The first long passage of scripture I memorized was Psalm 19; this was about 2 months after becoming a Christian. No one suggested I memorize, but I know I was inspired by Henry’s love and reverence for the Word. We met when I was searching for a church – for more than a church, for a cause and a ministry – and he was the one who not only taught me the significance of baptism, but was also my first flesh-and-blood example of a true disciple. I fell in love with his godliness and his love for God before I fell in love with him.
Before memorizing Psalm 19, I’d spent two months doing my own ‘topical study’ – this was back before I knew there was such a thing as a topical Bible. I remember choosing five themes (the authority of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, the day of judgement, salvation and baptism, and false teachers/teaching), and assigning a color to each. Then I read through the entire New Testament and underlined the corresponding verses. I figured this would make it easier when I went to the mall to discuss these subjects with strangers, which was how we shared our faith back then. And it did! (And yes, some ‘strangers’ actually became Christians this way.)
As for Psalm 19, it flooded my soul as I walked around reciting it to myself and to God. I loved the visuals: a tent in the heavens, a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber, and a champion rejoicing to run his course – breathtaking imagery about the sun in the sky. That was the poet in me. But even more, I loved the spectacular promises about the revival, the wisdom, the joy, and the light waiting for me in the Scriptures. And I already knew the closing words — May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord – from listening to Linda Ronstadt sing “By the Waters of Babylon”, long before I knew what the lyrics really meant.
I memorized other verses without any particular plan, and the following year (1981) we moved to Boston for ministry training. Almost immediately we were plunged into the Acts Class, taught by Steve Johnson, and memory work got serious. Let me pause here and put on my Old Person’s Hat: “In those days, everyone was expected to memorize all the scriptures from the evangelistic studies we were learning, probably around 60 passages in all. AND we had to memorize three points from all 28 chapters of Acts and be able to present them in order”.
To make sure we knew all these verses, there was a weekly graded quiz. There was also a knuckle-biting, two-hour final exam, which we took very seriously and for which we spent hours studying. We were encouraged to ask strangers if they’d help us review our scripture memory cards, which we did. Everyone loved it. Henry and I were very competitive, and tied the class with a final grade of 99%.
I’m saying all this to remind many of us of where we came from, and to inspire those who teach young Christians today to expect more out of them. It was good for our souls to memorize all those verses, and they are still firmly embedded in my brain to this day. By expecting less (i.e. making it acceptable to lead studies by following a printout, rather than by heart), we cheat young Christians out of the deeper knowledge and experience that comes only through memory work.
Over the years, lots of additional scriptures lodged in my brain through constant use in leading Bible studies and mentoring others. But the next time I remember making a deliberate decision to memorize was in South Africa, when I went through the book of Psalms and chose two sections from each psalm to learn by heart. This was in tandem with physical training to prepare to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with the other African church leaders. I climbed the ten flights of stairs outside our apartment building for hours, using a handful of dried beans in my pocket to keep track of the flights completed while I did my memory work. These scriptures got me through the final, brutal climb to the summit, conducted from 2 a.m. till sunrise. My mind got to rejoice (or at least escape) in the attributes and promises of God, while my body did the grunt work of getting me to the top.
My latest foray into memorizing Scripture evolved from the women’s Bible study group I lead here in Kelowna. Trying for something ‘fresh’, I got the notion of starting a “First Chapter Club”, in which we’d study only the first chapter of many of the epistles. I wanted the women (and myself) to dig deeply into these chapters, learning to ferret more from each phrase and verse than we normally do.
Preparing for these studies led me to the decision to memorize each chapter while we were exploring it. I memorized 1 Peter 1, Colossians 1, and the first chapters of I and 2 Corinthians – and these just made me hungry for more. I wondered if I could tackle an entire book, like 1 Peter. I could, and I loved it. Then I memorized Colossians, and the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians. This was all last year. I kept reviewing what I’d already learned and realized that, yes, I could not only memorize but retain these books with constant practice.
And as the Scripture in me grew, my faith, my joy, and especially my peace were growing exponentially. I was hooked, amazed, grateful and excited!
And so I’m sharing it all with you.
In January, I gave myself a greater challenge: to memorize the book of Hebrews. Hebrews being what it is, this was a scary proposition. Those middle chapters, especially, are daunting, with all that priesthood/Melchizedek/blood sacrifice/oath and covenant/tabernacle stuff all intertwined with Old Testament prophecies.
But I did it. And I loved it. And it was so wonderful to finally get to Chapter 11 and memorize the incomparable ‘faith chapter’ I was anticipating! And to discover the richness of all 13 chapters in a way I can barely articulate.
So, this was the article that was supposed to give you the practical tips and suggestions, and I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve run out of space – I’m well over 1,000 words.
The practicals are coming next, I promise. By now I pray that you’re chomping at the bit and utterly convinced that you can and will commit yourself to the joyful endeavour of learning great chunks of God’s Word by heart!
I’ll be back with the goods in a few days, Lord willing. Thanks for your patience!
Categories: The miracle of memory