Even if you hate memorization of anything, you need to read this post!
There seems to be a trend to dismiss memorization as a worthless practice. It is not. Nor is it only for middle school kids. Children as young as two can commit verses to memory, especially if those verses are put to music. (For a great article on memorization from edutopia.org, click here.)
Consider the following five benefits to memorizing scripture:
1) The ability to make connections.
Critics of the Bible LOVE to talk about all the “apparent” contradictions within its pages, but rarely—if ever—mention the connections. There are themes and even similar phrases used throughout the Bible which point to an ultimate Editor, (and it wasn’t the translation committee). When you commit verses to memory, those connections become more apparent. The Bible talks a great deal about God’s justice, mercy, faithfulness and love. It recommends, time and time again the need to put trust in the Lord and shows us the scheme of redemption the God set in motion from the beginning.
2) The ability to think critically.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a passage misused, I’d have more money than the Powerball winner. If you begin to commit the word (and not the precepts of men) to memory and imprint it on your heart, you begin to spot improper teaching as clearly as a blood stain on a white sheet—and it will be just as disturbing!
3) Memorization stimulates meditation
If you memorize something without really thinking about it, you will have a harder time committing it to your brain. Math facts, for instance, should not be drilled into a child unless they are already practicing those facts. My daughter is learning subtraction. The program has her begin with -0, then -9, -8, doubles etcetera and the worksheets practice each concept. The child is encouraged to build the problem with blocks, write the answer and then say the whole math sentence, “six minus zero equals six.” Concurrently, the program encourages memorization of those facts via flash cards or other drilling method so that they are firmly planted in the child’s mind. It’s quite effective!
Right now, I am working on memorizing Hebrews 12, two to three verses at a time. It’s amazing how much more meaning one grasps when each word has to be mastered and not just the overall gist of the text. Both are necessary, but the meaning becomes more deeply fixed and understood in the process. In the first two verses, the version I’m memorizing says, “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a could of witnesses…” If you see the word, “therefore” you need to remember (or find out) what it is “there for.” That word should be part of your understanding of the verse, which means you ought to read chapter 11 to find out more about this great cloud of witnesses and what they did. “We also” indicates that the author wants us (the Christians) to apply what follows to ourselves.
4) During dark times, the Spirit recalls those verses to mind to comfort, strengthen, encourage and correct us.
I am going to walk out on a limb here, so please don’t chop it off without considering the entirety of what I’m about to say.
I do not presume to know exactly how the Holy Spirit works, but I firmly believe that we limit Him when we choose to remain ignorant of the Word. I can only speak from my personal experience about this. In some of the darkest, most agonizing moments when I have cried out to God with the inevitable “why” or “you feel so far away, where are you” questions, the Spirit recalls to mind such passages as “I will never leave you nor forsake you” or “we walk by faith and not by sight” or “this I recall to mind, therefore I have hope: through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed…” In moments of temptation, scriptures gently roll into the forefront of my mind, urging me to do better (like “do not let the sun go down on your wrath” or “if you do not love your brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?”) Anger, resentment, lack of love—just a few of many subtle temptations! God is trying to work these things out of me. I need to train my mind to be more receptive to His desires and less plugged in to the ways of the world.
I have never heard an audible “voice,” in these moments, and I’m confident some psychologist or cognitive scientist could explain it all away, but consider: who created the mind? God! How he chooses to work on it, in it or through it is far beyond me. I have drawn great comfort from those moments when I hear the Words of God leap into my mind so sharply and I am confident that it is the Holy Spirit working within me.
5) The ability to defend the faith on the spot, even without a Bible in your possession.
My spouse may jokingly call me the walking concordance, but it is not true. There’s been plenty of times I haven’t been able to recall where I’ve read something and honestly, there are times I can only remember what side of the page it’s on in my particular bible. Memorization solidifies these things and helps us to be more effective contenders for the faith.
Memorization is a wonderful thing, but what are some effective ways to do it?
Consider the following 4 methods:
This is, by far, my favorite technique. The only problem with this method in most cases is that scripture set to music doesn’t have the reference and you’d have to memorize it separately. When my oldest daughter was 4, the curriculum we purchased for her homeschooling included a disc called Sing the Word from A to Z. The majority of the melodies were either familiar or catchy and the verses were usually repeated at least twice along with the reference. I’ve memorized quite a bit of them along with my kids. Every so often I’ll hear old memory verses drifting down the hall from the voices of my children. It’s a great way to memorize! On a side note, it’s not something I enjoy listening to for its musicality. The bulk of the music is done via synthesizer and that might jangle the nerves of some, but it is truly effective!
I can quote Psalm 23 not because we took the trouble to memorize it, but because the church sings hymns on occasion that quote from it. After hearing and singing them throughout my life, they are firmly fixed in my brain. There are hymns and songs like that all over the place.
If anyone knows of any good songs or CDs they have had success with, please share in the comments below.
I may love to read, but I tend to be a bit of a speed reader. If something is familiar to me, I have a difficult time slowing myself down to really absorb it. During my college years, I found my most effective study method was writing. I would take my short-hand notes and rewrite them, often adding additional info I remembered from the lecture and writing any particular critical fact that had to be memorized on a 3×5 card for instant review. I didn’t have to cram for finals quite so much because the practice of rewriting my notes helped me commit them to memory. Is it time-consuming and tedious? Yes. But why do you think the old Jewish Scribes knew the law so intimately? They knew it because they copied it over and over and over again.
Also, as you put pen to paper, words that you have overlooked will jump out, deepening the meaning. Pay special attention to the flow of thought. What point is being made? What is the process of reasoning? Having that in order will help you recall the phrasing properly.
So grab a fun sheet of paper and some fun pens and start copying the verses you are wanting to memorize. Get creative and make certain words more noticeable with color or artistry. It really helps!
Many people learn best by listening. Music is an auditory method, but you have to have something set to music in order to listen to music. Hearing the verse—whether through audio bible or having someone read it to you from your 3×5 card—repeatedly will help in the memorizing process.
4) Iron sharpening
This method requires at least two people. When I went through college, the preacher at my congregation had a Tuesday night bible study for the college kids. At multiple points throughout the study, he would spontaneously ask us to quote a verse that he wanted to reference. He would say (for example), “you know what 2 Timothy 2:15 says…”
He would resume, “ok, I’ll start it for you: ‘Be diligent to present yourselves…”
The light bulbs would start flashing over heads and one of us or all of us would be able to either quote or paraphrase the rest.
He would also ask us where a particular account could be found, like the sermon in the mount. He’d give us a hint like, “it can be found in the early part of Matthew…” Then we’d dredge up the chapters from somewhere in the recesses of our minds. By the time I graduated college, someone could ask me where an account or a certain topic was located and I could name—if not the chapter—then at least the book. It was such a great teaching tool. I wish more teachers taught that way!
Have your friend or spouse or child work on memorization with you. Have them start and you continue or the other way round. Quiz each other at random. It will benefit you both just as “iron sharpens iron.”
Don’t discount memorization. Just like daily bible reading and daily prayer, this isn’t a self-justification or gold-star winning process. We don’t memorize or study or pray so that we can puff out our chest and proclaim what awesome Christians we are. We commit these things to our heart so that God can make us more like Him. We do these things to renew the mind and be transformed.