5 Helpful Tips for Scripture Memorization
- David Mathis Desiring God
- 2016 3 Mar
Five Tips for Bible Memory
Some Scripture memory systems are amazingly involved. They can include boxes of memorized verses on cards, or long lists of previously memorized verses for review. I admire and appreciate those who have persevered in these systems and found them life-giving and sustainable in the long run. For me, such a process would threaten to dominate, if not devour, the limited time I realistically have on a daily basis for devotions.
Instead, I’ve found Scripture memory to be for me a tool in the belt of meditation, and one important pathway for Bible application. Meditation is the nonnegotiable habit of grace I want to practice each day, even if only briefly when life circumstances have crunched my time. Scripture memory is not something, at least in every season of life, that I practice daily, but I aim on a weekly basis, if not a couple times each week, to spend several minutes seeking to memorize some powerful text I’ve come across in my Bible reading and want not only to meditate, but memorize, for my own soul or for the sake of ministry to others.
Here are five simple tips for Scripture memorization.
1. Diversify Your Picks
You can memorize whole books, or whole chapters (Romans 8 is a great starting point, or Philippians 3), or key sections. My preference over the years has become key sections (say four to seven verses, like Titus 3:1–7) that I come across as I’m moving through a Bible-reading plan. It’s often a section I find so densely rich that meditating on it for just a few minutes feels woefully inadequate. To enjoy more of its goodness, I need to put it to memory. (If you’re looking to get started on a few key sections to memorize, try Col. 1:15–20; John 1:1–14; Heb. 1:1–4; and Phil. 2:5–11.)
2. Take It with You during the Day
Write the passage down or make it prominent and easily accessible on a tablet or phone. I wouldn’t suggest quarantining your memorizing to a certain slot in the day, but unleash it into all of life. Play an audio recording in the car, look at a piece of paper while standing in line. Put a text on your home screen so you see it when you look at your smartphone.
3. Seek to Understand, Feel, and Apply the Text as You Memorize
Resist the urge to see simple memory as the goal. Learning the text “by heart” is secondary; taking the text to heart is primary. Don’t memorize mindlessly, but engage the text and its meaning—not only its implications for your life, but what effects it should have on your emotions.
4. Turn Your Text into Prayer
Personal and corporate prayer times are a great time to exercise what you’re memorizing, and see and feel it from a fresh angle as you turn it godward and express its significance for others. There have been times for me when praying some memorized text became the pathway for seeing fresh glories that had been hidden to me until then.
5. Memorize in Light of the Gospel
Finally, let the truth of Colossians 3:16 shape your memorization: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” The “word of Christ” here, or “message of Christ,” isn’t first and foremost Scripture, but the gospel. So, in other words, memorize in light of the gospel.
Memorizing Scripture, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily Christian. Jesus spoke with Jewish leaders who had memorized more of the Old Testament than we ever will, and he said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). And Paul spoke about Jews who intimately knew the Scriptures, but
their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (2 Cor. 3:14–16)
Whether we’re memorizing texts from the Old Testament or the New, this is our need again and again: to turn to the Lord. In our memorizing, whether whole books or chapters or pas- sages or single verses, we always must keep in mind Jesus’s great lessons in Luke 24 about Bible interpretation: “He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27), and “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44–45).
Ten Gospel Verses to Keep Warm
Bible memorization is always time well spent. All Scripture memory is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). And especially useful are one-verse statements of the gospel.
When you memorize a “gospel verse,” and keep it warm, you have hidden in your heart a divinely inspired and inerrant expression, in human language, of the very point of the whole Bible and all of history. You carry with you the sword of the Spirit in its strongest alloy. One- sentence encapsulations of the Bible’s central message strengthen our spiritual backbone and solidify our core, rooting us deep down in the bedrock of God’s heart and the nature of the world he made, and sending us into confident combat with unbelief, whether our own or some- one’s else. Gospel verses are invaluable in both evangelism and discipleship.
So, alongside other Scripture memorization efforts, sprinkle in some gospel verses that guide and shape and flavor your whole reservoir. By “gospel verses,” I have in mind verses like John 3:16 (don’t begrudge this verse its fame—it’s for good reason), verses that communicate succinctly that Jesus saves sinners.
Here’s a starter list of ten. Perhaps keep your eyes peeled for others and add them as you go—and don’t be surprised if you find a lot in Romans.
- The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
- God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)
- The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)
- There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
- He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)
- For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteous- ness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
- You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)
- The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Tim. 1:15)
- In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
- Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev. 5:9)
David Mathis is executive editor at desiringGod.org, adjunct professor with Bethlehem College & Seminary, and pastor for Cities Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Publication date: March 3, 2016