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Chapter 3   Table of Contents   Chapter 5

How to Memorize Scripture

Memorization - Getting Started

by Stephen Simpson

If we have set our minds and hearts on the task of memorizing scripture we desire a good thing. The one who has hidden God's word in his heart, submitting his life to its power, is truly blessed. These pages have been written to encourage all Christians to develop a desire to know God's word by heart. My challenge to you is to memorize as much of it as you are able and then to put it into practice. Memorizing scripture does not stand alone. It has to be part of a life-style that is completely dedicated to Christ.

This pursuit of Christ is a blessed journey, but it is easier said than done...

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Cor 9:24-27


Paul was careful to be the master of his own body in order that he would never be distracted from his goal. He has purpose and intent. He works to focus his energy on one thing - to know Christ and to make Christ known. He seems to realize that he could spend all his energy working, but in the end not be at the place he would liked to have been. We must imitate his behaviour patterns (Ph 4:9; Ph 3:15,17)

This requires dependence on God's grace. But we have a part to play also. We have to have the discipline to remain focused and the skill and patience to do the job properly ...

Getting (and keeping) yourself focused

You can be certain that enthusiasm, zeal and determination do not guarantee that you will be successful at any activity which requires endurance. Enthusiasm fades, priorities shift and our goals and plans are forgotten. As time passes the business of life occupies more and more of our time. Our focus can shift around. Many different things, both good and bad, can absorb our time and our minds. Some are useful and some are clearly a waste of time. Many things are good, but not everything brings us closer to meeting our goals. The keys to memorizing scripture are dependence (on God), training (yourself) and self-control (mastering your body and time) in order that you may meet your goal (spiritual maturity). Given the right methods and appropriate training, anyone should be able to meet their goals. Remember that God has given us 'EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness' and it is up to us to apply it. This can be done, but you have to have some way of keeping yourself focused on your goals.

Goals?

Here is a question. Do you even have any well thought through goals regarding your life in Christ? Chances are you do not! Most people do not. I am sure that you know a lot about being a Christian. You love God. You know the Bible and seek to obey God. But, we are almost 'trained' to let life pass by without making an exceptional and planned effort to aggressively pursue the best that life has to offer - that is, 'the surpassing greatness' of knowing fully our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

Plan?

Here is another question. Do you have a plan in place to guarantee that you will reach your goal? Well, it will not happen by itself. Paul was careful to make sure that in his zeal for God he did not run aimlessly and in the end be surprised that he did not accomplish what he should have.

Here are the components of a successful scripture memory program:

  1. Write out a statement of intent - describing your personal resolution to memorize scripture

  2. Have a way of way of fine-tuning your resolutions as you learn more.

  3. Make a list of the various time slots in you weekly schedule which you will dedicate to the task.

  4. Have a way of regularly checking to make sure you are pursuing your goals to the best of your ability and to make course corrections as you go along.

  5. Learn how to select and organize the material you will memorize.

  6. Develop effective ways to memorize the selected texts.

  7. Develop effective ways to review the passages to ensure it is permanent.

  8. Build the arts of prayer, meditation and study into your life so you understand what you have memorized. Strive to gain a hunger for the word of God and a thirst for the knowledge of God.

  9. Design the whole process to make sure that the only important task is actually completed - application

  10. Link yourself with one or two others who have the same goals as yourself so you can assist one another along the way.


It will take a little time and effort to organize and train yourself to memorize scripture in an effective way. Assuming that you see the importance of scripture memory and that you want to do so, the important thing, then, is to gain control over your time, your body and your mind so that you can actually see it done. If these things are not done, you probably will not be very successful, and the time you spend will not be as productive as it could be.

Take the first step

Your first assignment is to get a notebook and start a scripture memory journal. I am using a 3-ring binder and regular lined paper. This format is easy to organize and to work with. Your journal will be divided into a number of sections. Each section will be discussed in detail later.

Write up your resolution to understand and memorize scripture

Before you begin, it is a good idea to take some time, and write out a series of resolutions concerning the place of the word of God in your life. In doing so it means you have thought through the issues and understand what it is you are committing yourself to. It helps you get a sense of its importance. By writing out your commitment, you will have something concrete to review later, to remind yourself of your decisions. Writing out your resolutions on paper helps you to not forget that you have decided to do something.

If you are a member of a small group of people who are planning to dedicate yourself to a scripture memory program, these resolutions can take the form of a contract. This may be especially useful for a family. All the members of the group can work together to come up with a formal statement of what they want to accomplish and then sign their names to it. If you know everyone wants the same thing, it promotes unity and a singular focus.

