139:23-24 Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
  • Is. 46:3-4 Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.
  • Is. 55:1-2 Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.
  • Mic. 7:8 Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall, I will rise. Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light for me.
  • John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
  • 1 Cor. 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
  • 1 Th. 5:24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

You can see reflected in these verses my favorite themes during that time–submission to God, and our helplessness and utter dependence on God’s mercy and grace. No doubt you will have your own “themes” which God has been laying on your heart, and you can choose your verses accordingly.

…go on to Part II.


One Response to Memorizing Scripture, Part I (Why Memorize, Memorizing Individual Verses)

  1. […] Disputed Mutability takes a break from ex-gay stuff to discuss memorizing scripture. […]

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