Back To Bible Memory


I don’t memorize well. Never have, and it doesn’t get easier the older you get. I can memorize a line, recite it word for word, over and over, but when I come back to it the next day, it’s as if I’ve never seen the material before. This isn’t unique to Bible verses, mind you. It’s just the way my brain works. Concepts, I get. Rote memorization, not without much repetition.

I say this so you don’t think memory work is easy for me, explaining why I think everyone should jump in too. Just the opposite. I think it’s hard. And for a time I thought it was sort of self-defeating. I mean, I’d learned Bible verses as a kid going to Sunday school. The result was that I could rattle off passages like Psalm 23 and John 3:16 and Romans 8:28 without giving much thought to them. They were in my head, but the meaning of those words wasn’t connected.

Then the day came when I stood beside my mom’s hospital bed, holding her hand as she breathed her last breath. Into my mind flashed, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Yes, it was there in full-blown King James English though I hadn’t used that translation since I was a child.

It may not have been right at that moment, but I began to see how the Holy Spirit could call to my mind the verses I needed when I needed them — provided, of course, they were in my mind to begin with.

That motivates me to memorize Scripture, and a few years ago, I took it up again. As I worked on different passages, I discovered something else. During the memory process — the one I find so hard — I see things about verses I never noticed before, no matter how many times I may have read them.

Take my new project, for example — 1 Peter. I don’t think I’ve ever done much with that book. It seems pretty straightforward. Nothing earth shattering, no big doctrinal revelations or controversy that I am aware of.

For one thing, I’m more mindful that this is Peter writing. I’m seeing the content through the eyes of someone who actually hung with Jesus. So in chapter two when he refers to Jesus as a living stone and those who believe in Him as living stones, I can’t help but think of that day when Jesus asked His disciples who they said He was and Simon answered: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replied by saying, You are Peter, or “Stone.” Scholars debate about the meaning of what came next, but I don’t doubt that Peter was thinking about that conversation with Jesus when he wrote

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

I’m still at the beginning of chapter 1, but I’ve noticed a couple other things. For one, Peter’s language seems more straightforward than Paul’s. Some of Paul’s sentence construction seems, at times, a little convoluted.

When I need extra help remembering a verse, I will sometimes diagram it in my mind (something left over from being an English teacher. And go figure — I always hated diagramming!) Some of Paul’s are beyond me. So far, Peter’s are pretty standard — kind of what I’d expect from a fisherman versus a Torah scholar.

But here’s something else. Peter was always the exuberant disciple. It was Peter who wanted to walk on the water with Jesus, as a test to be sure it really was Him. Peter was the one who dared to take Jesus aside and rebuke Him for talking about His upcoming execution. Peter was also the one who adamantly said he would rather die than desert Jesus. It was also Peter who whipped out a sword to stand against the mob who came to arrest Jesus in the garden (that would be, right before he ran away).

Peter was flamboyant. Many of us like him best of all the disciples, and I suspect that was the case for those in his circle, too. After all, when he said he was going fishing after the resurrection, a handful of the others followed him out to sea.

Well, for the first time, as I’m struggling to memorize what he wrote, I’m seeing Peter’s flamboyance come through in his writing. For instance, he doesn’t just greet those he’s writing to with the blessing, Grace and peace be yours, as Paul so often does. In true Peter fashion, he goes a step beyond. “May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”

He refers, not just to an inheritance reserved in heaven for believers, but one that is “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away.” In verse 5 he says those believers “greatly rejoice,” not merely “rejoice.” Then in verse 8 it’s “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible.” I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a guy who would run to a tomb, push past his friend who’d arrived ahead of him, and plunge inside to see what he could see.

In short, because I’m memorizing some of what Peter wrote, I’m seeing his life poured out in his words. And it’s an amazing thing — realizing that God inspired the writing, down to each jot, and did so by using Peter, just as he was.

I love what I’m learning through this memory process!

Published in: on February 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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It’s Time To Revive Scripture Memorization


Recently my church did a survey as part of the process of looking for a new pastor. We’re quite deliberate about this, and I’m glad. First we are taking stock: looking at what Scripture says about the qualifications of a church leader, a shepherd of God’s people, and then looking at ourselves as an organization to see who we are and what we need most.

Recently the pastoral staff asked us to fill out a demographic survey. When they had compiled the results, they passed them along to us. As it turns out, we are an older congregation (no surprise there — a quick scan on a Sunday morning tells you this) but also a fairly mature one. The stat that jumped out at me was in answer to the question about reading the Bible daily. Seventy-five percent of those filling out the survey said, yes, they spend time reading God’s Word. Of course, not quite half of those who attend our church filled out the survey, so I suspect that number may be a little high for the entire congregation. Nevertheless it reflects the emphasis our pastoral staff put on Scripture reading the past three years.

Noticeably absent was Bible memorization. Absent. As in, it wasn’t on the survey. Prayer was. Church attendance, participation in a fellowship group (i. e. Sunday school class) or Bible study, participation in a ministry, meditation (in disguise), witnessing (also in disguise), and fasting all made the list. Not Bible memorization.

I suspect Bible memory went the way of old technology about the time educational professionals began disparaging memorization as a learning method. No more rote learning for us! That’s not real education!

I could argue that point, but I don’t really need to. Even if it were true, Scripture explains the benefits of knowing God’s Word intimately — meaning that even if all other memorization was worthless, learning what the Bible says, still has value. “Your word I have treasured in my heart,” Psalms says, “that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

Take a look at a few others:

The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:31)

I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)

Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,
A people in whose heart is My law;
Do not fear the reproach of man,
Nor be dismayed at their revilings. (Isaiah 51:7)

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. . . . then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:6, 12a)

Are these “heart” verses necessarily talking about memorization? I think a case could be made against that position, but I don’t think anyone could show that memorizing Scripture leads away from a person becoming intimately involved with God’s Word.

Here’s the thing. As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe prayer is most effective when we pray for the things we know God wants for us and for us to do — things we learn about in the Bible. How can we effectively pray according to God’s revealed Word if we don’t know what His Word says?

How can we formulate a Biblical approach to politics or romance or work or suffering if we don’t know what the Bible says about these matters? Yes, reading the Bible and listening to preaching that explains it are huge parts of our being equipped to face our world.

But the fact is, when someone pulls me aside to tell me the latest bit of gossip, my pastor isn’t there beside me to remind me what God thinks about that. When I’m ticked off and looking for someone I can voice my complaints to, my Bible isn’t going to pop open to the verses about grumbling.

These are things I need to have as a part of me. They should be part of an ever expanding body of knowledge that the Holy Spirit can then bring to my remembrance when I need them. Because He is present when I face temptations or when I’m bowed in prayer. How powerful when He works by calling up the verses I need.

God’s Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on the needs of God’s children. I’d say it’s time to bring back a little Bible memorization.

Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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