Before you sit down and write out any resolutions or make any plans, you have to be sure that you know what you are resolving to do and why it should be done. I have prepared a series of Bible study worksheets which you could work through before putting pen to paper to make up your own resolutions. I am becoming convinced that if you cannot spend the time it takes to prepare yourself properly for the task of memorizing scripture, then you will have difficulty when it comes to actually spending the time it takes to do it properly. You may not actually do it properly and may end up wasting time. The approach you take is foundational to your future success. When you build a house, the foundation must be solid. A flaw in a foundation can make the whole structure unstable. The determination and hard work of the builder cannot make a building sound if it is built on a poor foundation. The same is true for the memorization of scripture. The substance of your resolutions should be built on your knowledge of how the task should be approached.

Here is a list of the worksheets you can use to prepare yourself for the task of drawing up a practical set of resolutions concerning your intention to memorize scripture. Print them off and work through them one at a time.

After going through these bible studies, you should have a good idea what kind of resolutions you would like to make. Start writing down your ideas. It may take you quite a number of re-writes to get them just the way you want them.

Review and update these resolutions periodically

From time to time you should review your resolutions to make sure that you are sticking to them. Add new resolutions whenever you commit (or recommit) specific areas of your life to God or make a decision to improve something in the relationships in your life. Date and number each new resolution. Note that these decisions and resolutions do not have to be confined to your determination to memorize scripture. It should be applied to all areas of your Christian life. Write out your resolutions pertaining to every area of your spiritual walk.

Further, this list can be made up of both resolutions and renouncements. A resolution is a formal statement of your firm intent to do or attain something. A renouncement is a formal statement of your hatred of something in your life such as a specific habit or sinful tendency. It is important to renounce those things which keep you from God if you are to have victory over them.

Make a list of exactly when and where you will be working.

To find the time required to do your review may require some creative time management. Your task is to look at your daily and weekly routines and identify any 'windows of opportunity' that you have for studying, memorizing, reviewing and meditating on the scriptures. You will probably find that you can dedicate more time than you first thought to the study of the scriptures.

Remember that your are trying to build a routine which will be manageable long into the future. Your routine will change as time goes on. Work hard, but do not burn yourself out. Do not exceed your limits. While you will want to lose some sleep now and again to meet your goals, it is most important to get the sleep you require on a regular basis. The same goes for rest and relaxation. Pace yourself and never loose site of the other priorities in your life such as your family, your job, Church and community.

Time can be claimed in the following ways:

  1. Examine your schedule and get rid of anything which is a gross waste of your time. You can redeem a lot of time this way.

    For example, perhaps you spend a little more time in front of the tube than you should. Almost all of the time spent in front of the TV is a waste of your life and has little value. So I recommend that you reduce it to a minimum. A solution may be to move the TV from you living room/dining area down to the recreation room or some other place which is out of the way. We did this in our home a couple of years ago and now I average about one hour per week.

  2. Examine what you do with your time. Is there anything you do which you consider a productive use of your time, but when you look at it, is not quite as important as some of the other things you should be doing? Give sober thought to all the things you spend your time on and evaluate the overall value to your goals. You may want to start phasing some of these activities out.

  3. Attempt to capture the small blocks of time which naturally occur between activities. These are the moments which you frequently are not doing anything at all and can easily be used to review scripture verses.

    For example, each day I deliver my son to his daycare. After I drop him off I and return to my car I can sit there and review verses for 10 minutes. After this, I drive to work and still get there 20 minutes early. This one thing alone adds up to 50 minutes per week!

  4. Attempt to use as much time as you can twice. There are many points in our day when we are occupied with something routine which does not require our full attention. This time can be used to our advantage.

    For example, when your are cooking, cleaning, shaving or doing and folding laundry, etc., you can be reviewing scripture. The trick is to be creative and see you can make the most of the time you have. Back when I was in University, one of my roommates memorized most of the book of Ephesians over a period of only a few months using this method. This will surprise you. He did this during the times he was sitting in the washroom. These things demonstrates that everybody can find some (if not a lot) of time to memorize scripture. If you can train yourself to review and meditate on the scriptures at these times, you will discover that you have many hours of time each week which can be dedicated to God.

    I must insist here that you under no circumstances try to memorize or review scripture while you are driving your car. This is foolishness. The probability is 100% that sooner or later you will get into an accident. One person I know read books while stopped at stop lights. Later she wrecked her car. She did not explain how it happened, but one can guess ... However, it may be acceptable in some situations to have a taped copy of the bible on cassette playing whenever you are driving. I have done this and you can expose yourself to a lot of scripture this way. Typically, you would leave the tape in the car for weeks on end without changing it, so you get a chance to listen to the same book over and over again. Make sure to get a copy of the Bible recorded in the version you memorize in. Also make sure that the tapes are of high quality and the reader's voice is pleasant to listen to. If have purchased your own set of tapes, I recommend that you make copies of the tapes and use them in the car. Tapes kept in the car go through a lot of wear and tear. If you like the idea, and are a good reader, you can record your own tapes. Listening to your own voice, I believe aids in memorization.

    The second concern is memorization of scripture while you are at work. If you have a job which allows it, this can be a wonderful opportunity for study and memorization. However, it is not possible to do this on most jobs, so I do not recommend that you try. If you are being paid to perform a specific task, and if your review of scripture takes you away from this task, even a little, then you are clearly stealing from your employer. Memorize scripture only on your own time.


With these things in mind take, some time to identify and list all the windows of opportunity in your schedule. This worksheet may be of some help to you. The items in my list may give you some ideas. When you have finished this, place it in section two of your journal. Update it anytime you have a new idea or a change in your routine.

Some people have a routine which is different each day so it is hard to actually slot in daily appointments to memorize your verses. These people will have to find other ways to dedicate time to the task. As for myself, my routine is similar each day so I can assign specific blocks of time to memorization. But even with this regular routine, it is often difficult to do what I plan because things come up which get in the way. I do my best to use this time I have set aside to memorize scripture. But as time goes on I am finding that the larger portion of the time actually spent memorizing scripture is that which presents itself here and there during free moments and during the times when the task I am performing does not need my full attention. Since I always have verses to review/learn in my pocket, I can make the memorization and meditation of scriptures a full time, continuous background task.

Make sure that you actually live up to your intentions

You will find that it is easy to be enthusiastic. It is not too hard to make plans which make good use of your time. However, you will find that it will be next to impossible to stick to them long term. (At least I do). This is why we need a mechanism built into your scripture memory system to allow you to make sure your focus is where you want it to be and you are actually using the windows of opportunities which you have identified.

This involves a giving yourself a weekly performance review. I say weekly, because if you do it every two weeks or more, you probably will not remember the details of what you did so long ago. Here is the procedure. Set aside some time once each week to perform this task.

Keeping a personal log of your progress will be an effective tool in your struggle for self-discipline. Please do not us it to keep a log charting the number of verses you have memorized over time. If you do this, you may end up focusing on the number of verses learned and be tempted to move on faster than you should. Counting the number of verses you know can be an end in itself and can become a source of pride. As a matter of fact, I recommend you not to bother to even keep track of the number of verses you have learned. Rather concentrate on perfection. Discuss the things you struggle with and the solutions you have tried. Make note of your progress, our feelings and ideas. If you give your whole heart to the pursuit of godliness, you will soon realize that you at war with your self.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)

A weekly self-evaluation is an effective weapon in your struggle for balance and success.

  1. At the end of each week, answer the questions in the worksheet, weekly self evaluation. I suggest that you print of a copy of it. Over the first few weeks of using it, you may want to make some changes to it. You can load the original into a word processor and change it around if you like.

  2. Make any changes required to your schedule to account for the things you have learned. In some cases we realise that we can work a little harder. Perhaps some of our plans are a little over-ambitious. Add new ideas to your time schedule. Some of the plans we draw up just do not work in practice and need to be dropped. Other plans just need some modifications.

  3. Make sure that you learn from what you just did. This is the most important task of all. If you found a flaw in your discipline - MAKE SURE IT DOES NOT HAPPEN THE NEXT WEEK. If you blew it, do not worry about it. Forget it actually, but make sure you do better. Work on one detail at a time. Use it as a tool to keep yourself focused.

    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. (Phil 3 13-16)

    Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1Co 9:24b)

  4. We have mentioned that it is important that you link up with one or two others who have the same goals as yourself. In this way, you can assist each other in sticking to your plans. You can test one another and evaluate your progress. You can encourage and teach one another what you have learned. Part of your routine should be to meet regularly. Doing this is a good way to keep yourself focused and compliments your own efforts.

    Finding someone to help you may be a difficult task. I think that this is so because most people are busy with their own things and care little about memorizing scripture. Few Christians have the kind of desire for the word of God that they should. The person you team up with should have the same level of interest that you do in memorizing scripture. They must also have similar reasons for wanting to memorize scripture. They must live near enough to you that you can meet easily on a regular basis. He must be the sort of person you can trust with the things you share. Unless your study partner is your relative or spouse, they should be the same gender as yourself. This makes for easier sharing and ensures that you remain undistracted. Pray that God would give you such a friend to work with.

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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